Free Range on Food: Canning and preserving

Sep 04, 2013

Want to preserve summer's bounty? We'll have tips on canning and drying your favorite produce.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, canners/preservers, erev Rosh Hashanah'ers and after-action lurkers! We have Cathy Barrow, chef  Isaiah Billington and Deanna DeLong to help you figure out the best ways of processing all you'd like to save/savor, in honor of our Preserving Issue today.  Becky and I are on hand; Editor Joe's got a VIP lunch so he won't be joining us. 

(You must try Deanna's dehydrated peaches. To die for.)

Chat giveways: A WaPo Cookbook and a preserving cookbook, TBD by the end of the hour. Let's do this! 

I have a bunch of different kinds of jellies/jams from a friend that are very loose and runny. About a dozen jars. Any suggestions re desserts or baking with them? Thanks.

Your friend may not be a fan of pectin, or may like their jams not so set. If it's the latter, then you can continue to reduce the jam to get a firmer set on it.

To use as is, looser jam is wonderful to heat, strain, and brush onto danish, pie tops, etc. as a glaze.  It adds a little flavor and a lot of shine.  I like to use loosely set jams to complement a low amount of cornstarch in pie fillings, sometimes with more fresh fruit added. Also, summer pudding is a wonderful dessert that is basically just loosely bound fruit wrapped in bread or cake.

I'm hosting dinner for Erev Rosh Hashanah and I just found out that three of the adults attending are on the Paelo diet. My brisket is probably fine but I think all of my side dishes are on the no-go list. Any ideas for a quick, easy side? The extra challenge is that it needs to be meat or pareve (no dairy) because it's a meat meal. Thanks in advance!

I'm not an expert on the Paleo diet, but maybe one of these will work:

Roasted Butternut Squash With Date Molasses and Candied Ginger

Roasted Butternut Squash With Date Molasses and Candied Ginger

Sephardic Leeks With Tomato

Sephardic Leeks With Tomato

Sweet Potato Tzimmes (use the margarine instead of the butter)

Dear Joe - I do not like eggplant generally. It can be ok, but it is not my favorite. So, I made the eggplant balls from 2 weeks ago this weekend. Froze half of them, turned the other half into dinner for 2 tonight. (I made the balls slightly smaller than suggested.) We put them into rolls, put mozzarella cheese on top, broiled them. They tasted like a cross between eggplant parm subs and meatball subs. They were delicious. I emailed the recipe to several friends after dinner because they were so delicious. Thank you very much for sharing this recipe. (OK, I made my own sauce recipe. Also, next time, I am putting cubes of cheese in the center before I cook them. So, a few differences, but still, I would never have even thought of this without you. So thank you. Very very much.)

Joe will not be chatting with us today, but I am saying "you're very welcome" on his behalf!

I agree with you. I tasted those Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce and they are outstanding.

Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

Smoke Signals' Jim Shahin's in the house!

So I'm not Jewish, but my (not terribly religious) boyfriend is, and I thought it would be nice to do a twist on a Rosh Hashanah dinner for us for the first time. I've got brisket going in the slow cooker already but thought it would be interesting to do a fun cocktail take on the apples and honey bit. Any recommendation for a drink incorporating the 2 flavors in any way that won't require buying a new liquor cabinet's worth of non-standard ingredients? I appreciate your suggestions!

What a sweet idea -- a charosetini? :) 

I'm not sure how extensive your liquor collection is, so I'll suggest a couple of possibilities. One of your great apple-y boozes is Calvados brandy--classic, delicious, but pricey. Slightly less expensive is Laird's Applejack, which is an American apple brandy. Both should be available at your finer booze purveyors.

If you don't want to shell out for an apple brandy (though I'd advocate for it, especially with fall coming on!) you might try getting your apple flavors from a good local cider and then your booze via a nice bourbon -- or if you want to keep the apple/honey flavors most prominent, vodka. Honey syrup is easy to make and will make mixing with the sticky stuff easier: Just combine equal parts honey and hot water, like you're making a simple syrup but with honey.

I would add that I think charoset in its usual form is delicious, but that this cocktail has the potential to run a little too sweet if you're not careful (one of the reasons the bourbon might be a nice touch!) But if you're not shy about adding some less traditional flavors, you might try playing around with a little chopped ginger, or -- if you're usuing vodka -- doing a brief infusion with fresh sage and/or rosemary, which should go beautifully with the apple/honey combo and add a note that's less sweet.

Let me know how it turns out! :)

Okay, let's go easy on this nice shiksah with the Passover reference...she means well. :)

after they are dried, how are they stored?

Dried fruits are best stored cool, dry and dark in an airtight container. If you store them in glass containers, they should be stored in the dark, or in a cardboard box. The very best is the freezer. They will last 5 or more years in the freezer. I vacuum package them in wide-mouth glass jars and keep in the freezer. If your power were to go off, they wouldn't spoil. On the shelf in a cool closet, you can expect them to keep good flavor and nutrition for about 6 months to one year.

Greetings! I made a very simple blue cheese salad dressing for the first time. Ingredients were mayo, sour cream, buttermilk, blue cheese crumbles, pepper and chopped chives. The final consistency was appropriately thick. I stored the unused portion in a glass jar in the refrigerator, and the next day it was very runny. It hadn't separated and it tasted fine, but was closer to the thickness of straight buttermilk. Any idea what happened? Is this a dressing that can't be stored?

What were the proportions of sour cream and mayo and buttermilk?

Do you all or any of the chatters have experience preserving boozy fruit? I read about it in the Times -- you basically put fruit, sugar and alcohol in jars until Christmas or so, then eat and get drunk, drink the juice and get drunk, or thicken the juice with confectioners sugar and pour over cake. I'm planning on trying it with an abundance of peaches I have, but would love any tips.

Boozy fruit, sometimes called Rumtopf and other times Bounce are a great, fast preserving technique for an over abundance of fruit. No need to remove the pits, but do cut out any of the bruised or suspicious parts. Cover the fruit with grain alcohol or vodka (get the cheap stuff) then let it sit for 40 days. Strain and add an equal, or slightly less, amount of simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water.) Let it sit another month, then enjoy.

I have a two part question and since I may not make the chat I am posting now. Is there a nutritional benefit to unfiltered olive oil? I have been reading Eat on the Wild Side and he says yes and you say what? It has a delicious taste. I have been using a wine vacuum to preserve the flavor. Also, I bought a dehydrator and want to know if there is a web site, cookbook to point me in the direction of all of the wonderful things I can do with a dehydrator. I've made kale chips and they were wonderful. Thanks so much

My book, "How To Dry Foods," covers absolutely everything you'll want to know about drying. The revised and expanded version came out in 2006 published by the Penguin Group USA. It has been fun to include new information that wasn't included in my original book which came out in 1979. I hope you will find it to be a fun and informative resource for you. I should start a blog . . .

Amen to that. 

Hi all - I currently have some lacto-fermented dill pickles going in a crock at my home. I've tested the pickles and they have a great crunch, but they are quite salty. I'm prepping to move them from the crock to the fridge in the next few days, and I'm wondering whether I can cut down on the salt by creating a new, less-salty brine and storing them in the fridge in the new brine. Would that work? Any other ideas, short of soaking the pickles in water before serving them?

Cutting down the salt in the brine won't have much effect on their preservation once they're in the refrigerator.  I can't think of any reason not to do it, but I would suggest just replacing some of the original brine with water instead of making a new one.

I have an electric glass top stove and wonder if I can still can tomatoes. I've never tried it, but I heard that a gas stove is best. Also, what is the 'easiest' way to prepare tomatoes for freezing? Do I have to remove the skin and all the seeds? Do I have to cook them before freezing, or can I pop them in a ziplock bag and toss them in the freezer? We have a lot of tomatoes this year! Thank you.

Unfortunately, glass topped stoves are not recommended for many canners. Once you fill canners with filled jars, the weight is often too much for the glass. Do you have an outdoor grill with a side burner? That's where I do plenty of my canning in the hot summer. Prepare the food to be canned on the stove, then process using the outdoor grill's burner.

Yes, the seeds and skins must be removed. Either scald and peel, or put cooked tomatoes through a food mill. Those skins and seeds turn the tomatoes bitter over the months.

Is there any reason I couldn't just peel my ripe peaches, puree them and then throw them in a freezer bag to use in oatmeal throughout the Fall? Thx!

Absolutely no reason you can't do that... but make sure to add lemon juice or citric acid or Fruit Fresh to keep the color bright.

Why is it so difficult to reduce the sugar, use low pectin and get my raspberries to gel firmly.

It's quite possible you aren't cooking your preserves long enough or at a high enough heat. The jam should cook at a temperature that is sputtering hot. There is a very reliable test for gel set called the wrinkle test. Freeze a few cold spoons or cold plates well ahead. When you think the jam is ready, turn off the heat. Drop a teaspoon of the jam on the plate. Let it cool for a quick second, then push with your finger. It should resist and wrinkle. If it doesn't, boil the jam hard for another two minutes, then test again (with another cold plate.)

I'm so excited by the articles on dehydration! This is something I've wanted to try for a long time, but it always seemed like such a production; now I'm thinking it won't be. I've looked at the Nesco site and am wondering ... Deanna, do you have any preference between the digital (model FD-1040) and the non (model FD-1010)? Thanks.

Drying your own fruits at home can be so much fun—as well as nutritious and delicious. Be brave and give it a try. You'll love it. The best part is that it isn't very difficult and as you experiment you'll discover what works best for you.


I would recommend the FD-1010 Gardenmaster Pro Food dehydrator. The heating element is in the bottom. I don't know what they were thinking with the heating element in the top on the FD-1040. It simply doesn't dry as well. Heat rises, so the bottom element is much more effective. I also like that you can use two (or more) dryers at a time. About 60% of the moisture evaporates in the first couple of hours, then it can take 6 or 7 more hours to complete the drying process. When I'm doing a lot, I'll start two dryers going, and after a couple of hours—consolidate the food on the trays of one dryer. That allows you to start a new batch on the second one. Never combine fresh fruit with partially dried fruit, because it slows the drying of the partially dried fruit.


I have stacked the FD-1010 Gardenmaster with 20 trays, and it still dries amazingly well. Pay attention to the humidity however. If it is raining, or very humid, and you are drying something with a lot of water (like tomatoes), they can spoil before they dry. Also, use the weather to help you. When it is very hot, I keep my dryer on the back porch. When it is cool, and I don't mind the extra heat (or moisture) in the house, the dryer is in my kitchen.


Have fun with this new hobby and experiment.

I once dehydrated strawberries and of course they did taste good for about 2 month - I tossed them in to my cereal, my salad, my dessert etc. However, in about 4 months it had lost its flavor and color and was no longer tasty! I will be glad if you can help me how to preserve the flavor and color. Tks

Strawberries are fine to dehydrate. The only problem is that a lot of fresh strawberries make just a little bit of dried strawberries!!

They are best when stored in the freezer in a glass jar. They will last the longest if you have a vacuum packager with the hood which allows you to vacuum in canning jars. The color fades with any exposure to light. Again, the freezer is dark, so that takes care of the fading.

Hi I wanted to know what's the best way to retain the bright colors of fruits while making jams. For example strawberries and raspberries etc?

Fruit colors are so pretty and it's frustrating when the jam isn't the same vibrant color. I like to macerate the fruit and sugar with lemon juice for at least an hour, or even a day or two. Then strain out the fruit, holding it aside, and bring the syrup up to 220°F. When you add the fruit after the syrup is that hot, it doesn't need to cook as long, and will hold the color better.

When I saw this acronym in the chat last week, I thought of Thames Water's news of the Fatberg in Kingston on Thames.... It was the size of a double decker bus and took some time to dissolve and take away in tankers.

Thanks(?) for sharing.

I've made frozen yogurt and whole-milk ice cream this summer; both had a nice soft consistency, but they turned to rock when frozen and did not improve even when thawed. Is there any solution to this problem (aside from eating it right away)?

Try adding 1/4 to 1/3 cup instant non-fat dried milk to your recipe. It tends to make the ice cream or frozen yogurt smoother and softer. Ice creams are best when made with a custard base. If you strain the cooked custard through a strainer before adding your other ingredients, it is also smoother.

Great idea.

I'm looking for a canning recipe for the hot pepper/hoagie spread sometimes also called "hots." I can't find one anywhere. On the back of the jar the ingredients are basically peppers, vinegar, sugar, salt. Can I just wing it? Thanks

No. You can't and shouldn't wing it. Peppers are a low acid food and the ratio of vinegar to peppers is critical, and scientific. Check online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for a similar recipe .

Hopefully Editor Joe is dining with Jeff in order to wow him with creativity and awesomeness of the Free Rangers as well as the dedication of Food section readers. Signed, a dead tree subscriber who mainly reads online

Was I that transparent? 

For Isaiah: It wasn't 100% clear from the article whether Woodberry Kitchen preserved items will be available in retail stores, and if so, when, and in the DC area? Love your fish pepper sauce, btw!

We're doing our level best to scale up our production to that point.  We'll start by retailing at our own restaurants, and move into relationships with other markets as soon as possible.  I would like to be in the DC area by harvest time 2014 at the latest.  Who do you think we should have selling our stuff?

What are ways other than canning to preserve dairy, eggs and meat, such as butter, cheese, or smoking meat? And does cooling to say 50F extend life of milk or cream?

Cheese making is just another preservation technique, if you think about it, and that's what I do with dairy. Cream becomes butter or creme fraiche. Milk turns into yogurt. Cream and milk together make cream cheese. Preserving meat? that's called charcuterie!

I really enjoyed Dave McIntyre's column on wine tasting today. In fact, while I've always liked reading it, this year he's had a lot of particularly good ones to explain various aspects of enjoying wine. Kudos! My question: I really like big red wines. Especially cabernet, but also syrah, merlot, zinfandel, cab franc and various Bordeaux (or similar) blends. My problem is pairing. Most food experts say to pair cabs and the like with red meat. But, given health concerns, I only eat red meat once a month or less--and want to drink cab with meals more frequently than that. Any thoughts on pairing cabs or other big reds with other foods, particular vegetarian dishes?

Dave says:

Thanks! Glad you enjoy the column.


We tend to think of "red wine with meat, white wine with fish," but the secret really is to think holistically about the dish. Are you grilling? Smoky flavors favor syrah and other bold reds, whether you're grilling salmon or portobellos. Also think about the sauce - a cream sauce may suggest a rich chardonnay, no matter what the protein. Herbs are particularly food friendly, especially tarragon, and can pick up on the nuances of a cabernet or merlot. Feel free to experiment, and think about the flavors rather than the main ingredient.

Hi Free Range Foodies, I'm submitting early b/c I won't be able to participate during the live chat. I was given a watermelon that is on its last legs. I cut it open last night and parts of it are mushy. I am trying to salvage the good parts before they go bad but is there anything i can do with the mushy part? Could I blend it and freeze it to use in drinks/smoothies later on or is it that when it gets mushy it should be thrown out? Thanks for your help!

Think I'd puree, then strain. You can use watermelon juice in lots of ways -- add to a simple syrup or use in place of vinegar in a dressing; chilled cantaloupe soup; mix with seltzer and perhaps lime juice. Or even make watermelon jelly, which, -- if only I'd had the time -- I could have tested the recipe from the busily canning chefs at Blue Duck Tavern....:( #vacationcalled

I have a British recipe that calls for flageolet beans and it's the co star, so I can't omit the beans I'd love to make this recipe, but don't know what the alternative is. They are not dried or canned.

Flageolet beans are immature white beans. They are pale and slightly green, smaller than a classic white bean. I would substitute with cannelini.

Hi Bonnie, am sure over the years at The WaPost, you must have seen, tried, tested and published several jams, conserves, pickles and compotes. What according to you are the best recipes? Would you have a compilation of the favorites? Thank you in advance!

What a worthy notion, to compile a greatest hits list. We'll add it as a link to Editor Joe's story later today. For now, here are just a few of my favorites -- and I haven't even gotten to the pickles!

Agave Tomato Jam

Apricot Rosemary Jam

Ghost-Pepper Pear Jam


Peach Saffron Jam

Rhubarb Ginger Jam


Hi Rangers!! If I wanted to substitute one of the two cups of flour in my pancake recipe with pastry wheat flour would I be able to do that with no other modifications? Trying to get healthier foods into my daughter before school in the morning and hoping this could be the way. Thanks!

Pastry flour is lower in gluten (weaker, requires less hydration), while whole wheat flour is generally a bit thirstier.  I'm willing to bet that you can substitute with no other modifications, but trust your eyes if it looks like it wants a little more milk or a pinch more flour.

I have a bunch of lemon grass, thai basil and thai peppers in my garden. Any recipes to use all this? I would especially like to use it with eggplants or squash.

Look around on the internet for a curry paste recipe. You could use the lemon grass and peppers for that. Then you can do a nice Thai-style curry with coconut milk and those veggies and basil. Other recipes that would be awesome with homemade curry paste:

Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Thai Kabocha Curry

Thai Kabocha Curry

Thai Red Curry Tuna With Coconut Milk and Lime

Spicy Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup

Thai Curried Chicken With Coconut and Mango

What's the best way to keep your jams and preserves vibrant colors. Like strawberry jam and raspberry?

The challenge is to cook them enough to achieve your desired set without leaving them in the pot for hours and hours, which will contribute to darker color and flavor.  Cook your jams in the pot that will give them the most surface area to evaporate water quickly, or split large batches up into several pots. 

We love to use evaporated cane juice as our sugar at Woodberry Kitchen, but have found that it contributes a greyish cast to jams, and have had to switch another organic sugar.

Don't forget the effect your cookware can have as well.  Stainless steel is the best for most cases.

I have a jam question, but haven't had a chance to read the article yet, so it may be answered. Last year, a friend and I made yummy fig jam with brandy and canned it (hot water bath). This year, the first batch of figs to ripen was relatively small, so I scaled down the recipe. I think I'll eat it in a month or so, with my morning yogurt. I didn't can it, but put it in jars and into the fridge. That should be okay short term, right? It's a yummy recipe, but not worth food poisoning.

Yes, that jam should be fine in the refrigerator for at least a month. Jam will grow green mold when it turns, so food poisoning is highly unlikely.

However. I want to caution you about fig jam. Figs are one of only a few fruits (cantalopes, honeydew and other melons, too) that are very low acid, and therefore considered questionable for long term canning. All approved recipes use other additions to overcome the acidity problems.  (I have one that uses whole lemons, balancing the pH to make the fig jam safe.)

A few years ago we bought a dehydrator and dried some fruit. I took it out of the dehydrator to dry on some plates and covered it with cheesecloth. A while later, it was covered with fruit flies. Yuck. How do you avoid this? Do you let them cool in the machine? It discouraged me enough not to try again, but your articles are inspiring me to change my mind. BTW, on one of Chef Staube's Taste of History shows on open-hearth cooking, the chef grabbed a handful of dried green beans from a bunch hanging off the fireplace and tossed them into some soup. That was cool. Any special tricks for green beans? How do you tell when they're dry enough?

Next time, let it dry completely in the dehydrator. Taking it out to "finish drying" on plates doesn't work, as you discovered. You can take them straight from the dehydrator to a storage container. You don't need to let them cool in the dehydrator.

The dehydrator will be quite forgiving. When I have a batch going that is not quite dry, and it is time to go to bed, I just turn down the temperature to 115 degrees F and it will keep me from getting up in the middle of the night. They usually won't overdry.

Fruits should be dried until they are leathery with no pockets of moisture. With washed hands, feel them as they get close to being dry. If they still bend but aren't squishy, they're perfect!!

Dried green beans are a bit trickier. In the pioneer days, they called them "leather britches." And for good reason. They didn't know that they should be blanched prior to drying! You could cook them for 5 hours and they still wouldn't be edible. With a dehydrator, green beans dry quite well. Blanch them until they are heated all the way through but not cooked. Dry until they are hard and break when you bend them. They are best stored in the freezer, and used within 2 or 3 months. Vegetables simply don't last as long as fruits when they are dried!

Any tips for jams and jellies with less (or no) added sugar? I'd love to make some freezer jam or something like that, but adding cups of sugar to fruit that is already deliciously sweet on its own seems like overkill.

You can manipulate pectin's ability to set jams by altering the calcium levels and acidity, as well as by adding lots of solids (sugar).  There are a handful of really good pectins on the market now that come with a calcium packet included. Our main pectin supplier is Pacific Pectin, who have a variety of products like this.

My dad is a big fan of blackberry and apple pie, and I was thinking of trying to can a jam, jelly or butter that replicated the flavor. Any thoughts about which of the three would be the best approach?

I'd make a blackberry jam and grate some apple in to replace pectin. Try 3 cups of sugar to 3 pounds of blackberries and one green apple grated in. Cook until jammy!

I use it to flavor plain yogurt.

We've used our glass-topped stove to heat a water canner for years, and since the stove has a large burner, it heats faster than my gas stove in my old house did. We use the stove for the canner and an induction hot plate to cook whatever we're preserving. The not-entirely-flat bottom of the canner hasn't been a problem.

Are they really good enough to justify the price? I have a KitchenAid brand blender that's not bad, but it's on its last legs. Should its replacement be a sub-$100 or a superpremium? I can afford the more expensive one, as long as it is a good value.

I have the Blendtec and use it every day. It is far more powerful than the VitaMix (which I recently tossed when it died after a long and useful life). The thing that I like about the Blendtec that you can do really solid frozen fruit. It cycles low and high, so doesn't need the pusher like the VitaMix. I've worked mine hard for 5 years and recently the container started spitting black stuff around the bottom. I called Blendtec and they sent me a brand new container and didn't charge me for it!! They're expensive ($454.95) for the Total Blender Classic WildSide, but worth every penny.

Hello I've been looking for a class to take to learn how to make jams and preserves. I've checked various sites and they teachers and or class locations never follow through. Can you give me a reliable school or place to take a class? Thanks

Have a look at our cooking class list (last year's -- we are hard at work on the 2013-2014 one, which should come out in a few weeks). On that list, Suzanne Sutton has been teaching classes for many years, so you could check with her.

Cooking schools are good too. Check the schedules of places such as Culinaerie and L'Academie de Cuisine. Also contact your local parks and rec department. I've seen canning and preserving classes listed, for example, through Arlington County.

I've been looking at dehydrators for about a year now and can't decide-- which one should I get? Any brand/type suggestions? My family eats alot of dried fruit and jerky, and it'd be great to finally have a good one.

For high volume (though on the expensive side for home use), I recommend the dehydrators made by Cabela's.

See Deanna's earlier answer, too.

Isaiah, it would be great if you could sell them at the Mom's Organic Markets in the area.

Good idea! I actually worked there in college.  It's a great company, and my actual mom's favorite grocery store.

Just wanted to give a shout out to Cathy Barrow for her delicious slivovitz recipe she provided last year. It produced a really lovely and incredibly smooth alcohol that won raves from my Russian friends. This past weekend I started (and doubled) my next batch, although this year I'll have to wait until late January to sample it after our first baby arrives in the new year!

Well, that's a happy reason to have to wait! I'm so pleased you enjoyed it. I'm down to the last of mine and see the plums are finally in the market!

Purple plum jam is da bomb! And they're in farmer markets now in the NE.

Word. I've been itching to make this Damson Jam.

Damson Jam

I've read online about Tattler reusable canning lids. Has anyone on Freerange used them or know if over time they need to be replaced? The breakeven point in cost seems to be 5 uses. I really like the idea of reusing lids vs throwing them away, but the rubber rings used to seal must eventually become exhauseted.

My understanding of the Tattler lids is that the lid is reusable, but the rubber ring should be replaced each time, just like with Weck jars.  We experimented with them at Woodberry to cut down on waste, but found that they did not seal as consistently.

Wow! Thank you Deanna for such complete answers to my questions.

Be sure to taste before using. I've had some that looked and smelled okay but tasted bad.

Every year we make food and can it. We also make beer and mead and bottle it. We have both a hot water canner and a pressure canner. Then we save some for ourselves and give some away as Christmas presents. Soup has been our most popular item. So, I am looking for good soup recipes for canning. I am also fascinated by the concept of homemade mustard - but I have been unable to find good direction for making and preserving mustard. Any pointers? Finally, I have decided that next year's project will be various salsas. I have a great peach salsa recipe, and a great tomatillo salsa recipe. But I have had delicious cherry salsa, and would love a recipe for that. And any other delicious salsas that can be home canned. Thank you!

If you have a peach salsa recipe you love, try substituting cherries for the peaches (by weight).

Rangers, I have the fondest childhood memories of my mother's homemade canned, dilled beans. (They made your teeth squeak!) I can only find recipes for "dilly beans" that tell me to add a garlic clove, a dried pepper, sprig of dill and peppercorns to each glass jar along with the green beans and pickling brine. While these sound delicious to Adult-me and I will try them, I still have a yen to relive my childhood memories. Can you please help me with a recipe?

My guess is the current trend has turned the classic recipe your mother used toward spicy and garlic-y. You can use any recipe for dilly beans, but omit the dried pepper and garlic, and use dill seed and the pickling brine (vinegar, water and salt).

I have several different types of homemade jams that I would like to use up in some baked goods. For my firmer jams, I have found they work well in thumbprint cookies, but I am looking for other ideas. Thoughts?

Make rugelach! Jam tarts. Add to barbecue sauces.

Hi all! I'm hosting a midafternoon picnic this weekend. Hours are 2 to 5, so folks aren't expecting lunch, but I'd like to have some things on hand that are make-ahead and OK without refrigeration, and preferably don't require utensils. So far all I've got is fresh fruit and bacon-cheddar biscuits. Got any inspiration for me?

I have always been genuinely curious and often confused about this. Isn't the whole point of dehydrating food that you are using a preserving technique? And isn't freezing foods still another type of preserving food for future use? Would you mind talking a little bit about why you recommend two types of food preservation? I've always thought that since ancient peoples didn't have had access to freezers this part would be unnecessary. Also, my tiny freezer is full of homemade stock and stuff, so I'm trying to reconcile your advice with my space limitations.

You brought up an excellent point . . . which totally depends on how long you want to store it. The whole point of dehydrating food is that is a preserving technique. You don't HAVE to store it in the freezer. But it lasts 10 times longer if you do.

I'm a little unusual, because I teach food drying classes and do volunteer projects abroad where I need to bring dried foods that look and taste good. I don't dry everything every year, so storing them in the freezer just means that I always have dried fruits that taste and look good!

Freezing foods is indeed another type of preserving. Vegetables are far better frozen than dried. They simply taste better!! But as I said earlier, if you want dried foods to last longer, the cooler the storage temperature, the better. 

Since you have a tiny freezer that is full, go ahead and use a cool pantry for your dried fruits. Just know that they won't last as long. We're a little out of control in our household, and have 2 refrigerators and 2 full-sized freezers for 2 people. Right now, they're all four completely FULL! One of my freezers is about 2/3 full of dried foods. My husband is a serious gardener, so I have a good excuse. We eat from our freezers for a lot of the year.

I feel like I'm in Groundhog Day. Every September I draw blanks when it comes to quick dinners that can be mainly prepped ahead or crockpotted so that 2 working parents and 2 busy teens can have decent meals despite little cooking time during the week. I do soup on Sundays but often stand there at 6:30 P blankly staring at my fridge....

Word.  Dinner in Minuteswise, we're midway through a generous month's worth of family-friendly, Six O'Clock Scramble recipes from Aviva Goldfarb. Here are 3 of them, plus an oldie-but-goodie from her as well. And don't forget to search our Recipe Finder database for several years' worth (they run at back-to-school time) of terrific Stephanie Sedgwick dishes built with your situation in mind. Here are a few of those.

Oh, and for teens -- maybe up the quantities?

What kind of glass jars do you use that don't break with the freezing? Will any glass jar work since there is not liquid in them? cb

Look for the quilted jars from Ball, and make sure to leave sufficient headspace to allow the product to expand when it freezes.

Use a canning jar. They are tempered. I suppose you could use any glass jar with a rubber seal however, and since there is no liquid, they won't break unless you drop them!

A few weeks ago you provided a link to a recipe for a Perfect Peach Pie. I wasn't a bit daunted by the name. I've been trying to "perfect" it ever since and finally did so this weekend -- the juice came out just the right consistency, not runny, but not too thick. And the bit of almond etract gives it a flavor that sings. I've made five or six pies in the last few weeks and they've all been well received but this one really took the, er, cake. I headed to Maine for vacation, so probably won't be making another one this summer. I'll be repeating the process next summer, though. There's nothing like a peach pie!

Wow, so glad you mastered it. Here's the recipe for Perfect Peach Pie, for the rest of the class.

Perfect Peach Pie

Wow, I had never realized that this could be a problem with canning! I have the Ball "Home Canning Discovery Kit," which is designed for beginners who want to experiment with canning in small quantities -- do you thinks this would be okay with a glass top? Any idea how much weight it would take to cause a problem?

That kit uses a much smaller pot, and holds fewer jars than the classic, so won't be as heavy. Read the stove manufacturer's recommendations to be certain.

This question isn't about making preserves, but it is about preserving in general. What is the best way to treat lettuce when transporting it from home fridge to work with the purpose of dressing & eating it at the office? Do I hold off on rinsing it till right before I'm ready? Will it rot if I wash it in advance? Thank you for answering my horribly basic but very important (to me) question.

I wash my lettuce when I bring it home and lay it single layer in linen (or paper) towels. Gently fold it over and fasten loosely with a rubber band. It will keep 2 weeks in this fashion. Lettuce can be torn (not cut) for salad in the morning before you head to work. I always put a paper towel in the top of the container, which prevents the moisture from dripping down and deteriorating the lettuce (or salad). Great trick.

Even if your washed lettuce goes a bit limp, there are always crisping techniques you can use. Lettuce responds well to them...Editor Joe may have something to say along those lines soon! 

Thank you for the response. We did hot water process the fig jam last year, but mine might not have lasted too long on the shelf because it was so yummy. It does have lemon peel in it, but not the juice, sugar, brandy, and salt. It's a Bon Appetit recipe, so I hope it's trustworthy in terms of having enough acid to preserve.

Figs supposedly hover in the mid-5's when it comes to pH, so I was pleasantly surprised to measure some figs in syrup that I recently did (with no added acid) at 3.9.  The cutoff, of course, is 4.6, although we always play it safer than that.  Invest in a pH meter to ease your worries!  They're not teribly expensive, and will free you to test your own recipes.

In his July 24th chat, Bryan V. said he'd give up his bacon jam recipe. I asked about it a couple of weeks ago and Tim C. said he'd call Chef Voltaggio to see if he'd stick to his word (my phrasing; not Tim's). Any progress? I've made a couple of batches of bacon jam myself and am not quite satisfied. I really want to see how his differs as i'm sure it's delicious. Thanks!

Working on it! If you haven't already, send your contact particulars via

Fresh watermelon margarita! The strained juice can be used as is, or frozen.

I'm a cheese lover who's become lactose intolerant. I'd love to know what you and the readers recommend as the best cheese-substitutes taste-wise and where they're sold. I don't care if they're made of soy, rice, or anything else non-toxic, even bologna or pillowcases. Please tell me what non-cheese might fool me into thinking it's the real thing when spread on crackers and apples instead of Cheddar and St. Andre, melted in tortillas, sprinkled on pasta, tossed in salads (Roquefort!), as a schmear on bagels and to eat straight. Thanks so much!!

We recently tested Paula Shoyer's lovely apricot and cinnamon rugelach recipe that calls for soy cream cheese, and I have to say it wasn't bad. Seems like it could do the trick for you. 

Chowder, souffle, salad? Recipes? Thanks!

You should browse our database. We have so much it's hard to know where to start!

As a sample, I like the sound of Soupergirl's White Bean and Corn Soup.

Soupergirl's White Bean and Corn Soup

You could also get two more ears and make Corn Broth.

Corn Broth

I saw the chat leftover and was hoping.... but the itty bitty eggplants in my CSA this week caught me by surprise. I probably have 2 dozen of them and they don't weigh a pound total. The only thing I can think of is slicing them in half, spraying with oil and baking them with a mix of parmesan and breadcrumbs. Any other suggestions?

I love those little fairy tale eggplant! Split them in half lengthwise, then score across the flesh. Brush w/oil and roast high - about 400°F -- for 20 minutes then drizzle with buttermilk, yogurt and za'atar, a la Ottolenghi.

We've been turning fresh produce into paletas (aka popsicles) -- although they get eaten so fast, maybe "preserving" isn't the right word or it!

One reason I rarely buy string/green beans from farmer's markets or choose them from my CSA is that the quality is so mixed. I know it's a lot of work to sort out the big/fat/old ones from the slimmer more tender ones and weed out the teensy ones, but once I get the batch home and find this situation, I'd like some advice. Do I sort them and overcook the fatter older ones, saving the tender mid-sized ones for blanching and putting into salads? I know I'm rambling but is my point getting through?

You've figured this out perfectly!! I give the older ones to our chickens.

Can butternut squash be canned? Either in chunks or pureed? I have so much ripening, I don't know what to do with it all. I know they keep well in a cool, dark, area but I don't have much room to store them.

Butternut and other squashes are on the Do Not Can list from the USDA.

I got some of those a few weeks ago. I cut them lengthwise and stirfried with garlic, chili peppers, and lots of thai basil. Plus your fav thai style sauce. They are delicious and very tender.

Works perfectly in most dishes, sweet or savory. Bonus, add one to dog's good for fiber.

Well, you've left us to dry for 10 hours and packed us up with care, so you know what that means...we're dehydra-done! Thanks much for the excellent advice from Deanna, chef Isaiah, Cathy and Carrie. Made this session worth preserving all by itself.


Chat winners: The retaining bright colors chatter gets a preserving cookbook (and we're tossing in "The Hatch Chile Cookbook," it was so good), and the chatter who asked about how to fix rock-hard ice cream gets the WaPo Cookbook. Send your mailing info to and she'll get those right out to you. Until next week, happy cooking, canning, eating. And Happy New Year!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is deputy editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guests: Deanna DeLong, author of "How to Dry Foods"; Isaiah Billington, head of preservation at Woodberry Kitchen; Cathy Barrow, who blogs at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen.
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