October 07, 2013

Apple, Cranberry and Carrot Muffins

How many people does it take to preserve enough food for winter? In this case, it was three people and a heck of a lot of canning. On the weekend, my mother-in-law-to-be had us help with her fall canning. We got to the house and I asked what we were making and she said "about three or four recipes." Three or four recipes?! When I make preserves, I usually make a maximum of 12 jars of one recipe. It is usually a serious process and you have to be committed to spending the afternoon canning. The thing was though, it is much easier in numbers. When you have a group of people you can each have tasks and it makes the afternoon fly by in a flash. Plus, you end up with tons of jars of different recipes. This many jars:

We started with some ingredients from the local market and the garden, as well as leftover ingredients from the last CSA box of the year. We only have one stove, so we had to plan out what recipes would cook and process in the canner and at what time. The only problem with canning so many beets is there is so much beet juice, and it gets everywhere. You are best handling them with some gloves or a kitchen that does not have any white surfaces.

We began canning around 2 pm and finished around 6 or 7 pm. While the beets were processing, we started on the chutneys and made three different chutney recipes: mango, rhubarb ginger, and apple, mint and tomato. Most chutneys have similar base ingredients, including vinegar, sugar, onions, raisins and a mix of spices.

We were put to work chopping, dicing, mixing and measuring. I also learned that food processors can really cut down on the amount of prep work. Instead of chopping everything by hand, we pulsed the onions, apples and even the tomatoes just a little bit, so they were ready to add to the mixtures. It got slightly chaotic when all three chutneys were set up on the stove and all three people were adding different ingredients to each. Case in point, keep track of what you have done and what you still need to do and let everyone know. 

Dividing the work makes the process so much easier. It makes so much sense to spend an afternoon canning and make enough jars to give as all your holiday and hostess gifts than to do separate, short canning sessions by yourself. I think the idea of a canning party is in my near future if I find enough interested participants. You then get to take home half--or a third--of whatever you make!

A few tips on canning: do not substitute ingredients or guess with measurements. Just like baking, canning is an exact science and not abiding by the rules means you might not preserve something safely or properly. Make sure your recipe comes from a credible source and is safe in that you know it will preserve well with the right ratio of acid and sugar and not spoil.

I have made mango chutney before and it's always a hit. With canning your own food you also know exactly what goes into it, literally. You chop, mix and see everything that is going into that jar. The recipes require quite a lot of sugar and vinegar, so I'm not saying they are completely healthy; however, it's not like you're going to eat it out of the jar with a spoon. These are condiments to savour and enjoy in small doses. We used recipes from a few classic cookbooks: Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty, Elizabeth Baird's Favourites (150 Classic Canadian Recipes) and a Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving. In this case, we relied on the classics and they did not fail us. 

You need something to keep you going through all of that work. Also, with all of those ingredients from canning, there may be some leftover. In that case, make hearty fruit and vegetables muffins. Yes, they also have carrots in them, as well as apple, cranberries and walnuts. It's like Thanksgiving in muffin form and they make a great vitamin-packed mid-morning snack. 

Apple, Cranberry and Carrot Muffins (makes approx. 18 muffins)

2 cups peeled and diced apples
1 cup white sugar
1 cup cranberries (I used frozen)
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil


1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line a muffin pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix apples, cranberries, carrot, walnuts and sugar. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then add to the wet mixture. Stir in eggs and oil.
3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. 

Now I have a cupboard full of different chutneys, pickles, jams and salsas. I don't know if I could last the whole winter with my stash, but I can certainly last through the holiday party season and until the next afternoon of working, having fun and enjoying food with the family. 

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