A couple weeks ago, five home-made food enthusiasts met in the Sacramento Co-op kitchen to preserve our first batch of local produce. It was probably my first day in a professional kitchen since I washed dishes in elementary school, but fortunately we had some experienced leadership to organize and oversee. Thanks to that planning, and many hours of chopping, cooking, packing and pouring, we ended up with an impressive collection of beautiful jars of food to sell to benefit Harvest Sacramento.
We started the morning with 100 lbs of super fresh, spotless local Meyer lemons and a stack of fresh canning jars. Our two recipes, Meyer lemon marmalade and Persian-style preserved lemons, were a great pairing since they require very different types of preparation. Still fresh, we started with the extensive slicing to make marmalade chunks delicate enough to spread on morning toast. While those simmered for hours, we moved on to the satisfyingly simple quartering of lemons for round two.
Preserved lemons were fairly new to most of us, but I’m expecting them to be a favorite once I start eating them. They certainly look bright and cheery on the kitchen counter. This batch was mixed with a potent blend of salt and spices and packed into quart jars to marinate and pickle for a few weeks. Fairly simple, but quite labor-intensive since it turns out you can fit a lot of lemons in one of those jars if you press and squeeze and arrange them properly. By the end of the day, we had a couple experts in squeezing that last piece in to hold everything down below the juice level.
The bubbling pots on the stove were ready now, meaning it was time to fill the lovely little square jam jars. We did the canning in the oven, instead of in a water bath. It takes some time, but worked great for the large quantities we had. It also meant that much less boiling water to watch out for as we multi-tasked in the narrow aisles.
A long day, no doubt, that made me appreciate the value of good food. But also an empowering reminder of what we can do for ourselves with some time and motivation. And that it feels great to be productive, with good people, for a good cause.