All summer long, I make plans to fill my pantry with homemade jams and preserves, though I rarely do. It’s either too hot or I’m distracted outdoors.
But I perk up with fall’s first chill. Come late September, the kitchen is just where I want to be, making small batches of late-season pickles. With their sweet-and-salty crunch, they make great additions to sandwiches and charcuterie platters. Late-season fruits—apples, pears and plums—are slow-cooked with sugar and spice into thick, rich fruit butters. And even carrots get the sweet treatment.
Drying herbs is another way of holding onto late summer’s bounty, whether for blending into herbal tea or grinding with sea salt and chili pepper for spice mixes.
Here are a few simple ideas to celebrate the harvest’s last gifts.
Green Tomato Pickle
Most tomato growers could use a few extra weeks of summer. There are always green tomatoes left on the vine when the first frost approaches. This recipe makes bright, aromatic use of them. Makes 1 1-litre jar.
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 dried chili pepper
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
8 large green tomatoes, cut into thin wedges (or 3 cups green cherry tomatoes, halved)
In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring, until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Place the tomatoes in a sterilized jar and pour the brine over them, being sure they are completely submerged in liquid. Cover, let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least two days before using. Store in the fridge for up to a month.
This is an old-fashioned jam whose main ingredient is a surprise to most people. It’s nice on toast in the morning, or alongside goat cheese as an appetizer. Makes 1 500-mL jar.
4 large carrots, peeled
Half a lemon
1½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
Grate the carrots into a bowl using the medium side of a box grater. (You should have 3 cups.) Using a microplane, finely grate the zest of the orange and lemon over the carrots. Then squeeze in the orange and lemon juice. Stir in sugar and ginger. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least two hours and as long as overnight, to allow the carrots time to release their juice. Transfer to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat until the carrots are soft and the liquid has thickened to a syrup, about 15 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking, adding a little water if necessary. Transfer to a clean jar and cover while hot. Keep refrigerated.
Tuscan Herb Salt
This seasoning blend is a favourite of Italian butchers and home cooks. I rub a little onto chicken and fish before roasting or grilling or add it to vegetable soup. Use more or fewer chili pepper flakes, as you like. Makes 1 small jar.
2 large branches fresh rosemary, leaves only (about ¼ cup, 60 mL)
12 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
10 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp coarse sea salt
¼ tsp red chili pepper flakes
Finely grated zest of half a lemon
In a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder or mini-food processor, pulse the rosemary, sage and thyme with the garlic and 1 tbsp of the salt until very fine. Add the remaining salt and grind again until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined tray and add the chili pepper flakes and lemon zest. Toss to combine, using your fingers to separate any clumps. Spread the herb blend on the tray in a thin, even layer. Loosely cover with a clean dishcloth, and leave to dry at room temperature for a couple of days. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps for several months in a cool, dry place.
Roasted Agrodolce Onion Preserves
Sicilian-style sweet-and-sour onions are curiously addictive, and when roasted and charred before pickling, they take on even more personality. These preserves are good on top of crostini or pizza, or warmed up and tossed with pasta and Parmesan cheese. I keep them in the fridge, preserved under oil. Makes 1 500-mL jar.
4 medium onions
½ cup (125 mL) olive oil
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (125 mL) red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ cup (125 mL) raisins
2 tbsp capers
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Peel the onions and cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 wedges. In a roasting pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, toss the onions with 2 tbsp of the oil and the rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once or twice, until the onion is tender and broken apart into slices that are brown around the edges. Remove from the oven.
In a saucepan on the stovetop, combine the vinegar, garlic and maple syrup and simmer over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the roasted onions, raisins, capers and cayenne and simmer, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to a glaze. Transfer to a clean glass jar and top with the remaining oil. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. •
Photography by Susan Semenak