Better Living through Can-icals: More on Canning with Ball&#174

Although the Ball Corporation no longer manufactures the well known mason jars, the Ball name is still very much associated with canning (and America’s recent canning boom!) Now licensed to Jarden Home Brands (with a large corporate presence in Daleville, Indiana, about 12 miles southwest of Muncie), the brand is not only a name on a jar, but also an appellation on boxes of lids and containers of pectin. And then there’s the Ball Blue Book, a veritable starter bible for neophyte canners, with its clear instructions, diverse recipes, solid reference, and, very importantly, low price (the “book” is really like a thick magazine).1

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A sample of canning bounty: pickled green beans in pint jar, strawberry-vanilla jam in 8-oz jar, radish relish in 4-oz jars

So, let’s talk about pectin. What is it, exactly? Well, it’s a structural element found in plants that acts as a gelling agent during canning (nutritionally, it’s also a form of soluble fiber). I won’t delve into the chemistry and biology, because that is beyond the scope of this post (and the post’s author). Suffice it to say that pectin—which occurs naturally in varying proportions, depending on the plant—is a necessary component in the gelling process, and, thus, required for making jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, and conserves. The pectin used by canners may be present in the fruit itself. Some fruits, such as apples and quinces, are naturally high in pectin. Others, like peaches, have lower amounts; as such, many canners use added pectin to speed up gelling. I can both with and without added pectin recipes; I’ll include a couple of simple jam recipes later.

So, is there a difference? In my own not-terribly-humble opinion, I’ve had success with both ways. No-added-pectin jams do take longer and some complain that they have a more “cooked” taste, but my strawberry, blueberry, and sour cherry jams, which are simply cooked down to the preferred gel stage, taste delicious. But I prefer the brightness of peach jam with the added pectin, as peach flavor seems to wash out a bit with long cooking.

Ball&#174 pectins are available in a variety of “styles”—regular powdered, liquid, low/no sugar, instant. And while this may post may seem like an advertisement, remember that we’re talking about a brand made famous in the Flyover States! So, while there are other pectins out there, I’m sticking with Ball&#174!

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A trio of Ball products

1The full title is the Ball Blue Book&#174 Guide to Preserving and it addresses not only canning—both boiling water and pressure–but also freezing and dehydrating. I think this is the best introduction to canning for the novice and, for less than ten dollars, not a huge investment should canning not be your thing.

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Ball Canning Jars—Introducing a Flyover Institution

I’d bet if you asked average people or, in Lake Wobegon, above-average people, to describe the typical activities of Midwestern women, there would be a good chance that “canning” would appear on someone’s list. Midwesterners are all farmers, right? And farmers’ wives can the bounty of their gardens, putting up for the winter, right?

Well, let me clarify some points here. First, there ARE many farmers in Flyover County (Midwest and Plains), but the population is, nonetheless, largely urban. In fact, of the US states that have rural-majority populations (i.e. urban populations LESS than 50%), not one is in the Flyover States.1 Maine (38.7%), Vermont (38.9%), West Virginia (48.7%), and Mississippi (49.4%) are outside Flyoverlandia. Second, yes—lots of Flyoverians can. As do many in other parts of the United States (and the world!) In fact, Brooklyn (you know, that borough of New York that is rapidly becoming New York City’s Billionaire Playground Number Two) seems to require new residents to either can artisanal pickles or be in a band. So canning—which I do—is not limited to the middle of the country. Across the country, many of us are channeling our inner farm wives to produce and preserve the fruits of our (or someone else’s) labor—hot Hungarian pepper slices from my garden, relish from radishes found at the farmers market, local and organic strawberries transformed into a jam enhanced with vanilla. Yes we can.

BUT, there IS a Flyover Connection to modern-day canning—the Ball&#174 Mason jar. The Ball Brothers (George, Lucius, Edmund, William, and Frank) did not invent home canning jars (that distinction belongs to Philadelphia-area tinsmith John Landis Mason), but they were largely responsible for producing and popularizing them. The five brothers went into business together in 1880, buying a company and manufacturing metal cans before switching to glass jars after the expiration of Mason’s patent on the technology. Originally, the factory was located in Buffalo, New York. A desire to expand and take advantage of East Central Indiana’s gas boom sent the brothers to Muncie, Indiana; to entice the Balls to set up a factory in Muncie, the local community sweetened the deal by offering land, a gas well, and railroad access. The rest is history (well, everything up until then was history too).

Ball Corporation, which eventually went public in the early 1970s, was headquartered in Muncie until 1998, when it decamped for Broomfield, Colorado. And today, Ball no longer manufactures the iconic fruit jars, instead having licensed the brand to Jarden Home Brands. In fact, Ball Corporation is now a part of the aerospace industry, not the headspace2 industry. But for many of us here in Flyover County, canning means Ball!

1Source: 2010 Decennial Census, United States Bureau of the Census

2Headspace refers to the space between the food and the top of the jar required during the canning process. This is necessary to allow for expansion while the can is in a boiling water bath. Too little headspace may interfere with the sealing process and/or may result in the jar’s contents seeping.

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An All-Organic Grocery Store? In Muncie, Indiana?????

Yes, you read that right. Muncie, in east-central Indiana, is probably better known for its past—Ball™ canning jars from a company that moved to Colorado, shuttered auto manufacturing plants, a history of racism—which may invite the raised eyebrows and muttered comments that have surely accompanied the reading of this post’s title. But folks, it is true. Muncie is indeed home to a downtown grocery store that sells ONLYorganic goods. That makes Muncie home to a more forward-looking population than many other communities. And this store just celebrated its 8th anniversary, a real milestone for small businesses. People, perhaps it’s time to rethink your stereotypes and old perceptions of Muncie—there truly is a customer base that has not only permitted The Downtown Farm Stand to remain in business, but to actually GROW and THRIVE!

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Since opening, they’ve added a deli and a home delivery service (convenient for those who want to eat well, but have time commitments that preclude them from shopping there as often as they would like).

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The Downtown Farm Stand logo

Please note that this is an all organic grocery store. Not a natural grocery. You see, as of this post, there is no definition of “natural”. Goods labeled “Organic”, on the other hand, have to meet certain criteria. That is, the word has a higher bar. “Natural” really doesn’t mean anything; in fact, it’s a pretty misleading term. One could argue that, at the molecular level, everything is natural. Your Cheesy Jalapeno Ketchup Flavored Potato Poufs, made from dehydrated, freeze-dried, overly genetically modified ingredients with a questionable provenance that likely stems from a chemistry lab could, theoretically, be labeled “natural”. So, an all-organic store is a Pretty. Big. Deal. If you shop at Whole Foods or Earth Fare, those bastions of organic shopping, you’ll find that they sell conventional foods along with organic foods. Actually, they sell a LOT of conventionally grown produce and the like. I’m sure that, for them, it’s a business decision. But for Dave and Sara Ring, owners of The Downtown Farm Stand, the decision to sell only organic goods (much of it locally sourced) is one based on values. For them, it was an ethical decision, one that has paid off for them, in terms of establishing a loyal customer base. People KNOW that if you got it at The Farm Stand, it’s truly free of industrial pesticides and herbicides.

But the Rings’ decision has also paid off for the local community. Dave and Sara have made locally produced, organic foods accessible to all of Delaware (IN) County. No need to ponder the limited variety at the supermarket or make the trek to Indianapolis. No wonder their customers are so loyal to them! Dave and Sara also support local growers and producers, assuming that they’ve passed the Rings’ standards. Eggs come from Pinehurst Farm, for example, milk and yogurt from Traders Point Creamery, etc. For a local food system to develop and grow, local producers need access to markets. Farmers markets are one avenue, but they often operate only on weekends, which may make it difficult for those who have outside commitments to attend. So, having a store like The Downtown Farm Stand is a way of connecting farmers to customers (as well as ensuring that growers receive a fair price, something that a traditional supermarket won’t commit to). And when the goods aren’t necessarily locally sourced (we do have some tough winters here), the Rings make sure that their values aren’t compromised. That’s why you’ll see Organic Valley half-and-half here, but not Horizon.

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Front of the store (image copied from The Downtown Farm Stand Facebook page)

So, you might expect to find an all-organic grocery store in New York. Or Los Angeles. Or San Francisco. Or Seattle. Or Chicago. But Muncie? Muncie, Indiana??? Yet there it is—The Downtown Farm Stand, truly a Flyover Find!

The Downtown Farm Stand is located at 125 E. Main St. in downtown Muncie, Indiana.

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If it looks like a duck (egg), quacks like a duck (egg)…

Then it must be a duck (egg)! My adopted Flyover home Indiana produces more ducks than any other state (as of 2010), something I never knew. I always associated duck farming with Long Island, but the quackers have largely left the island. Today, the US commercial duck industry is centered on Indiana, Pennsylvania, and California. A migration from Long Island to the Hoosier state makes sense, as Long Island real estate has become too expensive for farming operations.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s post—duck eggs. I’d always cooked and baked with chicken eggs, transitioning from the supermarket eggs (which come from battery chickens) to the more flavorful pastured1varieties, usually buying them at the farmers market. One day I saw duck eggs at my seller’s (Abbott Garlic and Poultry Farm) stand and I asked about them. Shelli Abbott feels they are richer, so I was inspired to buy a dozen and go from there. I don’t recall seeing them at my local co-op when I lived in Delaware and I never saw them for sale at the Amish stands I’d occasionally shop at back then. Now, I’m learning to cook (with) duck eggs!

So, how do duck eggs differ from chicken eggs? Well, they are spelled differently. And they have different shells, meaning that duck eggs are encased in thicker, stronger shells, compared to chicken eggs. They are typically larger, although, like chickens and chicken eggs, ducks and duck eggs come in different sizes. But even accounting for size, duck eggs have more fat (on a per gram basis) and more protein as well.

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Duck egg on the left, chicken egg on the right. The striations on the duck egg are natural. Both eggs came from Abbott Garlic and Poultry Farm in Albany, Indiana.
I like both kinds of eggs, (bad pun alert!)—you could call me an egg-ficianado!

If you manage to get your hand on a dozen Flyover duck eggs, you might be asking yourself what to do with them. In my next posts, I’ll discuss my method for hard-cooked duck eggs and I’ll share a recipe for easy Garlic-Chive Duck Egg Mayonnaise.

1Pastured eggs are eggs from chickens that are permitted to roam (i.e. wander about pastures) as opposed to being confined to cages. Pastured chickens have a more varied diet (and better life!) than chickens crammed in battery cages, the norm for your supermarket eggs. I find pastured eggs to be much tastier, too!

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The Breaded Pork Tenderloin–Definitive and Delicious!

The Breaded Pork Tenderloin (BPT), one of the most famous Midwestern sandwiches, is so popular that TWO flyover states lay claim to it—Indiana and Iowa.  Both states are among the top pork producers (Iowa is number one and Indiana is in the top ten), so it’s no wonder that this fried and breaded testament to porcine deliciousness calls these two states home.  I’m not going to get into an argument over which is the “real “ birthplace, though, living in Indiana, I’d vote for the Hoosier state.  Allegedly, Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana, (between Fort Wayne and Muncie) is where it all began.  Anyway, this sandwich is so beloved that it’s inspired driving tours and a blog dedicated to it, written by Rick Garrett.

The humble pig (and its ancestor, the wild boar) is not native to North America; rather, they stem (geographically) from Africa and Eurasia.  Pig production in what is now the United States (or rather, the colonies prior to the end of the Revolutionary War), began with both Spanish (initially, Hernando de Soto) and English (e.g. Sir Walter Raleigh) explorers bringing pigs.  But why Indiana or Iowa?  Why the Midwest?  As the population grew, so did the pig industry, spreading west as the colonies (and later, the United States) expanded its territory.  Indeed, Cincinnati, Ohio was once called Porkopolis, owing to its hog slaughter industry.  Today, the Midwest is geographically and climatologically well suited for pig production.

You can consider the breaded pork tenderloin to be the Midwest’s interpretation of the Wiener Schnitzel and you’d be correct.  The Wiener (Vienna) Schnitzel is a veal cutlet, pounded thin, breaded, and fried, typically served with a wedge of lemon and some sort of potato product (fried, parsley potatoes, potato salad).  That it’s made with pork here isn’t exactly heretical—order a schnitzel in Germany (or some other countries), for example, and you’d get pork, not veal.  But these Euro-schnitzels aren’t sandwiches.  Or, should I say, SANDWICHES (all caps intentional).  You see, the BPT isn’t just some meat in a bun—it’s more involved than that.  The tenderloin part must have an area at least twice that of the bun (see picture below).

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It can’t just stick out a little—not if it’s a real BPT—it has to truly dwarf the bun.  That massive overhang is part of the sandwich’s appeal.  If you’ve never seen one, your jaw should drop.

As wonderful as the gargantuan-sized BPT is, sometimes it’s a bit much.*  Granted, it is inimitably shareable, in a way (I’m imagining a set of three or four friends, all in different chairs, eating this single sandwich WITHOUT HAVING TO CUT IT UP BECAUSE THE PORK IS LARGE ENOUGH TO COVER THE ENTIRE TABLE).  But let’s face it, folks, it makes for poor appetizers or snacks for a crowd.  And while it tastes great, it’s MORE filling, not less.  But fortunately, a slider version of this Hall-of-Fame sandwich is better suited for small bites fare. Therefore, I bring to you BPT sliders in my next post—all the taste, but a fraction of the mass.

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