Friday, November 18, 2011

Advanced Domesticity: A Flailer's Guide

Photo from here, where you can get this sort of thing if you are more skilled than I.

At the risk of exposing my tendency to be insufferably haughty, I like to utter the phrase "I make my own."
I make my own laundry detergent. I make my own bread. I make my own soup, though I still buy Campbell's Tomato because you just don't mess with that. I never make cake from a box. Why would you? Jeez. (See how I am?) I realize something about myself, though. I choose my DIY projects very carefully. Things that involve too many steps, zoning variances, permits, or touching guts are generally on the 'bridge too far' list.

I pushed my luck with canning.

Until other commitments and a second-shift work schedule intervened, I use to belong to a women's organization. They are a great group of ladies who work hard to contribute to the community by encouraging young women to pursue their dreams. And annually they fund these efforts by flirting with Certain Death. This involves a fundraiser selling fudge (homemade) and bread in a jar. Each member was obligated to make a certain amount in a certain flavor in order to have enough to sell. I was handed an oversized photocopy of a decade-old newspaper article and recipe as a reference.

You may well wonder what bread in a jar is. I quote from the recipe:
"For those of you who haven't seen bread in a jar in gift shops, it is homemade quick bread baked in a canning jar. The jars are sealed and the bread lasts for at least a year...fancy up the jars after baking and cooling, with scraps of gingham or other fabric, and you'll have the hottest seller at the bazaar or bake sale."
So right up front you know you've got yourself a crowd pleaser, for the sweatshirts with cats on them set. The author taunts us further:
"The procedure is simple and just about foolproof; even if you've never done any canning. I've made bread in a jar with all kinds of recipes and never had a failure."
Now, I've never so much as had a canning jar in my hand for any reason other than scooping out someone else's jammy goodness, but to me this declaration smacked of superiority. "I am a nationally syndicated cooking editor and you are a slob who has a measurable layer of cat hair on every surface." Okay, maybe I'm projecting. But it made me look around my suddenly very unsanitary kitchen. I watched as my husband wandered in and ate a slice of ham out of the cold cut drawer with his fingers, blissfully unaware of my panic.

The directions I was given went on to address the sterilizing of things "per manufacturer directions" and suddenly I was feeling very paranoid and outside my DIY comfort zone. Follow manufacturer directions? Okay. I turned the case of jars over to find a set of Canning Commandments that covered the entire back of the box. I figured out that the jars need to be heated, not boiled, and there are strict instructions in block print to NEVER BOIL THE LIDS. I got this set up after I located and scoured my giant pot and inspected it for specks of archeological chili and errant cat fur.

Batter made, I spooned exactly-measured portions into my jars that were greased "generously inside but not on the rims", which was a bit like trying to eat a spoonful of something without getting it on your lips. I baked them "at 325 degrees no matter what" because that is what the recipe says. Dire consequences could result from failure to adhere, and I would not have dire consequences.

Two things happened that didn't bode well. First, all six cakes rose above the top of the jar, which I'd been warned against, and almost immediately, all the cakes got very brown. But I am nothing if not obedient. I baked them for every minute of the designated time and since the recipe directed the use of a 'sterile spoon' to push the overeager cakes back down into the jar, I did this, and successfully got the lids on and sealed. I stood back to admire my handiwork and discovered I had six jars of something that resembled wizened veterinary fecal samples.

What to do? would anyone willingly purchase these? If I deviated from any of the never fail baking commandments, would I unwittingly trigger some kind of terrible strain of cake ebola? And if I did, would it be traced back to me?  It was clearly time to set aside my fears and start over. With trepidation I tweaked time and temperature, anxiously watching and waiting. To my surprise, despite failing the 'never had a failure' assurances of our intrepid food editor, the result was twelve jars of golden splendor that sealed with a satisfying 'poink'.

The bread in a jar weekend is upon us again and I salute the ladies who will once again brave home economics and science to make them happen. I have a special place in my heart for fancying up things with a bit of gingham. But I'll be sticking to safer and less stressful waters.


Jenn Thorson said...

Having had your regular homemade bread, I feel certain these will be yummy. I'm just glad the story didn't end with a jar release that sent a lid to embed in somebody's head or which knocked Seamus cold or something.

MikeWJ said...

Kim, only you could keep me entertained with a post about bread in a jar. If you are "insufferably haughty" as you claim to be, then it's only because you deserve to be. You have a way of story-telling that's remarkable. I actually read every word of this post, and it’s your use of unexpected phrases like “wizened veterinary fecal samples” and “specks of archeological chili and errant cat fur” that bring life to a topic that I might find dull. But this piece also gives me an appreciation for the craft of canning, which is simultaneously simple and complicated, by being wonderfully descriptive in a way that doesn’t read like a how-to guide. I truly believe you need to write a book – of your posts, if nothing else.

Christine S said...

Now I want to try this. I have a half gallon jar just SCREAMING for bread cake. Need all details....

Oh, I've canned many things. Which is funny because they aren't cans, they're jars. This is close to "messing with forces beyond your control." forces like canned cake...

Lin said...

Oh man, that does not sound easy. Or delicious. For some reason, bread that can stay for a year just isn't something I want. Really.

Can't you just try making the fudge next time?

Nicky said...

Like you, I enjoy saying "I make my own..." and for exactly the same reason as you, I have NEVER tried canning. I'd have to skin the cat first! :-)

Anonymous said...

I think you are exaggerating Seamus' shedding capabilities. Other than that, please provide Our Imperial Self with said recipe. Perhaps Junior and I will attempt Apocalypse-proof bread baking some fine cool winter day soon.
I am pleased your second endeavor provided you with success. Will some be sent down here (he asked hopefully)?

Carol Craley said...

Okay, let me try this again...
If it makes you feel any better, MomMom never "canned" anything. I did a brief stint, when I was a sweet young thing, making grape jelly from the Concord grapes on my arbor on Wallace Ave and strawberry preserves from handpicked strawberries. I've never tackled bread in a jar. At my age now I would be much more suited to being the person who consumes the goodies and helps the cause!
I am stumped by the comment, "I am nothing if not obedient." You must be referring to culinary pursuits - you are far more of an independent spirit in other aspects of your life...the reason we love you so!
Bostonites and Maine-ahs do brown bread in a can - meant to be consumed with baked beans, but no jars.
Query: How do you make a sandwich when the bread is in a jar? Isn't it hard to spread the miracle whip?

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I can assure those of you seeking the recipe that it is not something you want; a helpful friend knowledgeable in all things canning posted an article from her local extension office about how there is insufficient acid balance and no water bath to assure a temperature that prohibits the growth of nasties. I don't want to be responsible for any dessert-related disasters. And honestly, there is so incredibly much sugar in this business it isn't very good. I almost chickened out of tasting it after I watched it slither out of the greased jar.

And yes, I admit...I can only claim strict adherence to orthodoxy when it comes to least the first time I make them. Once I determine whether it works or needs tweaking the apocryphal writing in the margins of my cookbook begins.

Chicken Little said...

OK, this only makes me long even more for "I'm a little ashamed of this but..." or better yet, Chapter 32 Bear Check Station.
Nice job.

meleah rebeccah said...

You're amazing. The only thing I can make in the kitchen is a mess.

"I stood back to admire my handiwork and discovered I had six jars of something that resembled wizened veterinary fecal samples." AHahhahahahAHHAHHAhahah

meleah rebeccah said...

And, I totally SECOND what MWJ said about your writing.

Jocelyn said...

Where have I been? I've missed you.
You made me snortle out loud with this: "for the sweatshirts with cats on them set."

You were brave to take on the bread in a jar; since I'm vehemently anti-cutsey and stridently non-ginghamized, I have to say that, while I cheered for your efforts, I can't envision EVER coughing up dough (hahahaha, "dough") for such a thing. How does one eat the bread out of the jar? With a spoon? Or does it actually slide out? I see that you've said it slides out, but in reality, does it? REALLY?

I'm also a fudge skeptic; I want to love it, but it's a rare thing when fudge is actually worth eating. Do you have an awesome recipe?

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Jocelyn: The bread does indeed slide out of the jar, it really is best not to watch.
The fudge is your standard 'never fail' recipe that involves marshmallow fluff, deeply delicious only to people who have never bought it after having been folded and kneaded on a marble slab mere steps from the Atlantic ocean while eager children watch in their boardwalk-warmed flip flops, noses pressed against the glass.

Steve Winfield said...

Funny but sick story... My ex-wife's mother called my dad (he's contractor) for his opinion of the hole that was opening up in her front yard. He went, looked, said he thought it was probably an old well. Eventually it opened up enough that she hired someone to come in, dig out the brick lining and fill it in. The excavating company found dozens of ball jars in the bottom. She took the ones that weren't broken, and planted flowers and herbs in them - my son says that they're still on display in her house. BUT... Nobody would throw intact Ball jars into their well... and nobody would throw out an intact Ball jar just because it contained spoiled food. No.. they would only have thrown out the jar if it contained something so foul that its memory permanently contaminates the jar... and the place to throw THAT jar is into the cesspool under the outhouse. I imagine that in the cold of winter, it was convenient to have an empty ball jar available for a late-night need, which would be taken out to the outhouse when the user was next dressed. So, as far as I'm concerned, my ex-mother in law is decorating her home with used chamber pots... :P