The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
This month’s challenge was all about the wonderful world of food preservation. While food preservation in and of itself is quite a broad topic, the focus of this challenge was really geared towards learning about home canning and freezing. The main recipe for this challenge was for apple butter (which can be frozen or canned), but recipes for preserving roasted tomatoes and bruschetta were also provided for some variation. Since apples are just starting to come into season around here, it seemed like the perfect time to make my first batch of homemade apple butter using local apples. I opted to use sweet, Jonagold apples for the recipe.
I have to be quite honest, the prospect of home canning absolutely terrifies me. As much as I would’ve liked to conquer my home canning phobia, I simply could not muster up the courage to give it a shot, so freezing was my food preservation method of choice.
Here is some great information about freezing from our challenge host:
Freezing refers to storing foods in airtight containers at 0ºF (-17.8ºC) or lower. Freezing does not kill bad bugs. The cold temperature causes the microorganisms to go into hibernation/suspended animation.
Freezing is the easiest food preservation method, especially with modern freezers.
The main pointers for freezing:
1) Freeze foods quickly. Quickly freezing creates smaller ice crystals. Water is a funny substance where water expands when frozen. This means larger ice crystals can puncture cell walls (such as whole berries) so when defrosted you end up with a mushy mass.
2) Try not to freeze too much at once. Typical advice 2 to 3 lbs (1 kg) per cubic foot (28 Liters) of freezer space.
3) Containers should be airtight and leak proof.
4) Minimize air and gaps in the packaging. This reduces the chance for freezer burn – drying.
5) Label and date the package. Frozen foods tend to look the same over time, especially when a layer of ice has formed.
6) Vegetables can be blanched to deactivate enzymes. Blanching is quick cooking in boiling water for a few minutes and cooled rapidly in ice water.
7) For initial freezing using pliable freezer bags, freeze on a smooth, flat surface to prevent the bag from molding itself to the rack.
If you’ve never made apple butter, you essentially start by making applesauce. Once you reach the applesauce state, you add your desired spices and cook the applesauce down until it becomes a thick spreadable consistency. It’s absolutely delicious and great used as a spread on sandwiches, an ingredient in baked goods, or a topping for a super delicious bowl of Fall flavored oats.
You can view the recipe and procedure for making the apple butter after the jump.
Reduced Sugar Apple Butter Recipe
Recipe Source: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_02/apple_butter_reduced.html
Note: For those without access to a food mill, our host recommended using peeled and cored apples to get a higher apple butter yield (compared to pressing through a strainer). This is the route I went and my instructions are a reflection of this approach. If you have a food mill you may want to use the original source recipe linked above.
1 C apple cider (can substitute water or juice)
1/2 C sucralose/splenda (can substitute honey, agave or sugar – to taste) [My apples were really sweet, so I did not add any sweetener to my recipe.]
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground cloves
Wash apples well, peel and remove stems. Cut apples into quarters or eighths and remove cores.
Combine apples and cider in an 8-quart (about 7 ½ litre) saucepan. Cook slowly and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until apples are very soft (falling apart).
Mash the cooked apples in the pot to make a pulp.
Combine pulp with Sucralose (if using) and spices in an 8-quart (about 7 ½ litre) saucepan. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently. [On our host’s recommendation I used an immersion blender at this point to mix in the spices with the pulp and create a smoother apple butter. Also, when cooking down the apples, you want to leave the lid ajar or use a splatter screen. This will allow for evaporation. Another trick is to support the lid by laying two wooden spoons across the top of the pot. This is very important! The propped lid/splatter screen is your friend and will not only allow for proper evaporation, but will also prevent you from getting nasty apple butter burns from sputtering apple pulp.]
To test for doneness, spoon a small quantity onto a clean plate; when the apple butter mounds on the plate without liquid separating around the edge of the apple butter, it is ready for processing. Another way to test for doneness is to remove a spoonful of the cooked butter on a spoon and hold it away from steam for 2 minutes. It is done if the butter remains mounded on the spoon.
Pour contents into desired storage container or multiple containers. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks, freeze up to a year, and home canning is good for a year.
Similar to our host, I used a freezer bag where I tried to expel as much air as possible and minimize any gaps in the bag. Freezer bags work well for storage since they can lay flatter in the freezer than containers.
With a container, you need to ensure you have “headspace”. Headspace is the gap between the food (or liquid level) and the top of the container. Typical, headspace when freezing foods is 1/2 “ (1.27 cm) for straight sided containers. As mentioned previously, water expands when freezing. The headspace allows room for expansion.
The best method (Food Safety) is to thaw in the refrigerator for a day.
Cold water, 70ºF (21ºC) or lower, can be used for as quicker way to defrost. The frozen food is submerged under running water. An alternative to running water is to change the water every 30 minutes. If you need an even faster method to defrost and you plan to cook the food immediately, the microwave is another method (of last resort).
If you would like to get all of the challenge recipes please follow this link to download the printable PDF.