What to make of all those home-canned goodies
While summer brings the chance to can the fruits and vegetables we grew, winter brings the challenge of making good meals from all that was preserved. One choice for that pear and dried-cherry chutney you put up is to make an old-fashioned chicken curry that will put the chutney to good use.
WHEN MY FRIEND Jon Rowley called me awhile back to ask if I would join something called the Canvolution, I was in New Orleans cooking for student volunteers helping Habitat for Humanity build homes for folks displaced by Hurricane Katrina. My fruit trees and canning jars were thousands of miles from me, and at the moment seemed even farther away.
"What's Canvolution?" I asked from a grocery-store parking lot as I sat trying to formulate a shopping list for the night's meal.
"It's a group of people all over the country getting together to teach classes, have canning parties or whatever to celebrate home canning. You want to do it?"
Rowley has seen my pantry filled with jars of peaches, pears and plums, applesauce, chutney and blackberry jam, and knows I'm a compulsive canner.
"What do I have to do?" I asked.
"Whatever you want," he said.
"Well, maybe I could talk about it on the radio or write an article."
The Canvolution, led almost entirely by a cabal of Seattle cooks, promptly shaped up into a well-organized movement called Canning Across America. The organization's website defines it as "a nationwide, ad hoc collective of cooks, gardeners and food lovers committed to the revival of the lost art of 'putting up' food." The founders' goal, they say, "is to promote safe food preservation and the joys of community-building through food. We believe in celebrating the bounty of local and seasonal produce and taking greater control of our food supply."
Maybe it was the economy; maybe it was an extension of the locavore movement or just one of those hundredth-monkey-move things, but for whatever reason, Canning Across America really took off. Parade magazine included home canning in a list of Five Unexpected Food Trends, reporting that according to the maker of Kerr and Ball brand jars, canning-equipment sales went up 30 percent in 2009, citing Canning Across America as part of the reason.
So, now that canning season is over, pantries all over North America are fairly bursting with canned goods. And I'd be willing to bet that if the past two summers saw a rise in canning enthusiasm, the winters have left a bunch of cooks wondering what to do with all those canned goods.
You see, we canning enthusiasts like to pack food in jars even more than we like to spoon it out. In years past, spring has found me still knee-deep in last year's canned goods. Oh sure, the blackberry jam gets gobbled up, and the peach preserves don't hang around too long. But how many jars of chutney or dilly beans can one family reasonably be expected to consume?
The holiday season afforded opportunities to look generous to friends and neighbors. But chances are, we're still facing a surplus of preserves and a plethora of pickles. So let's get going on the flip side of Canning Across America. Call it Uncanning Across America, when home preservers try to build meals and parties around the potlatch of good things they gathered in summer.
Greg Atkinson is a Seattle-area chef, author and consultant.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Old-Fashioned Chicken Curry with Pear Chutney
Serves 4 to 6
This heartwarming dish is based on a colonial American recipe for Country Captain. It affords a wonderful opportunity to use your home-canned tomatoes and show off your homemade chutney, but store-bought canned tomatoes and chutney will work just fine. A recipe for Spicy Pear and Dried Cherry Chutney can be found at http://www.canningacrossamerica.com/recipes/spicy-pear-and-dried-cherry-chutney/
For the curry
6 boneless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon Golden Curry Powder, or commercial curry
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 (16-ounce) jar or can diced tomatoes in their juice
For the rice
2 cups long-grain rice such as jasmine or Basmati
3 cups water
For the garnishes
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup sliced almonds or shredded coconut, lightly toasted
1 cup Spicy Pear and Dried Cherry Chutney
1. Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then toss the seasoned chicken with the flour and shake off any excess flour.
2. In a Dutch oven or a heavy stockpot, melt the butter in the oil; when the mixture is sizzling hot, brown the flour-coated chicken pieces, skin-side-down, then turn each piece and brown the other side.
3. Lift the chicken out of the pan; in the fat left behind, sauté the onion until it is soft and slightly browned. Stir in the sliced pepper, garlic, curry powder, bay leaf and thyme, then pour in the canned tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil.
4. Put the chicken pieces back in the pot, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer until the chicken is tender, about 35 minutes.
5. While the chicken is simmering, prepare the rice. Rinse the rice briefly under cold, running water then stir it with the water in a medium-sized saucepan over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
6. Serve the curry with cooked rice and pass the dried currants, toasted almonds and chutney separately.
Greg Atkinson, 2011