Real Food

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About 25 years ago, my daughter and I spent a few days visiting old haunts in New Orleans, mostly eating. We treated ourselves to the famous Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, which was wonderful — fun, good music and delicious food.

One dish impressed me so much, I begged for the recipe. Our server took my plea to the kitchen and the chef actually sent down a copy!

I have made some minor changes, using olive oil in place of part of the butter, offering substitutions and expanding the directions for the home cook. “Eggplant Court” has become a traditional part of our holiday meals.

‘Court of Two Sisters’ Eggplant Casserole Recipe

This casserole freezes well. Take advantage of fall eggplant harvest and make a double recipe. Freeze in serving-sized containers for winter meals. I like to prepare just the vegetables and freeze packets to finish into the casserole later.

Don’t worry about reheating — it will all be gone. (But also don’t tell the meat-and-potatoes guys that it’s eggplant!)


• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 red bell peppers, diced
• 1 celery stalk, sliced thinly
• 2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut to ½-inch dice
• several large cloves roasted garlic
• 1/2 stick of butter
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (dried is fine, too)
• 1/2 tsp sea salt
• freshly ground pepper, several turns of the mill

Ingredients for the second stage

• 1 pound creole Andouille sausage, shredded**
• 1 cup parsley, cut with scissors
• 9 cups fresh bread crumbs from 1 loaf French bread
• 6 eggs, lightly beaten


Directions, Stage 1

1. Start by dicing all the vegetables, mounding them up on a big cutting board or on a sheet of wax paper or parchment.

2. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter in the oil and begin cooking the onion, pepper and celery. Season well with the thyme, salt and pepper. When the vegetables begin to soften, add the eggplant and continue cooking, covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are fully soft. Do not brown.

3. Remove from heat, taste and add sea salt and pepper to taste.                                                               

4. Stop here if you’d like to freeze the eggplant mixture for a later date. Doesn’t that look delicious? I’m going to freeze this batch of veggies now and bring it out in a couple weeks to finish and bake for a special dinner.

5. When you’re ready to finish the casserole for a special dinner, completely defrost the eggplant mix, turn it into a large bowl and continue on:

Directions, Stage 2

1. Butter your baking dish. I like to use a 3-quart soufflé or deep casserole dish. If you’d like more crust, a 9-by-13 baking dish will work.

2. Salt and pepper can seem to disappear when frozen; taste a bit of the eggplant and adjust, adding more sea salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the parsley and the sausage and stir well. Add the bread crumbs, stir in and then add the beaten eggs. Stir well. Pack into a casserole. Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees F for 40 minutes in a deep dish, less in the 9-by-13.

4. Uncover and continue baking another 15 minutes. When you peek into the center, it should look set. Your kitchen thermometer will read about 170 degrees.

** Note: Shred sausage in the food processor. You can substitute party-time links or sausage cooked in patties and crumbled. You can make this vegetarian by leaving out the sausage, but add pepper to make up for the spicy sausage.

Serving Suggestions

This casserole makes a one-course meal or can be used as a side dish or even to stuff a chicken, turkey or a thick pork chop. It makes a delicious alternative to the traditional dressing we love in holiday meals. For a grand buffet dinner party, my daughter bakes a double batch of this and keeps it warm in a crock pot set on low.

Another little trick that worked:  To get as much done ahead as possible, I lined regular bread loaf pans with plastic wrap, packed in the finished eggplant casserole and froze them. Then, after they were frozen, I pulled the casserole “loaves” out of the pan and put each into freezer bags for freezer storage. Come party day, the frozen casseroles are unwrapped, dropped back into the loaf pans and baked.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Luckily I live in an area that grows lots and lots of apple varieties. I don’t have any apple trees myself, but always have a plethora of options at the Farmer’s Market. And if I am willing to purchase apples with scars and a few bruises I can get them for around fifty cents per pound.

It’s hard to turn down this great offer, so I often go home with 25 pounds of apples. Then reality sets in: “I have to process all these apples!”

Over the years, I have dried apples, made applesauce, cooked with apples – a lot – and even canned the occasional jar of apple-plum jelly. But this year I solved the too many apples problem once and for all. I made Boiled Apple-Pear Syrup.

What Is Boiled Apple-Pear Syrup?

As a cookbook author, I spend a fair amount of time researching new ingredients. One ingredient that keeps popping up lately is boiled apple cider. Boiled apple cider is exactly what it sounds like: apple cider boiled down to a syrup-like consistency. It is an old-fashioned sweetener much like molasses or honey that is experiencing a revived popularity.

Boiled apple-pear syrup is similar, but not quite the same. When making boiled apple-pear syrup the fruit is cooked first, then pressed, then the juice is boiled down to a syrup. Unlike homemade apricot syrup or rose syrup, no sugar is added to boiled apple-pear syrup. All of the sweetness comes from the fruits’ natural sugars.

According to Linda Ziedrich, whose recipe for Sirop de Liege inspired this version, the apple-pear syrup is a traditional preserve in Belgium. There it is, served over soft cheese and bread. You can find Ms. Ziedrich’s original recipe in her very excellent The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves.

What Does Apple-Pear Syrup Taste Like?

Have you ever had apple cider directly from the cider press? Cider that hasn’t been pasteurized or filtered?

Boiled apple-pear syrup tastes like the best cider you ever had only sweeter. But it doesn’t have the cloying sweetness of sugar-added syrups, plus the pears give the syrup an earthy flavor base. I could eat it by the spoonful except that it is too precious! Even if you do buy apples 25 pounds at a time.

Where To Use Boiled Apple-Pear Syrup

Boiled Apple-Pear Syrup can be used anywhere you would use molasses, honey, or boiled apple cider.

• Glaze for donuts or baked ham
• Added to homemade applesauce or apple pie
• Substituted for molasses in fruitcake
• Added to sugar cookies
• Served over pancakes or pork chops
• Drizzled over Apple-Pear Crisp

How To Make Boiled Apple-Pear Syrup


• 4 lbs. apples, any variety or a combination
• 4 lbs. pears, any variety or a combination


1. Wash but do not peel or core the fruit. Cut it into quarters.

2. Place all the fruit in a large slow cooker. Cook on low overnight or at least 10 hours.

3. Drain and press the fruit. I did this in batches using a cheesecloth lined colander over a large bowl.

4. Pour the juice into a medium sized saucepan. Boil gently, stirring occasionally until syrup is dark and thick, 20 to 40 minutes.

5. Pour syrup into a clean jar. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

Syrup should keep for up to 3 months, if you can refrain from using it all before then!

Yield about 1 pint

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Dehydrated Blueberries' Many Uses

Most people think of pancakes, muffins, and oatmeal when they think of blueberries. We do, too, but we also use them in smoothies, as flavoring in frosting, and as snacks. Blueberries dry harder than a raisin but they still make excellent tasty snacks.

Sometimes we order blueberries in 10-lb boxes from a local food co-op, but most of the blueberries we dry are a wild berry that are locally called huckleberries. In other parts of the country, a huckleberry is more like a blackberry or black raspberry, but what they call huckleberries in Northwest Montana are actually a blueberry. We go up on the mountains around us and pick three to nine gallons of them every summer. Some of them are canned, but a lot of them are dried.

If you have picked wild berries you'll need to clean them first. Bits of leaves and sticks and sometimes bugs have to be picked out. Whether you buy or pick the berries you should wash them before preserving them. I pour water over them in a strainer basket and work the berries around with my fingers to make sure they're all washed.

Use an Electric Dehydrator or Air-Dry Blueberries

Spread them on dryer screens or racks. Be sure not to crowd them too much so the air can circulate around them, and the moisture has room to escape. If you're using an electric dehydrator with a temperature control, set it at 135 degrees F. If your dehydrator doesn't have a temperature control, you may want to rotate the racks and watch for over-drying (if the dehydrator seems on the hot side). I once had some blueberries start to turn black and crisp on the bottom rack in this type of a dehydrator.

Blueberries can be air-dryed on screens if you live in a dry climate. Spread them on the screens and set them out of the way where they won't be bumped. Check them several times a day and stir them around gently with your fingers for faster drying, and to make sure none are spoiling.

A gas oven with a pilot light can be used for drying blueberries as well. The heat from a pilot light is warm and dry and provides a good environment for dehydrating. I like to drape a dish towel over the oven door, hanging over both sides of the door. This helps wick the moisture out of the oven and it's also a reminder to me that I have something in the oven, and I don't turn the oven on to bake something else and destroy the berries.

Whichever way you dry them, blueberries can take 12 to 20 hours to dry. Check through them when you think they're done. There will be the occasional 'gummy' one, sort of like a blueberry-raisin. Separate those out and use them right away or put them in the refrigerator. If all the rest are dried into firm blue balls, the gummy ones are as done as they're going to get. I don't know why some just simply don't fully dry. I've put those gummy ones back in the dehydrator for another day and they don't dry.


Store Dehydrated Blueberries Properly for Longest Shelf Life

After the berries are thoroughly dehydrated and have cooled to room temperature, pack them into an air-tight container. I prefer glass since they are impermeable and glass doesn't react with the acids in the blueberries. Some metals can cause flavor changes in the berries. It's okay to use plastic bags or bottles for short-term storage of dehydrated blueberries, but if you're going to store them for longer periods, I recommend vacuum sealing them in the proper bags, or glass jars with air-tight lids. Some vacuum sealers have a jar attachment, which could be used to seal the jar even further.

Regardless of the container you use, storing them in a cool, dark place will give them the longest shelf life. Daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations can affect storage life, so the more steady you can keep the temperature, the longer your dehydrated foods will keep. I've put jars of dehydrated blueberries in paper bags and stored them under a bed, and kept one jar in the kitchen on a bottom cupboard shelf for handy use.

Rehydrate dried blueberries in luke-warm water for 15 minutes to half an hour. I start mine soaking before I mix up the pancake batter, muffin batter, or pie crust. The berries are re-hydrated by the time I'm ready to add them. Drain them well, and pat dry with a towel or paper towel if necessary.

Enjoy these wonderful, flavorful dehydrated berries all year round!

More information and pictures are available at Susan’s blog. This blog is a companion to several of her published books and centers around food preserving and food storage. Click here to browse her books.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Click here to read more from Jo Ann, including the rest of the Unusual Fruits Series.

Many years ago, when we lived in Vermont and were learning about preserving all the bounty from our garden and from the wild, we discovered American High Bush Cranberries along a dusty back country road. The beautiful translucent round fruits hung in clusters from a thicket of bushes and in no time we harvested a good quantity to turn into jelly.

Living on a shoestring, we were eager to explore all the possibilities of free food for our growing family. We had rented a farmhouse on a hill for $10 a month with no electricity, with rough upland pastures, a small woodlot, and a large enough garden area for our needs. It was ideal for our situation (not enough money to buy our own land) but there was no fruit, cultivated or wild, on this farm, so finding High Bush Cranberries was a real bonus for us.

We were very lucky that what we picked were the fruits of the true American species, Viburnum trilobum, also known as V. opulus var. americanum and V. edulis. Had it been the European species, V. opulus, we would have been very disappointed in our find, especially after having gone to the trouble of processing those lovely red fruits (called drupes) into jelly. Beautiful, yes, but bitter beyond bitter, as we found out to our dismay years later when we were not so lucky in picking the fruit from the wild!

This happened when, after living for 30 years on Cape Breton Island on a self-reliant back country farm where we raised our own tree fruits and berries, it was time to retire and we moved back to the States to New York’s Champlain Valley. We returned to foraging for fruit, and as in Vermont, we discovered thickets of High Bush Cranberries along a dusty back road. So of course we picked them and made jelly, looking forward to putting away a winter supply as we had done in the past. Only this time around we were not so lucky. The beautiful cranberry-colored jelly, many jars of it, was inedible!

What went wrong? Perhaps others have done the same thing. Here’s some pointers to keep you on the right track, whether you pick the fruit from the wild or from your own planting.

A Description of High Bush Cranberries

The two species are very similar in appearance, both growing in thickets on bushes that grow from 18 to 15 feet tall and spread nearly as wide with arching stems, a rounded shape, and large, lobed maple-like foliage. Flowers appear in early summer in showy white, flat-topped clusters, 2-3 inches across. Similar to the flowers of other Viburnum species, the smaller inner flowers are fertile, surrounded by larger, sterile ones.

Both the American and European species are self-fertile, meaning that if you grow them in your garden, you only need one plant of a single species or cultivar to produce fruit. The berries are 3/8 inches in diameter and very distinctive in the landscape, hanging in translucent red clusters. They remain on the bushes well into the winter, perhaps not sought by birds because of their astringency and large, flat seeds, until all other sources are exhausted.


Pruned to a small tree, ‘Bailey Compact’ American High Bush Cranberry featured in my bank garden

The native species grows from British Columbia east to Newfoundland, south to Washington State and east to northern Virginia, and throughout New England. The European species, originally brought into this country for ornamental landscaping, has become naturalized in Maine and in New York State as far as I know, and perhaps other places as well. It was the importation of this species that introduced the dreaded Viburnum leaf beetle to the U.S., first discovered in southern Canada, where it’s naturalized as well.

Both types are suitable to grow for their ornamental flowers and fruits. Superior native American cultivars with less astringent fruits have been developed, so these are a good choice for the edible landscape. They also can be planted as a screen hedge. Look for ‘Wentworth,’ ‘Andrews,’ ‘Hahs,’ ‘Phillips,’ and ‘Bailey Compact.’ This last cultivar grows up to 8 feet and can be trimmed into a small, elegant tree. I grow it as the central feature in a former waste area (a bank with an old gravel pile).

How to Tell the Difference Between the Species Before You Pick Them

Even if you order the native species and cultivars, it’s best to have a sure-fire plan to tell the difference between the American and European types, because nurseries may unknowingly sell the European species for the American one. Note that the American species may be offered under its older name, Viburnum trilobum.

Here’s the simple, no-fail test: Before you pick the fruit, check the shape of the plant’s petiolar glands. Translate: these are the rounded glands that grow at the base of the leaf’s stem (petiole). There is no mistaking that in the American High Bush Cranberry these are raised and rounded or convex. On the European species these glands are concave.

American High-Bush Cranberry Jelly Recipe

Since berries are very high in natural pectin, there is no need to use commercial pectin for a firm set. For best flavor, pick a mix of ripe and slightly underripe fruit.


• 4 cups extracted juice
• 3 cups sugar


1. Wash fruit, just cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Wild fruit gives off a musty odor, less or not present in cultivars.

2. Drain cooked fruit overnight in a jelly bag contrived from several layers of cheesecloth.

3. Measure fruit, pour into a wide-mouth1-gallon stainless steel pot, bring to a boil and stir in sugar.

4. Bring back to a rolling boil and boil hard for about 7 or 8 minutes (toss in a small piece of butter to subside mixture) until a small amount slightly wrinkles when you blow on it to cool, or when it slides of the spoon instead of dripping off.

5. Pour into scalded jelly jars that can be sealed tight with canning jar lids with rings.

For other unusual fruits see my book, Jams, Jellies, and Sweet Preserves, available at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS online bookstore.

Jo Ann Gardner is a noted plantswoman, lecturer and author of several books on old-fashioned fruits, herbs, the cottage garden, and most recently, Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants. She and her husband live in the Adirondacks where they maintain poultry flocks and extensive gardens.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Scott Sporleder 

Once a year, at a historic farmhouse located on Orange County’s last remaining family-run organic farm, a group of 225 guests gather at a long communal table for an end-of-summer harvest feast. As dusk settles, café lights and candles illuminate a long table filled with fresh baked bread, piquant wine, fragrant platters, and lively conversations.

Green Feast not only harkens to a simpler past, it is also a testament to what we as a community still crave today – honest food that connects us to each other and to the land. Over the last six years, Green Feast has quickly become a hallmark event in Southern California, drawing the region’s best chefs, farmers, artisans, and makers. The network continues to grow as new chefs and purveyors participate.

Working to preserve its agrarian roots, The Ecology Center’s Green Feast celebration is about reinvesting in local agriculture, inspiring connection to the land, fostering community and working together towards a common vision — a healthy and sustainable future for all.

Putting theory into practice, Green Feast challenges Southern California’s best chefs and purveyors to work collaboratively to create a truly sustainable meal. The chefs and purveyors must ensure each ingredient, from the vegetables to the meats, and even the flour and sugar, are locally and ethically sourced. Green Feast boasts a menu of regional foods found within 250 miles of San Juan Capistrano, where Green Feast takes place.

Mariusz Jeglinski Green Feast 

Chefs who take the challenge begin their planning months in advance. In June, the chefs gather at The Ecology Center to pick up a vetted sourcing list of local farmers, bakers, ranchers, cheese mongers, beekeepers, fishermen, vintners, and artisans.

While the choices seem vast in California, finding what will be available during the fall season when Green Feast takes place is much more difficult. This is because sustainable farmers are not driven solely by the market’s demands. They focus on good farming practices like growing crops that build soil or that are well suited to the region’s climate. As a result, a number of factors from drought to pests may have influence on crop availability.

Watch Grub Tribe’s interviews with the chefs for more stories on the making of the 250-mile meal.

Green Feast 

As chefs engage in these conversations with the local community about seasonality, crop rotation, and fish migration, the menu will begin to take shape. This is a drastically different approach than most restaurants are used to, which begins with menu design, regardless of what will be in season. The limitation is also a source of innovation. Maybe chefs won’t find melons this year, but instead, there are heirloom tarbais beans, peaches, and wild stinging nettle.

Vegetables and protein are actually the easy part of sourcing locally. The tougher challenge is finding the staple ingredients — flour, sugar, salt — all within 250 miles. Chefs Kerri Cacciata and Debra Sims replaced cane sugar with date sugar and made their own gelatin using pig’s feet from Cook’s Pig Ranch.

Green Feast Group

While food certainly takes center stage at Green Feast, it is much more than a dining experience. Green Feast pays homage to the bounty and abundance that the earth offers and the people who work to sustain it. Held outdoors at The Ecology Center — a vibrant garden and community gathering ground where once was an unused dirt lot and rustic farmhouse — Green Feast generates funds that supports the nonprofit’s mission of eco-education.

The Ecology Center’s programs teach hands-on sustainable skills to the community, empowering everyone to grow organic gardens, improve water stewardship, conserve energy, reduce waste, and create low-impact shelter. Through leading by example, The Ecology Center shows that it is possible to create a sustainable environment that preserves the past while cultivating the future.

(Top) Photo by Scott Sporleder: Green Feast guests are seated outdoors at two long rows of tables next to San Juan Capistrano’s oldest wooden structure, a historic farmhouse built in 1878.

(Second) Photo by Mariusz Jeglinski: Behind-the-scenes of Chef Debra Sims of Maro Wood Grill and Chef Kerri Cacciata, Chef-in-Residence at The Ecology Center and owner of Local Tastes Better preparing the dessert course, Tri Color Olive Oil Carrot Cake, Goat Cheese & Fennel Panna Cotta, Fig Tartlette.

(Third) Photo by Michelle Montgomery: Volunteer, Jeff Davis, places a plate of fresh harvest vegetables on the table.

(Bottom) Photo by Michelle Montgomery: Evan Marks, The Ecology Center’s founder, poses with Green Feast volunteers. Green Feast is primarily organized and facilitated by volunteers.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Back in the 1950s, there was a restaurant in Stamford, Conn., named The Hamburger Den that was a local favorite, not just for pretty good burgers, but for pots of delicious relish on each table. I tried back then as a teen to duplicate the relish but just couldn’t get it.

Later, in the 90s, I decided I had to make that relish I so loved and finally came up with what I remembered. Every time I entered this relish in the State Fair of Texas, it won a Blue Ribbon! Here’s the recipe:

Sweet Red Pepper and Watermelon Rind Relish Recipe


• 2 pints watermelon pickle  (see my recipe in previous post) 
• 1 quart apple cider vinegar*
• 4 cups white cane sugar
• 1 cup cinnamon Red Hots candy
• 16 cardamom pods
• 8 tbsp whole cloves
• 1 tbsp pickling salt
• dash or two Tabasco sauce, optional
• 2 large red onions, chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
• 6 large red bell peppers, diced about a scant ½ inch


1. The day before: Put the Red Hots and half of the vinegar in a quart jar. Stir, then let the mixture sit overnight, covered.  The Red Hots won’t completely dissolve; that’s fine, you really want the “hot” red part.

2. The day of: Sit comfortably and chop and dice all the peppers and onions.

3. Pour the vinegar off the Red Hots that didn’t dissolve into your stainless pickling pot.

4. Prepare a syrup with the cinnamon-y vinegar, sugar, salt and whole spices. Bring up to heat and boil 10 minutes. Then, pour the syrup into the pot.

5. Drain the watermelon pickle. In the processor, chop the watermelon pickle pieces to a relish texture or use a knife to chop them quite fine, about ¼ inch.

6. Add the watermelon pickle, the chopped onion and diced red pepper to your syrup mixture, bring back to a boil and take off the heat.

7. Remove the cardamom as best you can, but leave all the cloves (they remain as an important element).

8. Ladle into jars, seal and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Yield 6 pints

Serve the relish on hamburgers, of course, and it’s also yummy on a meatloaf or turkey sandwich. Vegetarian friends tell me it also adds delicious zing to a cheese sandwich.

*Be sure to get real apple cider vinegar, usually only in pints or quarts — never the apple cider-flavored vinegar available in ½ gal and gallon size.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



Are heirloom tomatoes lower in acidity than red tomatoes? 

Canning guide books such as the Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning warn canners that they must  carefully follow lab-tested recipes in order to ensure safety against botulism. The recipes are tested for proper acidity levels and stability during shelf life. It has always bugged me that the books say “Trust us, follow our recipe and you'll be fine.” Oh and otherwise the results could be fatal.

So I did something bold, something that Ball would surely not recommend. I bought a litmus paper pH testing kit.

I use Whatman litmus paper test strips. 

Here are the basics about acidity. Water bath canning sterilizes jars of high acid food for a stable shelf life. The water bath boiling kills off the organisms that create mold and fungus, but it is not enough to kill off botulism. That is alright, because botulism cannot survive in the high acid environment anyway. So it is important to water bath process only foods with a high acidity (a pH under 4.7) that are not at risk for botulism. Foods that could harbor botulism--low acid foods with a pH of over 4.7--must be pressure-canned to kill off any botulism-creating spores. Tomatoes teeter near the unsafe zone, up to 4.5, so lemon juice is added to bring the numbers down. Adding spices and additional ingredients to a jar of tomato puree can increase the pH into those unsafe numbers. Following tested recipes is important to help you steer clear of unsafe acidity levels.

Since the acidity is so important, and the recipe is full of garden products that could vary widely, wouldn't it be wise for me to check the acidity level of my batch before I preserve it? My garden fresh ingredients are hardly controllable. My six jalapeños for salsa seem bigger than average. My yellow and orange heirloom tomatoes might be lower in acidity than typical reds. Let's not fool anyone--garden fresh ingredients vary widely making it difficult to control for acidic safety. It is the added lemon juice that brings down the acidity to the safe level under 4.6.

My litmus test may not be test enough to put me in charge of changing a recipe, but it seems like a good idea to make sure that my carefully-followed carefully-tested recipe has the acidity we say it should have. It provides peace of mind for me to give it a little check.

When I teach canning to others, I like to test the pH of my tomato puree with a litmus paper test. All the canning books tell us that tomatoes can go up to about 4.6 in acidity, right on the edge of safe acidity for water bath canning. It is interesting to test the pH of tomato juice and illustrate pH level. We are instructed to add bottled lemon juice to lower the pH into the safe canning range below 4.6. My litmus test confirms the drop in acidity into the safe zone and well-illustrates these points to my students.

Can I change recipes safely by using the litmus paper to confirm acidity?

No, sorry. It is not that simple. I am glad I researched it a bit further, as I now respect the process even more. Safe recipe testing is a lot more complex than a simple litmus test. First, there are more factors to recipe safety than acidity. Density is also considered, and I don't even know what that's all about. Second, acidity can change with shelf life, so multiple tests are done at different times after canning. Third, there are carefully calibrated meters that test the acidity more accurately than paper test strips.

In my research, in the comments of a blog, I discovered that as of April 2015, the FDA requires those who sell canned products to batch test them with pH paper or a meter. The pH paper is only appropriate for products under 4.0 in acidity; other products closer to the edge of acidity must use the more accurate calibrated meters and undergo more frequent tests. My salsa is 3.5-4.0 in acidity. I appreciate knowing that, thanks to my litmus testing. Its nice to know where you stand.

I use Whatman litmus paper test strips.

The litmus tests are an educational tool, not a lab safety gauge. They are great tools for teaching about canning and acidity levels. They are not a ticket to changing lab-tested recipes. Let Ball and Rodale continue that good work. I now know that there is a lot more to the testing process than a litmus test, especially for products with a borderline acidity (4.1-4.6). But still, I like knowing the initial pH of my salsa and my low-acid heirloom tomatoes, to take away some uncertainty and to understand where these products sit on the spectrum, even if I am not using this information to change or create recipes.




3. Stocking Up by Carol Hupping

4. Code of FDA Federal Regulations for High-Acidity Foods

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News and, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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