This last week was a big week for preserving things. So it will be a bit long and I won't go into too much detail. I'll talk about pickled bok choy, strawberry jam, and strawberry syrup. But first spinach. I froze the last batch of spinach for the year. Spinach is a big one for me. I freeze enough for me to have it two times a week during the four months of winter that my chenopodias are frozen in the garden (chenopodias are the family that contains spinach and chard). Four months is about 18 weeks. So I need 36 half cup packets. With the last spring spinach pulled I finally ended up with 38 packets. Usually I don't get this much in the spring. I normally rely on my Swiss chard to fill in what the spinach didn't produce. But this year was a great spinach year. Germination was good. The plants didn't damp off like last year. So I had a full 4'x8' bed of overwinterd spinach, plus the same in spring spinach. Which was enough for all my frozen needs and for fresh spinach every other day since I started picking on the last day of March. I still have spinach in my fridge that should last a few more days. It has been such a fabulous spinach year. I harvested a total of 23.5 pounds. Now if I could just make every year that good.
I was forced to pick a good amount of white stemmed bok choy last week as it was starting to bolt. I couldn't eat that much. I had been giving it away, but I figured I'd try some preserving. I'm not a fan of things like sauerkraut. The fermented cabbages just don't taste right to me. But I love picked cabbages done with vinegar. So I used the Ball Blue Book recipe for red pickled cabbage. I modified it a bit by changing the spices. They use a lot of traditional pickling spices, but I added the mustard seed and five spice powder to the mix. Above is the sliced choy salted and brining for 24 hours. Then it is rinsed and drained and pickled with vinegar. Their recipe called for red wine vinegar, but I wanted a different taste. I used half cider and half white distilled. They are all at 5% acidity which is all that is important. Now a lot of people don't like white distilled vinegar since it is so sharp, but I love the sharpness. The three pounds of choy made two pint jars. In a week I'll open one up and see if I like it. If so I'll make more with some of the Michihili cabbage.
Strawberry jam is always so good. I'm not a huge jam eater, but I do eat some. The basic recipe for a pectin free strawberry jam is one cup mashed strawberries, one cup sugar, one tablespoon lemon juice. I had three and a half cups of mashed strawberries so used the appropriate amounts of sugar and lemon juice. I show the photo above because very ripe strawberries don't have a lot of pectin, but the less ripe ones have plenty. So this is the small handful of partially ripe ones that I added just to make sure.
For those that have never made jam before, the gel in jam is formed by pectin. The pectin needs both enough acid and enough sugar to form a matrix in the liquid. Lemon juice is often added to jams to assure that acidity. Though fruits really are acidic enough to gel without it. But too little of anything and it just won't work. Then it needs to be heated up. You can test for gelling using a lot of methods, but by far the easiest if you have never done it is by temperature. The gelling temperature is 8F over the boiling point of water at your altitude. I'm at sea level so 220F is the gelling point for me. I also like to use a thermometer because I can tell how fast it is getting to the right temperature. I don't like sitting over a pot and watching it boil.
Next up was strawberry syrup. I couldn't find any recipe for it. There were recipes. They strained the juice out of the pulp. They added water. Why would I wanted to dilute the syrup with water? I basically wanted a simple syrup that had the whole berry and not too much sugar. So I just made something up. I pureed the strawberries and added about half that much in sugar. I added about half the amount of lemon juice as I would have in jam. Normally making up recipes for canning is bad. But fruit is always acidic enough to be fine. Less sugar means that it won't keep as well. Closed it is safe, but once you open it up, jam keeps a long time in the fridge. The sugar preserves it. But this syrup will mold over faster than a jam. So I used small jars. I'm expecting to use it for pancakes and over ice cream. And like last night, I poured it over some left over corn bread for dessert. Yummy. I might need to make more this year, but if I do I need to buy some more half pint jars. I have so few. They always disappear.
Anyway I'm getting ahead of myself by eating it. So back to cooking it. My big question became how long to cook it. I didn't want a full gel, but I did want the syrup to have some structure to it. It seemed to get to the right thickness at about 210F. So I canned it at that point. It was perfect. It poured well, but still was a bit thick. Now that I know the right temperature I can reproduce it fairly reliably. I canned it just like I canned my jam. 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. As I was taking them out the tops starting pinging. I just love that sound.