Category Archives: preserving

Windham Gardens CSA Weeks Four and Five

In the Bags: Pickling Cukes, Basil, Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Garlic, Kale, Sweet Corn

This is pickle season. I mean, it can be pickle season anytime, in that you can pickle veggies of any season, but what I mean pickling cukes are in season now. My pickling cukes this year were a combination of fail: direct seeded outside extremely late, half eaten by something before they really took off, and of course slugs took the remainder. Luckily, Erin grows some awesome picklers. There will be bread and butters, dill relish, sweet relish, garlic dills… all given as holiday gifts in a few months.

I am clearly not a card-carrying pickle hater. That said, I pretty much don’t eat any of the cucumbers I put up. Processed pickles are good – far beyond any storebought ones – but I think the best pickle is a crispy, cold one. I am firmly in the camp that believes cucumbers are best when they are fresh and not when they are cooked. Hence, I am a fridge pickle devotee.

My fridge pickle recipe is simple: 1) Fill jar with spices, about 1 teaspoon each of your choice of fenugreek, coriander, mustard, dill, garlic, red chile flake, etc. 2) Fill jar with cucumbers, sliced in coins or spears 3) Fill 1/3 with vinegar. Since these are fridge pickles, you can stray from the 5% white vinegar mandate. 4) Fill 2/3 with water. 5) Cover, refrigerate for at least a week before tasting.

Basil: Pesto & Infused Vinegar

A very double duty kind of use. The basil leaves go into the food processor with toasted nuts (usually cashews), the last of the garlic scapes, salt, pepper, and enough olive oil to blend everything together. I freeze it in ice cube trays or small portions. When I defrost it, then I add more oil and parmesan before serving.

But you don’t get just basil leaves in your CSA. You also get stems, and sometimes flowers. These go into a quart jar of vinegar for later use in salads, vinaigrettes and marinades. What’s your favorite early summer CSA use?

Double Duty: Cherries (Whole Fruit in Syrup + Infusion + Preserve)

I’m pretty sure you don’t know how good you have it. Yes you, folks in the Pacific NW, where cherries are no big deal. Varying levels of tragedy have struck our local crop over the last few years… no one seems to grow them anymore as cherries are, at least in Connecticut anyway, a giant pain in the ass to maintain. The birds love them as much as we do (read: massive amounts of netting), and if we get a sudden unexpected rainy spring, much of the crop tends to split (read: very finicky). So – in short – though very few orchards grow cherries, and to do so around here they must be a little masochistic, we are very thankful that they are.

This post isn’t really double duty, it’s really triple duty. Because local cherries are $4.99/lb even when I pick them myself, and because I adore all things cherry – I am going to stretch every dollar I can carve out for them.

First Tour: Cherries in Bourbon Meyer Vanilla Syrup

Cherries + lemon. Cherries + vanilla. Cherries + bourbon. (Ok, who am I kidding – almost anything + bourbon.) YES. Why not all three? I pitted waaaaay too many sweet cherries (thanks Sarah for the help) and reserved the pits (you’ll see why in a minute). I used sweet Bing cherries, but you could use whatever kind of cherries happen to fall into your lap – sweet or sour. Now, for the laziest of infusions: I filled a few quart jars with fruit, poured 1/4 full with Bulleit Bourbon (my new obsession), topped the rest with a thin syrup, stuck in a split & scraped vanilla bean and the zest of a meyer lemon. It may not sound lazy, but it really is just pitting, making syrup, and stuffing things into a jar. Then the waiting period.

Why 24 hours? Much longer and the cherries start to discolor, and you get a decent infusion after only a day. On Day 2, once the syrup has a slight red tint, reserve some of the fruit for Tour 3, and put up the rest a la Well-Preserved. Psst: save an unprocessed jar in the fridge for a few bourbons & soda – 1/3 syrup, 2/3 soda, a few cherries and ok, maybe another splash of bourbon. You won’t be disappointed.

Second TourCherry Pit Liqueur a la What Julia Ate

First, settle your internal debate over prussic acid. If you just aren’t comfortable, compost your pits. If you feel no fear, this recipe makes something out of nothing, which I adore. I always have vodka on hand for infusions, so that’s what I used. Next year, I’ll have to try it with brandy. I haven’t had the chance to taste it yet (still infusing!) but I have a feeling this is going to make it into an apricot preserve later this summer.

Third Tour: Cherry Bourbon Ginger Preserves

Those cherries that you reserved from the infusion? Put them in a pan, mash with fresh grated ginger for flavor and crystallized ginger for color. Cook down until you’ve reached a good set. Oh wait – you walked away and it cooked down too much? Add a few more chopped fresh cherries, splash with a little bourbon and water and pay attention this time.

All in all, a satisfying way to stretch our precious, exasperating, expensive favorite cherries.

Cherries in Bourbon Meyer Vanilla Syrup
Three quarts of cherries, pitted
1 quart thin 1:2 simple syrup
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Approximately 1 cup bourbon
Zest of one meyer lemon

Make a simple syrup with a 1:2 ratio of sugar to water (i.e. 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, boil briefly until dissolved) and let cool. Pit cherries, reserve pits. Add to a glass vessel of choice (preferably one with a lid). Fill the jar 1/4 of the way with your bourbon of choice. Split and scrape a vanilla bean into the jar, and add the scraped pod. Zest a meyer lemon into the jar as well. Top with simple syrup. Close the lid, shake well, store at room temperature for no more than 24 hours.

After infusing, prepare canners, jars and lids. Reserve the vanilla bean. I like to infuse in quart jars but pack into pint or jelly jars. Cold pack into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Top with hot, wet lids and process for 15 minutes.

Use in cocktails, reduced over ice cream, make into hand pies, even make your own soda. Even eat out of the jar. I won’t tell.

Cherry Bourbon Ginger Preserves
4 cups pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
Splash of bourbon

Let cherries infuse (or macerate) overnight – either with the above recipe or with jam ingredients. Mash fruit, add the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat until it just begins to thicken and the bubbles are about size of dimes. Pack into hot jars, top with hot, wet lids and process for 10 minutes.

This is a more liquidy preserve, but I like it that way. Spoon over yogurt, swirl into ice cream – this stuff is crazy delicious.

Windham Gardens CSA Week Three

Just before Hurricane Irene hit, I took to hurricanning like a lot of folks. I put up jam, I made strategic fruit choices, and I canned a METRIC TON of squash pickles. I was on a mission to empty our – ahem – entire produce drawer of the zukes and yellow squash. I don’t even remember how many I made, just that the mandolined squash slices filled my 10 quart food safe bucket. I mean, we sort of knew that we would lose power, we just didn’t know we would be out for over a week. I didn’t have a particular recipe, I just made it up with what I had on hand. But now, in June, as I open the second to last(!) quart of my mixed squash pickles, I think this is a recipe that I will keep around for the less desperate times too.

In the bag this week: yellow squash, zucchini, greens, corn, garlic & herbs

Mixed Squash Pickles
Thinly sliced “summer” squash – zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan, etc.
4 cups 5% white vinegar
4 cups water
4 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Bay leaves
Smashed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon each fenugreek, yellow mustard, brown mustard, black peppercorns, coriander, red chile flake

Prep your canner & set the jars to boil. Try to cut the squash in the thinnest slices possible. Using a mandoline really helps to slice the squash uniformly. As you cut your squash, fill empty jars of the same size (i.e. if you plan on putting up quarts, estimate with quarts). Don’t pack the jars too tightly – leave a little room for brine. This way, you know how many jars you will fill.

At this time, prep your brine. Add the water, vinegar, salt and sugar and bring to a simmer.

Mix the spices together, and put 1 heaping tablespoon in each. Add 1-2 garlic cloves and 1-2 bay leaves per jar. Add squash to the jars, leaving about 1 inch headspace. Top with brine, and bubble to remove any leftover air. Leave 1/4″ headspace. Top with hot, wet lids and process for 15 minutes. Keeps for one year in a dark, cool place – but as always, refrigerate after opening.

Double Duty: Rhubarb (Syrup + Preserve)

I preserve for different reasons. To support local farmers and focus my dollars on local eating year round. To give as gifts throughout the year. And my personal favorite, to sit back and enjoy a small taste of summer when I am housebound during the middle of a Nor’easter. But preserving in the height of the season brings its own set of challenges. Getting all of the rhubarb possible into jars before moving onto strawberries for example. Or trying to get anything into jars during the week while working ye olde dayjob. Or getting everything into jars in preparation for the upcoming heatwave.

But like almost everyone, I am on a tight budget these days. A endless to do list, meticulous list keeping, down to the dollar budget. So I stretch. I make batches of jam and chutney with what I have on hand – if I am missing an ingredient or a spice, I am not making a special trip. I make do. I also look for ways for my produce to do double duty. If I have to buy scallions for kimchi, then I guess I am also going to throw them into some rhubarbbq because I am out of onions – who runs out of onions?! And you better believe I am going to stretch those scallions into three or four batches and THEN plant them in the ground. So when it comes to fruit I don’t just want jam, I want a syrup AND a preserve. And maybe an infusion or two. This way, I can sort of justify those $4.99/lb local cherries.

Rhubarb is usually the first fruit of the season that carries double duty around here. (“Fruit” for the incredulous rhubarb haters, wherever you may be). This method though, of a light syrup and then a preserve can be applied to most fruits. So if the thought of rhubarb in all its stalky glory makes you want to hurl, try a berry, peach or citrus version.

First Tour: Rhubeena

I made rhubeena exactly as Tigress suggests, but with her later suggestion of less sugar. I used 2ish cups. I like that its more tart, and can stand up to some lime and tequila in Kaela’s rhubarbaritas. Yes THOSE rhubarbaritas, of which I have become obsessed. I may have made rhubeena exclusively for this purpose. Ahem.

Second Tour: Rhubarb Vanilla Jam

So you make your rhubeena, and you are left with all of this sweetened rhubarb pulp. I don’t let it drain overnight – only until the pulp is mostly dry, so it still has some moisture. This is not your traditional jam texture people – its between a fruit butter and a jam. That said – who cares? It’s crazy delicious. Like cant stop sneaking bites with a spoon delicious. Serve with granola & yogurt, over ice cream – heck, blend it INTO ice cream.

Rhubarb Vanilla Jam
Leftover sweetened rhubarb pulp from Rhubeena (approximately 5 cups)
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Zest and juice of one lemon

Begin heating the pulp over medium heat. Add the vanilla, vanilla bean and lemon and heat until bubbly at 220°. If your rhubarb becomes too dry, add a little more water or vanilla extract as needed. This will be a thicker jam, so be sure to bubble your jars.  Spoon hot rhubarby goodness into hot jars, bubble as needed, top with hot wet lids and place into the waterbath. Process for 10 minutes. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Preserving 2012

…aka “I’m Not Dead! I Swear!” I wonder how some bloggers do it, as I am (obviously) having a tough go at keeping you folks updated. For starters, there’s that whole 9-5 thing. And trying (yes, still) to get something of a garden up and running. And doing that market thing, and that swap thing, and that crazy national program thing. On top of the fact that all I want is sunshine and garden and kayaking and exactly NOTHING to do with my computer right now. That said – its still that time of year. That time where I crave at least the barebones of a plan, otherwise I won’t function.

You could also title this post “Yet another preserving plan that I probably won’t stick to, but my neurotic self at the moment requires a plan.” It also may be a bit generous in calling it a plan. Ahem.

Photo by Liss Flint, Flint Prints Photography

I will be the first to admit, this “plan” is not going to work. Last year, there were similar grand plans. Quick recap: no brewing (its expensive!), limited foraging, ok on pantry staples, no pickled fruit (no excuses, just fail), and I still dont have a dehydrator. The CSA thing, though – I’ve got that one down (stay tuned – more coming on that).

So what does 2012 have in store?

1. Low sugar, no pectin fruit preserves. I swear some of my preserves got sweeter a few months down the road. Also from a health perspective, less of the granular white stuff is probably a good idea.

2. The stuff the weather robbed me of last year. Namely, peaches (thanks Irene), cherries (thanks early spring rain) and raspberries (I totally seemed to blank on them).

3. Fruit preserves beyond jam and veggie preserves beyond pickles. I’m still pretty sure I’m not a jelly fan, and I do make my fair share of fruit butters, but I need to move more beyond jam. I made a tomato bam last year completely on a whim last year – threw some cherry tomatoes in a pan until they burst and then cooked down until they were spreadable on toast. Why why WHY did I only make two jars? And have the presence of mind to give one away? My first jam of the year was an empty-out-the-freezer cherry rhubarb plum concoction around the same lines – no pectin and very little sugar. I made a bunch of fridge pickles last year and a few counter ferments, but not a whole lot that I enjoyed.

4. Pressure canning. I have a pressure canner. Time to get it calibrated. No more excuses. Chicken stock and beans, then moving onto chili and pulled pork.

5. Dehydrating, if budget permits. More likely though, oh friends with dehydrators, is bartering in exchange for some time with your equipment. Consider yourselves fairly warned.

6. Foraging (again). Started off right with elderflowers and ramps! Someone please take me wineberry hunting this year?

Photo by Liss Flint, Flint Prints Photography

Specific Preserves on the Docket:
Rhubarb [which I will finally get my hands on this weekend!]: Rhubeena, lots frozen for mid-winter jam, Plain ol’ strawberry rhubarb for Jon’s Mom
Berries & Cherries: Whole berry preserves, pickled, berries in syrup, in booze, bams and butters. Boozy cherries & berries in whiskey or amaretto (but dont pay for the Luxardo). Pates de fruits?
Stone Fruit: Whole in syrup, pickled, in booze. More of that crazy addictive Plum Butter
Sauces/Condiments: BBQ (Rhubarbbq & Peach), Salsa Negra & Salsa Verde, Tomato Paste, Ketchup, Mayo & Dijon Mustard
Apples & Pears & Quince: Apple & pear sauce in pints, way more than one batch of Vanilla Quince Butter
Tomatoes: Dehydrated, Roasted/Pureed/Canned, Roasted/Frozen, Bam, Tomato Powder
Peppers: Pickled, Fire Roasted, Pureed (for soup), Harissa, Piperade, Sofrito, Muhamarra
Herbs, Garlic & Onions: Herbes Salees, Lots more dried bunches. Roasted garlic & caramelized onions in the freezer, pestoes, pickled onions (for fish tacos!), Garlic & Onion powder.
Miscellaneous: Blanched & frozen greens, Blanched & frozen corn. Pureed (frozen) Pumpkin. Branch into other extracts than vanilla (almond?)

It all starts this weekend at the opening day of the 2012 Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. Kate Payne and I will see you there!

Lemon Confit

This is not your typical lemon confit. Most of the time, lemon confit = lemons preserved in salt and/or spices. I mean, it must be, if Eric Ripert says so. But when I think confit I think of something slowly cooked in its own flavor. Duck confit = duck ever so slowly cooked in duck fat. Garlic confit = garlic left to slowly stew in its own garlicky oil. So lemon confit? Must be lemons slowly cooked in lemon juice, right?

Most of the time my preserves are meant to save the flavors of summer for winter. Its sort of a tradition around these parts to open up a new jar of summery berry jam when New England gets its first Nor’easter of the season – not that we had any big storms this winter. With citrus, though – and lemons in particular – I prefer to put up the lemons for summer. I freeze whole, blended lemons for lemon tart – while its good year round, it’s so SO much better with fresh summer raspberries. I dehydrate lemons for lemon water all year long and to be used in marinades and salad dressings. I freeze juice for curd – yes, I know, you can waterbath and freeze curd, but I like it better fresh. And, of course, I save the rind for adult lemonade served by the pool all summer. When I dreamed up this recipe, I realized I was lacking a savory lemon preserve.  While this isn’t completely savory (there is sugar in it!) it would translate perfectly to a marinade for fish or chicken without being overly sweet like a marmalade. This is exactly what I was after.

This recipe used up the very last of my Lemon Ladies meyers and one lonely organic Eureka lemon from the store. Like all citrus recipes, if you intend on using the rind, its best to make it organic, as citrus is excellent at absorbing any nasties used in its growing.

(Actually Cooked) Lemon Confit
10 organically grown meyer lemons
1 lonely organic Eureka lemon
1/2 cup sugar*
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons fresh cracked black pepper
Fresh thyme, to taste

Cut the lemons like you would for a marmalade, making sure to discard the seeds and save as much of the juice as possible. Put the lemons, salt and pepper, into a non-reactive skillet on the stove over medium-low heat. Prepare your waterbath canner. Once they start to cook, add the lemon juice. If you didn’t have particularly juicy lemons, you can add some water or bottled lemon juice as needed. Add sugar to taste, and as much thyme as you can handle. When the lemons have cooked down to a soft texture – about 10 minutes. Just before processing, add fresh thyme and cook for about 30 seconds. Ladle hot confit into hot jars with hot, wet lids and process for about 10 minutes. As always, you could keep this fresh in your fridge for up to a month or so, but if you are making it at the tail end of winter and want to use it for the summer, I would waterbath or freeze it. Makes approximately 3 half pints.

*I used probably half a cup of sugar in this recipe in total, by sprinkling it on and tasting the preserve until the bitterness was gone. It is not meant to be sweet – just purely lemony. You may use more or less depending on your lemons or your taste.

Whatever-cello – another fruit+booze story

I made too much limoncello last year. Yes – really – REALLY – it is possible. I used my entire Lemon Ladies large flat rate box’s worth to make limoncello. After I made lemon curd, kiwi meyer lemon jam, preserved lemons, an incredible lemon tart, raspberry meyer lemon preserves, and more… they all went into TWO half gallon jars of vodka. So yes – a gallon of limoncello. After lots of adult lemonade by the pool and then lots of gifts at the holidays – I am just finishing up the last of it. And while it’s crazy good – I am so over limoncello.

This year, I am one upping my -cello. I may not live in California where rare citrus is all over the place like Shae or be close enough to Eataly like Autumn to grab some bergamots on my way home from work – but I am close enough to a Food Co-op that is well stocked in organic citrus. There are no rangpurs or mandarinquats, but there are limes, cara cara oranges, grapefruits and kumquats. Perfect to grab a couple, make some citrus tom collinses and have the rind leftover.

Part of the reason that meyer limoncello is so great is the lazy factor. You can use the whole rind without stripping the zest, i.e. – just toss it into the booze. The bitter pith is so thin on meyers that meyer-cello is next to no work. Meyers + alcohol + simple syrup + time. Kumquats are thin enough to just slice. With other citrus though, you really have to strip the zest and discard the pith. You can use a microplane, but then you would have to strain your -cello. I found my vegetable peeler made quick work of the other citrus, but – oh man – it was a whole other step from last year.

I’m going to let this batch sit for a week or so – shaking when I remember to – and I’ll probably leave out the simple syrup. I can always add it in later. Plus, that way – I can infuse the simple syrup. I’ve been scheming up a citrus-infused cocktail with black pepper and bay simple syrup. We’ll see what this summer brings, when I am screaming for an icy cocktail instead of shivering under my lap blanket on the couch. But remember – its not blood-orange-lime-kumquat-grapefruit-meyer-cello, its whatever-cello. And its delicious. And you should make it right now to enjoy later this year.

Method: Add citrus rind to your favorite glass vessel and cover with alcohol. You can use grain alcohol, but I prefer a lesser bite and use vodka. Plus – I’m a sucker for any alcohol with a snowflake on the label. Ahem. Add more as the citrus to the vessel season progresses. Keep everything covered – infuse for up to a month – but the first stage should be good after a week or so. At that point, add an equal part simple syrup to double the volume. Its easiest if you start with two jars of the same size – divide the batch in half when you add the syrup. Infuse another week to finish. Remove the zest and store in the freezer for up to a year.

If vodka isn’t your thing, and you are more tequila-inclined, check out Kaela’s Meyeritas. Or a citrus shrub. Or if citrus isn’t your fav, you can always try a pineapple infusion. If all else fails, make bitters!

Winter Blues + Lemon Ladies Giveaway

What a strange winter we’re having. It’s snowed only twice. I mean, actual accumulation on the ground snow – not wintry mix quasi flurries freezing rain stuff. Twice. Once during Snowtober, once last week. Its a running joke that I have reverse seasonal affective disorder – but not in 2012. I’m just as cranky as the rest of you this year.

Cranky for a bunch of reasons, but also cranky because of my pantry. It’s the same old story – too much jam. Too many pickles. Not enough other stuff. Typical, but still frustrating. Luckily, I stashed away some fruit in the chest freezer. (It even survived Irene!) I’m even luckier, as I have the California secret weapon to eliminate all winter crankiness. Its guaranteed to cure what ails ya this time of year. I dare you to breathe in the scent of fresh-picked meyer lemons and not feel instant relief from the winter blues.

I was introduced to Karen’s fabulous lemons last year, and I am as hooked as ever. Before I order this year’s batch, I’ve promised myself to finish last year’s. That’s right – lemons I ordered a year ago – preserved in salt and spices since last February. Smoked paprika, cayenne, sugar, cinnamon, salt, peppercorn and bay leaf have worked their magic and transformed the meyers into something completely different. These lemons are my favorite use from last year – they bring an an amazing amount of flavor. Blueberries and lemon are one of those epic combinations – and this compote is no different. Best served over ice cream or yogurt, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Winter Blues Compote
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup dried blueberries
Rind of one whole preserved lemon (4 quarters) chopped fine
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients over medium-low heat. Cook until it reaches desired consistency – but be careful – blueberries will set up quickly. If you’re feeling impatient (ahem) mash the blueberries to speed up the process. Remove cinnamon to serve. This will keep well in the fridge, though I am equally sure it would transition well as a shelf-stable recipe with the addition of a little lemon juice.

To help cure your winter blues, Lemon Ladies Orchard has offered a meyer lemon gift bag to one SK reader. Let me know how you beat winter crankiness – leave a comment with a valid email address below to enter. Giveaway will end at 11:59pm on Saturday February 4.

Pimp That Preserve 2011

Tis the season… for gifting your preserves! And if you are going to go through the trouble to preserve the best of the season and design a label for it – why not go one step further and decorate the jar? If you are in need of some inspiration, Joel and Dana from Well Preserved are hosting Pimp That Preserve again this year. The idea is straightforward: dress up your preserves for a night out on the town. Use anything that doesn’t affect the contents of the jar and let your imagination run wild! They have some ideas up already to help get your creative juices flowing – I LOVE their pickled garlic label. Note to self: pickle more garlic next year.

After the PTP finalists are selected, the winners will score some awesome prizes. Kate Payne donated an autographed copy of her book The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking. Another winner will take home a copy of  We Sure Can by Sarah B. Hood that features many fellow preservers. The last prize is an archival print of the Periodic Table of WaterBath Preserving from Joel and Dana themselves (the one I’ve got my eye on!)


I like to dress up jars with the flavors of what’s inside. I made a Plum Cardamom Almond Conserve in October with plums from Easy Pickins Orchard. It was a great year for Italian Prune Plums, and the flavor of this one was nicely enhanced with cardamom and cinnamon and a handful of crushed almonds. Hence the cinnamon stick, almond and cardamom garnish – just dont sneeze or the almond might fall out! For actual giving I am going to have to tie it in better.

I always make a lot of cucumber pickles. Too many, in fact. This year, I made a bunch of sweet zucchini pickles with brown mustard and fenugreek to try and mix it up a little. They were nicely spicy but still had enough zip to be interesting. Have you heard of the German pickle ornament tradition? Whether its true or not, its fun to gift a gift of pickles with a pickle tradition that goes along with it. Just dont try to hide the pickle up the angel’s skirt – that one’s been done before.

My favorite entry this year is naturally the snowflake themed one. Not that you would know its wintertime by looking outside… I think you guys know by now that I am a fan of winter. I bought the wooden tags on Etsy last year, but got overly attached to give them out on gifts. Then it dawned on my how great they would look on a jar. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Good luck to all of those entering PTP this year – the deadline is Monday December 12 at midnight!

Asian Pear Cranberry Relish

We don’t have Thanksgiving. We have Thanksgivingses. On Thursday, its off to a familial location with a few side dishes in tow. I get to skip the stresses of hosting (though I suspect it will change in the future) and spend all day eating and Skyping with those who couldn’t join us. On Saturday, we have a bunch of friends over for a potluck Thanksgiving Redux. No leftovers allowed. This one we usually host, but it’s carefree and relaxed, with plenty of nostalgia and lots of… ahem… alcohol.

Where does that hosting Thanksgiving pressure come from anyway? I have no problem doing the turkey and gravy. I am one of those people who think knowing how to roast a whole chicken or turkey should be a kitchen requirement upon moving out. When friends bring side dishes, bread and pie – hosting a Thanksgiving is as stress-free as it gets. Our house is full and noisy and loud. And messy. But joyful. I fully admit to the fact that I will never be Martha Stewart. In fact, I particularly suck at table setting. We might even break out tablecloths this year (!) and I might decoratively pile some candles and butternut squash on the table, but that’s about it.

Truth is, I have different priorities. Like a lot of you, it’s all about the food. If the turkey is dried out – I’m going home. Well, not really. But the thought will cross my mind. That’s why its important to a) for the love of God – use a meat thermometer! and b) don’t take on too much. It’s very, very easy to go overboard.

As of Tuesday night, here is my Thanksgiving To Do List:
Family Thanksgiving: 
Cranberry Relish, Rosemary Squash Side Dish (Thanks Kaela!), Brandied Cherry Crostata
Thanksgiving Redux:
Appetizers – Hummus (Caramelized Onion? Preserved Lemon? Roasted Tomato?), White Bean Rip with Rosemary, Bacon & Apple Bruschetta, Assorted Pickles, Cheese, Mustard, Bread.
Dinner – Dry-brined Dry Rubbed Turkey, Polish Holiday Kielbasa, Mushroom & Thyme Gravy, Sausage Apple Cornbread Dressing, Cranberry Relish.

I’m hitting publish and starting on the crostata dough. Tomorrow I bake off the crostata as well as the rosemary squash side dish. Friday is shopping (anything needed is on sale!), brining, making the dressing and dips. Everything else is for the day of. And the cranberry relish? Made this past weekend.

We never really did the canned cranberry sauce growing up, so I don’t have those great memories (and great plates!) like Marisa. She makes excellent points about all the reasons to skip traditional jellied cranberry sauce – high fructose corn syrup and BPA, to name a few. She leaves out the nasty, nasty hidden pesticide use by the cranberry industry. The Pesticide Action Network reports that conventionally farmed cranberries have multiple carcinogens, hormone distruptors,  and neurotoxins. Moreover – the pesticides are toxic to honeybees, which is a whole other problem unto itself. Need any more reasons to make your own? No? Good.

This recipe really is spectacularly easy. Something to make on the back burner while cooking other things. Definitely my kind of project. The dried cranberries deepen and enrich the flavors and texture. I happened to have some of Easy Pickins Asian Pears in my kitchen, so in they went too. Apples would also be a lovely add in in a pinch.

Asian Pear Cranberry Relish
One pound ORGANICALLY FARMED cranberries
5 large/10 small asian pears, cored and diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup spiced rum (I like Kraken)
Juice & zest of an orange
1/4 cup candied ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
Pinch of kosher salt

Rinse the cranberries well and pick out any bad ones. Add the water, cook over medium heat until the cranberries start to burst. At that point, add everything except the ginger and orange zest and cook until it reaches the consistency  you like – about 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger and the orange zest, and then spoon into your glass jar of choice. Serve at room temperature and never think of the industrial stuff again.

PS: As far as putting this in jars – I suspect it would transition well to a waterbath recipe with a splash of lemon juice as the pears are low acid. After the usual prep, process in pints or half pints for 10 minutes.