Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Fruit

Canning It: Working under pressure

Pressure Canner by Rachael Narins
When most people think of canning, they think of boiling water canning; taking food that has been placed in jars and boiling it for a recommended amount of time to make it last.

When you make fruit jam or pickles that way, you have something to eat and perhaps some handsome gifts to give away. But there are limitations to what can be boiling water processed and you can’t really feed your family on jelly and pickles. This is where pressure canning comes in.

Pressure canners (which are different than pressure cookers) are huge industrial-looking pots that have clamps and gauges, weights and valves and 12-page instruction manuals that are downright intimidating.  But don’t let that stop you. It’s simpler thank you think. All you have to do is follow the directions.

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Canning it: Getting into a pickle

Image of Pickled Cucumber LAT
There's more to pickles than just garlicky brined cucumbers. A pickle is actually any food that is preserved using salt and acid. That includes everything from kimchi to blueberries agri-doux.

There are two very basic ways to introduce salt and acid to create pickled foods. Quick -- also known as refrigerator or fresh-pack -- pickles rely on vinegar. Fermented pickles are made with a controlled process that allows lactic acid to break down the food and change the taste and texture. Fermented pickles take longer -- in some instances, up to a year -- and require a bit more attention to detail. A quick pickle can be ready to eat immediately.

Pickling is one of the oldest food preservation methods and is simple enough to do. The primary concerns are making something delicious and making it safely. The goal is to keep the food from spoiling and the acid at a high enough level so as not to introduce Clostridium botulinum toxins. Botulism, as it is also known, can be lethal when consumed.  Home-canned foods that are contaminated with botulism do not show any visual signs and have no smell, so you really want to use an approved recipe for peace of mind. Do that and you can enjoy making and eating pickles year-round.

This week, try your hand at making green almonds, asparagus, artichoke hearts or green beans. They are all in season and perfect for pickling!

If you decide to try your hand at pickling, the Master Food Preservers have a few tips:

  • Choose sea salt, canning salt or pickling salt. Table salt will make your brine cloudy due to anti-caking additives.
  • Use fresh, whole spices for seasoning. Ground spices will make your brine cloudy, and spices that are more than a year old don’t have much flavor.
  • Vinegar used for pickles should be 5% acid. The acid level is usually printed on the front of the bottle. White and cider vinegar are ideal.
  • It isn’t advisable to make pickles from homemade vinegar since the pH can’t be easily tested.
  • Do not pickle waxed produce. The wax inhibits the pickling solution.
  • For firmer fermented cucumber pickles, try adding a few clean grape leaves to your brine.
  • If you use garlic and it turns blue, just discard it. The pickle is fine. It’s just a chemical reaction.
  • Do not make pickles in copper, brass or iron pans. The metal can leach into your food and will cause chemical reactions and off-tasting results.
  • And lastly, use quality produce, an approved recipe and don’t change the ratios of vinegar to water.

Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County.The Master Food Preservers can be found on Facebook.

--Rachel Narins

Photo credit: Rachel Narins

Canning it: How to make the sweetness last

MFP Kevin West-1
For capturing fruit flavors at the height of the season, there is nothing more satisfying for the home preservationist than making sweet preserves.

In the most basic terms, a sweet preserve is jam, jelly and marmalade or fruit butter. Whatever the end result, the process is as straightforward as combining fruit and sweetener (most likely sugar), heating to reduce the water content and thus enhancing texture and body.

It’s easy to can sweet preserves at home using the boiling water method, so you can enjoy the flavors of spring year-round. The secret (we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again) is to use top-quality products and follow a good recipe that takes the time to explain each step. The can in question should be a glass jar with a two-piece lid. Ball brand jars are available at most major grocery stores.

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Canning it: Here's how to get started

JarsAfter a 10-year hiatus, and with lots of excitement, the Master Food Preserver program has officially re-launched in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County.

This spring, 18 trainees began a 12-week program that will cover everything from canning, fermenting and curing to brewing and pickling. As one of the trainees, I’ll be sharing some tips and highlights from the program and hopefully answer your questions on preserving food at home.

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Seedless cherimoya? Not quite yet

“Seedless cherimoya, the next banana?” read the headlines of a story that has circulated on the Web since Monday, referring to the discovery of a gene for seedlessness in a fruit related to cherimoya by Charles Gasser, professor of plant biology at UC Davis, and three Spanish colleagues. The prospect sounds inviting, because the cherimoya is supremely delicious, but contains numerous hard black seeds (whence its name, which means “cold seeds” in Quechua, the Inca language).

Seedless cherimoyas have been around for decades, but have not become common, either in home gardens or commercial orchards, because the trees are not very productive; the seeds are necessary for normal fruit development, so seedless fruits are small and misshapen. Researchers in Japan have also figured out how to make standard varieties of cherimoya seedless by controlling pollination and applying natural plant growth hormones called gibberellins, but this approach has not proved commercially practical.

Gasser’s group does not yet have a seedless cherimoya, but a seedless form of a more tropical relative, sugar apple. This was found in Thailand and brought to Spain, said Gasser on a recent visit to his office. Seedless sugar apples are common in backyards, but previous varieties have been malformed, with mediocre flavor. This one, however, is full size, with good flavor, said Gasser, whose article appeared online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; the seed coats appear to develop just far enough to induce the fruit to develop normally, but no seeds develop.

His colleagues in Spain, where cherimoyas are grown commercially, are working to breed a seedless cherimoya by crossing their seedless sugar apple with a normal cherimoya. The trait for seedlessness is recessive, so it will take several generations, but Gasser is confident that a seedless cherimoya-like hybrid will result. (This is all through conventional breeding, not genetic modification.)

Most interestingly, Gasser has identified the same mutant gene for seedlessness in Arabidopsis, a species of cress that is the standard model organism used for studying plant biology. Because sugar apples and cherimoyas are in the magnolia family, which is among the most primitive of flowering plants, “that means that we can probably control this gene to induce seedlessness in basically all flowering plants,”  Gasser said.

Cherimoyas, which are cultivated on about 300 acres in California, will likely become more popular if seedless varieties become available. But they probably won’t ever be as abundant as bananas and pineapples, two other fruits that lost their seeds during domestication. Cherimoyas require labor-intensive hand-pollination and are strongly climacteric, passing quickly from firm to ripe to squishy and brown, so they’ll probably remain an expensive delicacy best suited for local sale.

-- David Karp

Photo: Thai seedless sugar apple, related to cherimoyas, are being used by a team of Spanish researchers to hybridize a seedless cherimoya-like fruit. Credit: Emilio Guirado

Sweet! It's citrus season

January is absolutely peak season for oranges from the San Joaquin Valley, the state's leading growing area. Citrus from this district, where each variety has a relatively defined season, takes a little more care to obtain at best, compared to fruit from Southern California, where citrus can hang on the tree much longer in good condition. Some of the best choices at this time are Page oranges, Washington navel oranges and Moro blood oranges.

Read more in this week's Market Watch report by David Karp. Plus, check out his photo gallery capturing the fruits and veggies making their way to your local farmers market.

Photo: Page oranges / David Karp

Got more orange than you know what to do with?

We can't all be Virginia Paca, the gardener profiled in October who grows food and donates it to food banks. But this winter those of us with orange trees laden with fruit might take a page from the book of that Pasadenan. What more fitting holiday activity could there be than to glean our home orchards and donate fresh fruit to local pantries? As winter closes in, that fruit very well may be oranges. It is pure serendipity that an activity that feeds people is also good for the orange trees. Read more at our Home blog:

Photo: Dominic Conte picks oranges from a tree overdue for harvesting. Credit: Emily Green

Australian finger limes make a splash in Santa Monica

One of the rarest and most sought-after fruits, the Australian finger lime, has started showing up in significant quantities at the Santa Monica farmers market, creating a minor sensation. The fruit's appearance is enough to excite wonder: From the outside it looks like a little gherkin, but when sliced in half, the round, pearlescent juice vesicles ooze out of the fruit, like citrus caviar. The clean, fresh, tart lime-lemon taste is enticing enough, but the texture, crunchy and juicy, like citrus Pop Rocks, is even more prepossessing. Read more in this week's Market Watch report by David Karp:

Photo credit: David Karp

Peaches in November? How can that be?


Among the Halloween treats available at farmers market this weekend, alongside pumpkins, apples and persimmons, there's one, Autumn Lady peaches from Tenerelli Orchards, that might seem incongruous. Could these fruits really be fresh, or any good? Find out in this week's Market Watch report. Plus, check out David Karp's photo gallery of what's fresh this week at your local farmers market.

Photo credit: David Karp

The last of summer's peaches

Cobbler1Amazingly, last Sunday the farmers market still had peaches and nectarines for sale. If they're still around this coming weekend, it's not too late to get in one more cobbler for the season.

My new favorite recipe is "Berry and Peach Cobbler with Corn Flour Cobbles" from Deborah Madison's book "Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market" (Clarkson Potter, 2010, $32.50). She spent four years working on the book, and it shows. Her peach cobbler recipe includes a little cornmeal in the dough, which gives it a satisfying crunch. She also adds berries -- blueberries, huckleberries or blackberries -- to the peaches or nectarines, which give the cobbler a deeper color.

It's also very easy to make: no rolling; you simply spoon the batter on top of the peaches before baking. This is a title that needs a place on your cookbook shelf. Buy it at any bookstore or from Madison's website.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.