Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Messes and Successes

I attempted to do some more canning on Saturday, and let me just say I should have taken it as a sign to change my plans to something else when I showed up at the Farmer's Market with no cash after I had already spent considerable time trying to find a place to park. Some booths were equipped to take debit cards, but not nearly all of them. So I decided to go to the nearest gas station and withdraw some cash from the ATM and try again. I parked out in the middle of nowhere, just so I didn't have to fight for a parking spot (great in theory, but not so great when I was walking back to the car afterwards with a ton of heavy produce).

I had planned to make some peach butter and chili-tomato jam that day, and perhaps strawberry jam and more fig preserves on Sunday. That way I'd be done with all my canning for the Holidays, and all I'd have to worry about was the vodka infusions and baking (the baking would of course be done closer to Christmas). Oh, and I was also planning to paint some furniture, too. Talk about biting off more than I could chew!!

Anyway, since tomatoes are pretty much out of season, I had a hard time finding some until I happened upon a booth with some beautiful ones straight from the garden of the lady selling them. Still had a little dirt on 'em. Now, I'm not a fan of raw tomatoes by any means, but these were absolutely lovely. I bought 2 lbs for about $2. Then onto the chiles... only one booth had what I needed, and do you know how many chiles it takes to make a half pound (the amount I needed)? Good gravy - a whooooole lot.

I also bought some mini pumpkins and gourds, 8 pounds of peaches, two kinds of locally made goat cheese (literally the best I've ever tasted) and some country bacon (two bucks!).

I got home and decided to get to the tomato-chili jam right away. It's supposed to be amazing on cornbread, and I had visions of showing up at work monday morning with a jar of it and some cornbread muffins for my coworkers. I took out my cutting board, turned on 650 AM (an 85 year-old country music station that plays mostly very old stuff - Hank Sr. and the like) and got down to business in my 82 year-old kitchen. I was feeling pretty good, thinking about the women who probably lived and canned in this kitchen decades before me, maybe even listening to the same radio station. I peeled and chopped the tomatoes:

Then it was time for the peppers. The recipe said to wear rubber gloves, but I didn't have any handy. Oh well, right? I started choppin'. As I mentioned, it was a LOT of peppers so I even recruited the Bipster to help. We stood hip-to-hip and chopped in harmony. Ok, maybe it was more like hip-to-ribcage since he's a foot taller than I am.

I added the peppers to the tomatoes and started cooking. Washed my hands. Wow, they were really starting to burn.

I let everything cook and simmer, per the recipe. Then my timer went off and it was time to add the calcium water. The recipes in the book I've been using call for a certain brand of pectin, which I had never used before, which comes with a packet of calcium water... or maybe I should say calcium water mix, as you are supposed to mix it with water first... which I would have known if I had read the directions. But I didn't, so I threw in a teaspoon of the powder... and right away I knew I had made a mistake. The powder turned to hard little white balls.

Just like that, I had ruined the recipe. Had to throw everything away. And my hands were on fire. The more I washed them, the more they burned. Just getting them near anything warm made them burn more. The idea of taking a hot bath to unwind anytime that day was out of the question. I spent most of the rest of the day holding an ice pack. No lie.

The hands I could handle, but the failure of the recipe was too much to take. I dragged the Bipster away from his studies and we went to Target and the pumpkin stand to inject a little bit of festiveness into my failure.

Once we got home, I started on the peach butter. I was going to redeem myself, dammit! Me and my flaming hands got to work.

As I was letting the mixture simmer (about halfway through), I started to smell something burning. Oh DUBYA TEE EFF. Sure enough, the bottom of my pot was scorched. How or why, I don't know. I thought I would have to dump it all out, but Josh talked me down off the ledge and assured me it could be saved. When it was done simmering I tranferred it to another bowl (had to let it cool down for a bit anyway before I could take the stick blender to it) and Josh scrubbed my very burnt Le Creuset while I wrung my burning hands together and fretted that the peach mixture tasted scorched. He assured me it didn't, but that it could use more sugar (he was right, another half cup made the sweetness perfect). The end result?

Perfect, unscorched, wonderful peach butter. I did indeed redeem myself. Although my hands did not stop burning for another 48 hours.

Lessons learned:

Maybe you can get away with chopping a few peppers without gloves, but not a half pound. Do not attempt.

Calcium water is called calcium water for a reason. It must be mixed with water.

I decided Sunday was best spent for cleaning and enjoying - I feared any other projects I took on that weekend would end in disaster. I would like to attempt the tomato jam again. We'll see.

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