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June 13, 2007   Email to Friend 

Yes, You Can Can
Kellie Henderson

Martha Sessions of Mobile County says she doesn't cook as much as she once did, but she still enjoys preserving the fresh fruits and vegetables her family grows on their farm in Grand Bay.

"I still use the same pressure cooker for preserving that my mother used when I was young, helping her can summer fruits and vegetables," she says. "The cooker belonged to my grandfather, and he used to always say my mother could just borrow it, but it was his cooker. I don't think it left my mother's kitchen though until it came to mine." Martha says she grew up watching her mother cook, but didn't do much of it herself until she was older.

"I did some things in the kitchen as I got older, but I was really just Mother's helper when it came to cooking. It was the same with the canning, too. I learned a lot just by watching her," she says.

Martha wasn't the only one who picked up her mother's canning skills. "My brother, Joe Hilley, comes to help me can during the summer," she said. "Last year, we put up 60 quarts of green beans." Martha's husband, Art, serves as a director for the Mobile County Farmers Federation. He and his brother, David, farm the same land their father worked, as well as acreage acquired since. The family raises cattle, cotton, pecans and peanuts on their farm, in addition to the fresh produce they sell to grocery stores and produce stands. But Martha says one of the most rewarding aspects of their business is selling at the farmers market.

"We've had greenhouses for over 10 years now," she says. "So, much of what we sell at the market was started from seed in the greenhouse and taken to the field and then to the market."

Martha encourages everyone to visit local markets for fresh produce and to try preserving their favorites to enjoy throughout the year.

"Canning and freezing is not difficult, and you don't need a large freezer or a lot of equipment to do it," she said. "Your local Cooperative Extension Office has all the tips and techniques you need for freezing and canning, and using the information provided inside a box of Sure-Jell keeps jelly-making simple."

The recipes that follow are mostly from a family cookbook a relative compiled several years ago, but Martha also offers a few tips of her own.

"I try not to put up more than my family will eat in a year, and I like to turn jars upside down while the heat seals them," she says. "And an easy way to get juice for making peach jelly is to save the peelings from peaches I'm freezing. I cover them with water and boil for 30 minutes, then pour off the liquid and use a potato masher to remove the juice left in the peelings."

TOMATO RELISH
1 quart peeled and chopped ripe tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pickling spices
Chopped hot pepper to taste (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook slowly over low heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until mixture is thick. Fill jars with hot mixture and seal immediately.

PRESERVES
1 part sugar
2 parts fruit
Cook over medium-high heat until syrup is thick. Fill jars with hot preserves and seal.

JELLY
1 part sugar
1 part fruit juice
Sure-Jell fruit pectin, optional
Cook over medium-high heat until mixture reaches softball stage (235 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer). Pour into jars while hot and seal.
Note: Martha recommends using Sure-Jell and following the instructions provided in the package.

STRAWBERRY FIGS
2 cups sugar
2 cups figs
1 (3-ounce) package wild strawberry flavored gelatin
In a sauce pan pour sugar over figs; let stand 2½ hours. Add gelatin to figs. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking 20 to 30 minutes until syrup is thick. Fill and seal jars while mixture is hot.


CRISP SWEET PICKLES
2 1/2 cups pickling lime
Water (as directed)
7 pounds large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced into long strips
4 ounces alum
2 quarts white vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons whole pickling spice
5 pounds sugar


Day 1 - Combine pickling lime with 2 gallons of water and stir to dissolve. Start soaking cucumbers in lime water in a large non-reactive dishpan at 7 p.m. and soak for 24 hours.


Day 2 - Combine alum with 2 gallons of water and stir to dissolve. At 7 p.m. remove cucumbers from lime water and rinse. Soak for 12 hours in alum water in dish pan.

Day 3 - At 7 a.m., remove cucumbers from alum water and soak in clear water for 6 hours.

Combine 1 quart water with vinegar, salt, spice and sugar to make syrup. Drain cucumbers well and cover with syrup; let stand for 4 hours.

Bring pickles and syrup to a boil in a large pot and cook until pickles are transparent, about 30 minutes. Pack into jars while hot and seal. Squash Casserole
3 pounds squash, cleaned and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick butter, melted, plus more for topping
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
Grated cheddar cheese
Crushed buttery round crackers
In a large pot, cover squash and onion in water. Boil until tender; drain and mash. Add butter and salt and pepper. Stir in eggs and milk. Pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle with cheese and cracker crumbs just to cover. Dot with butter as desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLES
25 large cucumbers
12 onions, sliced
1/2 cup salt
1 quart vinegar
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 tablespoons celery seed


Soak cucumbers in cold water until crisp. Wipe dry and cut into slices. Combine with onion slices and salt. Let stand for 1 hour. Do not drain.


Add vinegar, remaining ingredients and water to cover. Boil for 5 minutes. While mixture is hot, fill and seal jars.

FRUIT COBBLER
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 to 3 cups fruit - canned, fresh or frozen peaches, strawberries or blackberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in an oven-safe 11- x 13-inch baking dish. Add flour, sugar and milk and stir well. Stir in fruit and bake for 30 minutes.

Note: Martha says she often uses an old, large, iron skillet instead of the 11- x 13-inch dish.

Strawberry Pie
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
2 teaspoons strawberry flavor gelatin
1 pint of fresh strawberries or more to fill crust, sliced
1 baked pie crust
Non-dairy whipped topping


Cook first four ingredients in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until thick. Remove from heat; add fresh berries to mixture. Pour into pie crust and refrigerate until chilled. Top with whipped topping before serving, if desired.

DILL PICKLES
2 gallons whole cucumbers, thoroughly washed
Garlic cloves, celery sticks, hot green peppers, and fresh dill as desired
2 quarts water
1 quart cider vinegar
1 cup salt
Pack cucumbers into jars along with garlic, celery, peppers and dill.


In a sauce pan combine water, vinegar and salt.

Heat mixture to boiling and boil for 5 minutes.

Pour immediately over cucumbers in jars and seal. Note: Martha says whole dill pickles are so popular with her family that she uses gallon jars for this recipe.


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