Canning Extravaganza!

It’s that time of year when we’re surrounded by incredible local produce at every turn, so much deliciousness we couldn’t possibly eat it all.  So can it!  We’ve received quite a few requests for canning recipes and guides, tips and tricks.  And while we are making every attempt to provide you with stellar answers, we must admit that we are not seasoned canners.  But does that mean we can’t enjoy the process of packing little morsels of summer into jars so we can pop a honey vanilla peach in our mouth in the dead of winter and be transported back to that perfect sunny day with peach juice running down your arm in the park?  No, it doesn’t.  And would we ever suggest that our loyal and fabulous customers shouldn’t try their hand at pickling vibrant green cukes that are meant for a last-days-of-summer-BBQ Caesar?  Never!  No, we believe there’s something beautiful in getting your hands dirty and giving it a go.  So, we rolled up our sleeves and jumped right in.  Strawberry Preserves, Honey Vanilla Peaches, and Dill Pickles… go big or go home right?  Wanna join us?   These are the things you’ll need.

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Market-Sourced Ingredients

1 Flat of Strawberries*

1 Case of Peaches*

3 Bags of Pickling Cucumbers*

3-6 Heads of Alberta Garlic (depending on how garlicky you like your pickles)*

*Items sponsored by Souto Farms

2 Heads of Beck Farms Cauliflower from Innisfail Growers

1, 500ml Jar of Nixon Honey from Innisfail Growers

3 Bunches of Dill from Blush Lane Organics

1 Bag of Pickling Spice and 2 Vanilla Pods from The Silk Road Spice Merchant

Canning Equipment Required:

*We purchased a home canning starter kit from Canadian Tire that includes everything you’ll need for years of canning ($50); it includes a 21 quart canner, a rack, jar lifter, funnel, lid lifter, bubble remover, 4 pack collection elite decorative jars with lids, original crystals pectin and recipe booklet AND an instructional DVD for beginners.

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Let’s start with the Strawberry Preserves.  As we stated earlier, we’re not traditionalists when it comes to canning AND we believe when you have such gorgeous seasonal produce, it ought to shine.  So, we did away with the traditional 4 cups fruit + 4 cups sugar, (we want to taste the fruit, not the sugar), and instead opted for the No Sugar Needed Bernardin Pectin.  Our recipe was simple:

1 flat of Strawberries

the black gold of one vanilla pod

juice and zest of one lemon

1/2 cup of apple juice

1 cup of sugar, and

1 package of pectin

*We followed the steps included in the pectin box.

Canning Collage 1

Start by washing the strawberries and rough cutting into smallish chunks.  Add to your pot with the lemon juice, zest, and vanilla.  Bring to a boil, add pectin, and bring back to rolling boil.  Add sugar, stir, return to a rolling boil for 3 minutes (as stated in the pectin instructions).  While all of this is happening on one side of the stove, you should have your mason jars, lids, and metal bands/rings sterilizing in the canning pot on the other side.  Funnel hot strawberries into hot, sterilized mason jars with 1/4 inch head space.  Top with hot, sterilized lid and place ring (or metal band) on (do not over-tighten).  Process the filled jars in your hot water bath (in canning pot) for 10 minutes. The lids will start to ‘ping’ and you’ll know they’re sealed.  As a disclaimer, these strawberries are called preserves, not jam, because they don’t fig up like a traditional jam… but they taste darn good and are perfect on waffles, ice cream, scones… yum!

Canning Collage 2

Now, on to the peaches!  If you’ve been to the market lately, you’ve seen the cases and cases and cases of peaches we have.  They’re fuzzy, sweet, juicy orbs of yum.  And what could be better in the middle of a freak snowstorm than pulling out a jar of honey sunshine to top french toast or make peach crisp or balk at Old Man Winter and eat them with a bowl of ice cream?  While they take a little more effort as they need to be blanched in hot water for 1-2 minutes (depending on how ripe they are), peeled, and quartered before soaking them in water with lemon juice… they’re worth it!  So, here’s what you’ll need:

1 case of peaches

a couple lemons (or the Bernardin Fruit Fresh if that’s your preference)

1 vanilla pod, and

1 500ml jar of Nixon Honey for a light syrup

Start by blanching the peaches in hot water for 1-2 minutes and then transfer to a sink full of ice cold water to stop the cooking process.  You don’t want to cook the peaches, just shock the skins off and seal in some of the nutrients.  Add more ice to the water to ensure it stays nice and cold as you continue with blanching the entire case of peaches.

Now the peeling.  Here’s where you can choose two based on your preference.  You can either half them and remove the pit, then peel the skins away and cut into quarters.  OR, you can peel the skin away and try to keep the slippery little peach in hand while you quarter the fruit away from the pit.  We actually found the latter to be more effective than the former, but it’s a personal preference.  These quarters are far from Del Monte perfect… but should they be?  Our hands made them and that kind of makes them yummier, no?

Place all of the peach slices in a sink of cold water with the juice of a couple lemons (or Fruit Fresh); this will help prevent browning.

Let’s get started on the syrup.  We opted for a light syrup as we wanted all three ingredients to shine equally and not be overpowered with a cloying honey sweetness.  We use 1 cup honey to 4 cups water (and used this ratio 3x times to fill all of the peach jars).  Heat water, honey, and seeds of the vanilla pod together until boiling.  Pour honey syrup in hot, sterilized jars stuffed with peaches (pack them in, but don’t squish ’em) with 1/2 inch head space.  Top with hot, sterilized lid and place ring (or metal band) on (do not over-tighten).  Process the filled jars in your hot water bath (in canning pot) for 25 minutes. (Ensure that all jars are covered by at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water; cover canner and bring water to full rolling boil before starting to count processing time).  ***Remove jars from water bath without tilting and place them upright on a protected work surface. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours; DO NOT RETIGHTEN screw bands.

Peaches can be enjoyed a mere week after… they do not require a long steep time like pickles.

Canning Collage 3

Ok pickle time!  So pickling is dead simple.  By this stage, we were a well-oiled produce-prepping, jar-sterilizing canning machine.  We decided to pickle cucumbers, cauliflowers, and green beans, though other great options are carrots, asparagus, beets, onions, or jalapeno peppers.  Here’s what you’ll need:

3 Bags of Pickling Cucumbers

3-6 Heads of Alberta Garlic (depending on how garlicky you like your pickles)

2 Heads of Beck Farms Cauliflower

3 Bunches of Dill

1 Bag of Pickling Spice

Start by washing (gently scrubbing) the pickling cucumbers.  Slice how you prefer; we chose to do them two way: spears in quarters and coins.  Wash and cut cauliflower.  Peel garlic.  Place mason jars, lids, and metal bands/rings in the canning pot to sterilize while you’re making the pickling brine.

Our brine is made up of:

4 cups water

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup coarse pickling salt

1/2 cup white sugar

*Some may find this brine too strong; you may choose to add more water but do not over-dilute the brine as this will affect the crispiness of the pickles.

Bring the brine ingredients to a boil.  Drop 4 cloves of garlic, a few fronds of fresh dill, and approximately 1 tbsp of Silk Road Pickling Spice into jars.  (We used 1 tbsp in 500ml-1L jars, and 2 tbsp in larger jars).  Pack your vegetables of choice into hot, sterilized mason jars and pour hot brine over them with 1/2 inch head space.  Top with hot, sterilized lid and place ring (or metal band) on (do not over-tighten).  Process the filled jars in your hot water bath (in canning pot) for 5 minutes.  Pickles will require approximately 4 weeks of fermenting time before they’re at their best.

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We sure got a lot done!  So, do you need to do all three of these in one day?  Absolutely not!  In fact, it’s a pretty aggressive undertaking.  We do, however, think you should take a stab at one of them.  There is a plethora of delicious canning recipes out there; you can find some of the ones we love on our Pinterest Canning Board.

What will you be canning this year?  Do you have an interesting recipe to share with us?

*A quick note on processing times: times will vary depending on the altitude you live at.  For the purpose of our recipes, we have stated altitude-appropriate times for Calgary, Alberta.  If you live elsewhere, you can consult this very useful altitude chart from Bernardin.

Innisfail Growers Cooperative

We hear the question often: “why isn’t the market open every day?” The answer is simple really. There is a lot that goes into bringing the fresh produce you see at our market; they’re here even when we’re not open, they’re in the fields growing food for our tables, and even farmers need a day of rest. Recently, we visited the five farms that make up the Innisfail Growers Co-Operative: Beck Farms, Edgar Farms, Uppergreen Farms, The Jungle Farm, and Hillside Greenhouses. The farms are scattered around the Innisfail area, filled with hardworking farmers, warm hearts, and incredible produce. We made the short journey with local food blogger Dan Clapson and illustrator, food writer, and Food On Your Shirt creator Pierre Lamielle. We were expecting to learn a few things, but we came away with more knowledge and warm hospitality than anticipated. There is a passion that lies within the hearts of these farmers and their families and it shows in their many offerings which can be found at the Innisfail Growers Co-Op booth at our market. So what did we learn? Where did we visit? Get ready for the whirlwind, here goes everything we can try to wrap up in one post.

Close your eyes and imagine what a thriving greenhouses smells like. If you said “green”, you’d be spot on. But green is a color, it doesn’t have a smell you say. Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. Carmen and Jose Fuentes of Hillside Greenhouses are the newest members of the Innisfail Growers Co-operative joining in 2003. They occupy 18,000 square feet of greenhouse filled with tomatoes, mini cucumbers, and green beans. We were pleasantly surprised to see that they had just started harvesting the beans and cucumbers to be sold at the market, with the tomatoes requiring a little more love and time. If you’re wondering what it was like to have your nose awash in the smell of green, pick up some of Carmen’s beautiful tomatoes at the Market and stick your nose right in the bag… get right in there and give it a good, deep sniff. Smells good doesn’t it?

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All of their greenhouses are herbicide and pesticide free, instead using biological controls: “good” bugs take care of the “bad” bugs.

Hillside Greenhouse Collage
Beans, Tomatoes, Cucumbers! Oh My!

All the tomatoes you find at the Innisfail Growers table have been ripened on the plant and picked 1-2 days in advance. This is what gives them such great home grown flavour!

Shelley Bradshaw, with her husband Rod and two sons have been crafting the art of growing carrots for over 20 years. Over the years, they have perfected planting in Alberta’s rich, dark soil to bring us their famous Nantes carrots, but also beets, parsnips, dill, hot peppers, and more! Nantes carrots are by nature a sweeter variety, but Shelly’s carrots are particularly crisp and sweet due to the unique terroir; the cool nights we experience in Alberta are key to producing sweet tasting, crisp vegetables because it prevents the naturally produced sugars from turning to bitter starch.

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This is Shelley and this is her mower. Doesn’t she look at home?
Beck Farms Collage 1
Shelley took the time to show us their impressive set-up; we can’t wait to see it up and running during harvest.

Once dug from the ground the carrots are brought to the farm yard where they are washed, sorted, inspected and bagged. Ready for you to eat. We may have snagged a carrot or two… it was quality testing, really.

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We went up at the beginning of May so the fields were bare, but this gives you a good idea of the before picture. Don’t worry, we’ll be back up to Beck Farms for harvest time. Shelley has promised to put us to work.

Edgar Farms

We hadn’t exactly done a whole lot to work up an appetite, but it was lunch time nonetheless. Elna and Doug of Edgar Farms had prepared a fantastic meal for our gang; it isn’t everyday you can sit down to a table filled almost entirely of local products: Beck Farms shredded carrots and Honey Mustard Dressing, Hillside Greenhouses tomatoes and cucumbers, Uppergreen Farms’ thick-cut roasted french fries, Edgar Farms Angus Beef burgers and homemade asparagus relish, pickled beets, mustard pickles, and what Elna promised to be the best sauerkraut in the world; she wasn’t exaggerating. And to finish the meal, a home-baked, fresh-out-of-the-oven rhubarb pie. We could get used to this sort of hospitality! But isn’t that part of a farmers’ charm? Down-home heart and a table full of friends.

Edgar Lunch Collage We’d had our fill and were all ready for a nap, when Elna and her lovely family rolled us out the door to show off their farm, a Country Store open seasonally, and a shiny new kitchen to bring you all of their delicious offerings. They have an impressive set-up to say the least.

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Believe it or not, this field is actually filled with asparagus. It just wasn’t quite ready to show it’s beautiful little spears.
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Amanda and Elna digging for asparagus.

Doug & Elna Edgar and family started off growing asparagus on a hidden-away acre “so their neighbors wouldn’t think they’d gone crazy” in 1986, but soon expanded to 21 acres. The largest asparagus field in Alberta, the Edgar’s farm produces some of the sweetest, most tender asparagus, with the addition of beans, preservatives, pies, and natural beef on their sixth generation family farm. When picking, they snap the asparagus off at ground level so you won’t have to cut off the tough bottom before you prepare it. It arrived at the market a little early this year and we just couldn’t keep our hands off of it!

For a simple and delicious asparagus recipe, check out our Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart featuring Edgar Farms scrumptious spears.

Edgar Farms Collage 1
Pierre was eager to get his hands dirty, but we’re pretty sure it’s a lot harder than it looks. For an idea of just how it works, check this video out.

Edgar Farms is only 5 minutes west of the QE2, so it’s not much more than a hop, skip, and a jump to pay them a visit for their Annual Asparagus Festival on June 1st and 2nd. And if you can’t make it for the festival, you can meet the farmers, experience picking for yourself, learn what is involved in growing, plus taste the freshness straight from the fields at their Innisfail Growers Customer Appreciation Day on Sunday, July 28th!

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The Women’s Institute has been managing this school for many, many years. The farmers in the community often supply food for community events held here.

3 down and 2 to go, we hopped back in the car and sped down the dusty gravel roads trying to keep up with Shelley (our guide for the day). If you’ve ever tried to follow a farmer zipping around in their neck of the woods, you’ll know it was no surprise we nearly lost the undercarriage of our little city vehicle once or twice. But we had potatoes to see!

Upper Green Farms

The Buyks family has been growing potatoes for Innisfail Growers since 1993. Originally from Holland, John and Corry bring years of vegetable growing experience to their family farm. Although their four children have now all graduated from university, their son Hanno and his wife, Megan, are involved with the farm and help to bring you the fresh potatoes you know and love. When we arrived at their farm, John was about to head into the fields to start planting but he took a few minutes to explain the planting process to us. In our city slicker minds, we equated this contraption to a potato Ferris Wheel. Every summer, they spend hours and hours walking through the potato fields to ensure the plants are healthy. The baby potatoes are all hand picked, selected, and sorted to bring gourmet quality and freshness to your plate. There is no potayto-potawto debate here, they’re just in a league of their own.

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These ‘ugly’ sprouted potatoes are actually what John will load into the potato ferris wheel to be planted… like a seed.

The Jungle Farm

And last, but by no means the least, we were off to meet 4th generation farmers Blaine and Leona Staples just north of Innisfail. The Staples are best known for their strawberries, but also grow greenhouse crops, specializing in flowers and a number of field crops such as lettuce and pumpkins. Everyone in the family helps out on the farm in the summer time; Leona’s eldest son is even experimenting with his own crop of garlic this year. After the summer of berries and freshly picked vegetables, you can also get your halloween pumpkin from your local Innisfail Growers Booth or straight from The Jungle Farm (where they just happen to have a pretty cool pumpkin cannon, yeah you read that right. Cannon).

Jungle Farms Collage 1 There are an endless number of activities to do on The Jungle Farm from picking your own strawberries, choosing the perfect pumpkin right out of the pumpkin patch, planting your very own flower planters and baskets, riding the wagon to the corn maze, enjoying a leisurely stroll along the gnome walk, or zipping down the slide. It’s fun, trust us.

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We consider this quality control too.

Our first farm tour was an outstanding experience, a beautiful beginning to what we hope will help connect our farmers to our guests. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Shelley, Carmen, Elna and Doug, John and Corry, and Leona (and their lovely families) for letting us invade their farms and homes. We are humbled by your hard work and appreciate you and your produce beyond words.

Stay tuned for future farm tours of our other fabulous vendors here at the Calgary Farmers’ Market and our return to Innisfail to help with the harvest. That should be interesting!

AND, if you can’t make it up to Edgar Farms for the Asparagus Festival or to visit all of the farms for their Customer Appreciation day… Karen Anderson of Calgary Food Tours is offering an exclusive Alberta Farm Tour on Sunday, August 11th!

In the comfort of a bathroom equipped and air-conditioned Sahalla Coachlines executive bus, with a coffee and pastry to go from two of Calgary Farmer’s Markets’ yummiest vendors, you will sit back and enjoy the 75 minute drive North along Alberta’s most fertile growing belt to Innisfail Growers. You will be greeted with a refreshing snack and then tour Edgar Farms and Hillside Greenhouses before enjoying a farm fresh lunch in the Little Red Deer Community Hall. After lunch you’ll pull a few of Beck Farms’ famous carrots, spot spuds in the mud at Buyks farms and then enjoy Leona Staples’ great cooking with dessert at The Jungle Farm!  For more information and to purchase tickets, check out Calgary Food Tours Inc.