Monthly Archives: May 2012

Caramelized Onion Jam and Improv Canning

Thanks to everyone who attended last Tuesday’s canning workshop!  Delicious caramelized onion jam was made, safe canning techniques were learned, and a lot of good times were had as well.  Lindsay Kearns, our amazing canning facilitator has given me permission to post the caramelized onion jam recipe for anyone who didn’t make it out but wants to try this great recipe.

Caramelized Onion Jam

Yields ~2 litres (8 cups)

24 cups chopped onions (about 12 medium onions, or 7 pounds)

4 cups brown sugar

4 teaspoons pickling salt

3 cups vinegar (white or apple cider or a mix)

Wash 8 – 250 mL jars and sterilize in boiling hot water bath.  Keep warm.

Combine onions, sugar, and salt in a large non-reactive pot, and bring to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.

Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer with occasional stirring, until onions are soft (around 20 minutes).

Uncover pot, increase heat to medium, and stir frequently as onions darken in colour, until they are light brown.

Add vinegar and bring to boil, stirring gently, until mixture has thickened slightly. Turn off heat.

Fetch the jars, and return the hot water bath to boil.

Fill jars, leaving ½” headspace. Wipe rims, apply lids and screw on rings until fingertip tight. Place jars in canner rack, lower into boiling hot water bath, and let process for 15 minutes. After that time is up, turn off heat, let sit for 5 minutes, then careful remove jars to a safe, draft-free location to cool.  Listen for the distinctive “ping” of the seals!

Once jars are at room temperature, remove screw bands, and store in a dry, cool, dark space.  Eat within a couple of years for best flavour.

Improv Canning

I also wanted to talk a bit about canning improvisation, as it was a topic that all the folks at the workshop were really interested in.   As you may know, hot water bath canning depends in part on a pH balance on the more acidic side of things to keep your canned goods safe from botulism.  Low acid foods are those with a pH value higher than 4.6 (i.e. meat, milk, many fruits, some tomatoes).  Because of the danger of not putting enough acid in recipes and getting contaminated foods, lots of people are wary of straying from published recipes.  However, a lot of the fun of cooking is getting to figure out new recipes or tailoring existing ones to fit your taste or the contents of your pantry.

Lindsay offered some great suggestions for switching up recipes while maintaining the appropriate pH.  The major thing to remember is that you can always alter recipes in favour of more acidic ingredients:  if you want to change a fruit or vegetable canning recipe, just switch out a more base ingredient for a more acidic one and you’ll always know you’re heading in a safe direction.  Some folks do home pH testing with litmus strips to ensure that their new recipes have a safe level of acidity, but Lindsay cautions against it.  She says, “The most important thing I’ve learned is that ph changes over time, while food is in a jar. So it’s simply not enough to test a recipe when you’re canning it: it needs to be tested repeatedly over a year, to be sure it remains safe.”  So, if you’re thinking of going all science class on your canning recipes and busting out the litmus strips, make sure you understand that the process of testing is pretty complex.  Here is an interesting message board thread on the topic that sheds a bit more light on what happens inside your canning jars after they’re sealed.

I also found this amazing post over at the epic canning blog Food in Jars:  How to Can Creatively and Still Be Safe.  It contains a ton of helpful suggestions for which sorts of recipes can be safely messed around with (and how), and which recipes are best left alone for safety’s sake.  Marisa is an amazing canner/cook and writes a great blog that you should start reading immediately if you haven’t already.


Native Plants Workshop: Wed May 30th, 6-8 pm

British Columbia is home to over 3,000 species of native plants, including ferns, wildflowers, shrubs and trees. These plants are adapted to local soil and weather conditions, require less water, are hardier, more disease resistant and support native species of insects, animals and birds creating a rich biodiversity that is important for people and planet.

In this interactive workshop, you’ll discover how to incorporate native plants into your garden and to  get the scoop on invasive species that are threatening our local ecosystems and whether they are ‘friend or foe’. We’ll also be looking at how First Nations traditionally used these plants and embarking on a native plants ‘treasure hunt’ around the Compost Ed Garden.

Suggested donation:  $5

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria, BC

*** Please email to register and reserve your space.  ***

Urban Farm Inspiration from Near and Far

Spring is such an inspiring time of year for gardening — it seems like everyone you run into is telling you about what they’ve been up to in their yard or community garden plot and wanting to hear about what you’re growing, how it’s all going, and what new projects you’re wanting to take on.  On that note, I thought I’d put together a small roundup of inspiring urban agricultural projects, some from afar, and some from very close to home.

Novella Carpenter’s Ghost Town Farm in Oakland.  Novella Carpenter has a thriving urban farm in a (formerly) vacant lot next to her house in downtown Oakland.  She’s raised chickens, goats, rabbits, pigs (entirely on dumpstered food, no less) and completely transformed an unused lot into a pretty epic urban farm.  She blogs about her experiments and experiences (unfortunately, one of the most recent ones being the city of Oakland trying to shut down the farm and prevent her from selling her produce) and has also written a book called Farm City, which you can snag from the library here in town.  I like how improvised and low budget Novella’s techniques are — it makes her project particularly inspiring to those of us who are renters and don’t have access to ideal garden space.  It’s cool to know that you don’t have to own property to be able to create amazing urban ag experiments.

The Rhizome Collective in Austin.  These folks are in the midst of reorganizing and re-opening, but they operated out of a warehouse in Austin from 2000-2009, and you can take a virtual tour of the Rhizosphere (here or here).  The collective was focused on the design and display of functioning ecological tools and technologies. Their goal was “to create environmentally sustainable systems that provide for people’s basic needs: food, water, waste management, energy, and shelter. By having these systems on display, [they] hoped to educate and inspire others to continue the work of building sustainable infrastructures.”  They focused on really interesting areas such as bioremediation, manufactured wetlands, passive solar technology, bicycle powered windmills (!), biogas, and other rad technologies.  A couple of the collective members also put out a book called The Toolbox for Sustainable Urban Living which is amazingly inspiring and practical.  We have a copy of it in the Compost Education Centre library, or you can order it online.

The Mason Street City Farm here in Victoria.  The city farm is a quarter acre market garden located three blocks from City Hall, a stone’s throw from the local fast food joint and tucked in between condos, grocery stores, and the local elementary school.  Angela Moran, urban farmer extraordinaire, has been farming the site since 2005, and trying various permutations of box programs, market sales and restaurant sales for that time.  Current volunteer hours are Mondays and Tuesdays from 8:30am to 2:30pm and Wednesdays from 8:30am-11:30am if you’d like to help out.  You can also check out the farm website or Facebook page to find out more.

Bounce Back Farm here in Victoria.  This new urban farm’s mission is  to connect with the community through sustainable agriculture, providing a source for local, organically grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs all year round.  They are a small, organic urban SPIN (Small Plot INtensive) operation with some cool projects on the go (composting greenhouse!), and lots of tasty food being grown.  You can meet the intrepid farmers and buy their produce at the Bastion Square Market on Sunday or check out their website or Facebook page to keep up with all their doings.

Tour of the People’s Apothecary, Sunday May 27th, 2-4 pm

The People’s Apothecary is an amazing community project in Quadra Village.  The folks involved have created a herbal commons where medicinal plants are grown and made available to all members of the community.  Their aim is to decentralize medicine:  they feel that herbs are the medicine of the people, and healing with plants should be free and accessible.  They use permacultural principles to create spaces for wildlife, herbs, and humans to connect and sustain ecosystems.  In short — this is an inspiring yet also incredibly practical community endeavor.

Come on out this Sunday to take a tour of the space and learn about herbal medicine, permaculture urban gardening, and how to build self-reliance as a collective/community.  The Apothecary folks will also be installing irrigation and doing a bunch of planting, so there will be a lot of fantastic learning opportunities.

Please drop me an email at if you plan to attend.

Suggested donation:  $5 (no one turned away)

Location:  2549 Quadra St (in the field behind the Vancouver School of Art), between Bay and Kings

Canning 101: Caramelized Onion Jam, Tuesday May 22nd, 6-8 pm

It’s spring, and that means we need to empty the root cellar of what remains from last year’s onion harvest! Don’t have a root cellar? Not a problem: The recipe for this sweet and savory jam can be made with regular store-bought onions too. In this workshop, we’ll combine onions with other natural ingredients to make a special spread that tastes great in sandwiches, with meats, or simply on crackers. The jam will be preserved in glass jars, for future enjoyment. We’ll also cover the basics of modern hot-water bath canning techniques, equipment, safety issues, and resources for the home canner. Each participant will take home a small jar of jam and the recipe.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St

Suggested donation:  $10


Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Rhubarb A Go Go!

Now that spring is feeling pretty established and we’re starting to see lots of tasty seasonal food, I thought I’d start doing some spotlights on different ingredients. Since I am extremely enamored of rhubarb and stoked that it is ripe for the noshing at the moment, it seemed like a good starting place.

Growing and using rhubarb:  The rad thing about rhubarb is that you pretty much don’t need to do anything to grow it.  You can stick a plant in your garden and forget about it, and when you go back the next year it is all of a sudden threatening world dominance and providing you with a ton of rhubarb to eat.  It’s a perennial that’s very cold hardy and drought resistant, which makes it well suited to benign neglect.  It’s not recommended that you plant it from seed, but if you plant the roots in early spring one year and leave it be, you’ll be eating rhubarb the next year.  Just make sure you don’t pick the stalks the first year that it’s growing, as the roots need the nourishment from the leaves to thrive.  Also, you probably already know this, but make sure you eat the stalks, NOT the leaves:  the stalks are delicious, but the leaves are poisonous.

There are a ton of different rhubarb recipes floating around, but here are some that looked particularly delicious and/or unique:

Rhubarb and rosewater syrup from 101 Cookbooks: “It has a lot going on, tartness from the rhubarb, tang from fresh lime juice, a backdrop of sweetness that’s anything but shy, and the wildcard finish – rosewater. The resulting syrup is strong, and lovely, and a kiss of it is just what a bowl of yogurt, or glass of soda water needs.”

Rhubarb-orange pancakes from Coconut & Lime:  Fluffy pancakes full of rhubarb chunks and speckled with orange zest = yes please!  It hadn’t occurred to me that if you just diced rhubarb up small enough you could throw it into pancake batter without pre-cooking it.

Tofu with zesty rhubarb sauce from the taste space:  Spicy, ginger-y tart rhubarb sauce over tofu and brown rice.  This looks amazing, and has the bonus of being vegan.

Rhubarb iced tea from Not Without Salt:  A lightly simmered rhubarb tea served with a touch of honey, mint and lemon zest.  This looks like it would be an amazing drink for a hot summer day, preferably after lots of gardening or bike riding had happened.

Orange-rhubarb butter from Food in Jars:  Orange juice, rhubarb and sugar, cooked until thick and jammy and a dark rosy colour.  Fruit butters are a good alternative to jams, as you don’t need tons of sugar to make them set.

Caramelized onion, beet and rhubarb compote from Affairs of Living:  Sweet onions, tart rhubarb and earthy beets all mingled up together sounds like good times.  Plus, the woman who writes this blog has a beet tattoo, so you know she’s serious about her root veggies.

Gingered rhubarb apple crisp from Chow Times:  I’m sure everyone already has a favourite rhubarb crisp/crumble recipe, but this one looked particularly awesome, so I figured I’d throw it into the mix.  I’m trying this one out today!

The Haultain Common: What We’ve Been Up To

I just wanted to give everyone a bit of an update about our work at the Haultain Common this year.  As you may know, SLUGS is partnering with the Haultain Common for 2012 and holding monthly workshops/work parties at the Common.  We’re stoked to have the chance to work with the Commoners because it gives us a chance to put all our gardening learning into practice while helping to build an amazing community food resource.

In case you haven’t heard about the Haultain Common, here’s a bit of background:  It’s a boulevard garden located at the intersection of Haultain and Asquith in Fernwood.  The Common was started by Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnson, and has always been a collaborative community effort.  There are always neighbourhood folks stopping by to help work or harvest, and lots of curious passers by who stop to ask questions and often stay to help out.  The Common is on public land and is a public food resource.  All are welcome to get their hands dirty working in the garden or to stop and harvest some berries or vegetables to eat.

In the early months of the year, SLUGS and Commoners met to create a plan of action for this year’s food production.  The Common is moving from a more conventional garden to a permaculture food forest model of growing, and we wanted to sit down and hash out how that was going to work.  Not only did we need to figure out how to construct a food forest, but we needed to figure out how to make this method of growing accessible to folks who might not be familiar with permaculture gardening techniques.  The Common is a community food garden, and we wanted to make sure that anyone passing by would be able to recognize what we were growing and feel comfortable harvesting it.  You can check out this older blog post for more details on the planning process and background information about permaculture food forests. 

Once we had the plans in place for this year’s iteration of the Common, we started working on putting them into action.  We’ve been transplanting, planting and weeding like crazy to get the Common ready for the growing season.  We transplanted some gojis, goumis and blueberries, added lots of new blueberries (they work well as part of a permaculture food forest as well as being extremely popular with all the kids in the neighbourhood), and rearranged the epic strawberry patch.

In April we built a pea trellis from willow branches (see photo at left) and planted peas, built four keyhole paths to allow better access for harvesting plants and did a ton of weeding.  There was an overwhelming amount of borage and calendula taking over the garden, and we sadly had to take most of them out.  It’s always a shame to lose plants that are so beautiful and useful (bees absolutely love them!), but we have to maintain balance in the garden as well as hewing to boulevard garden guidelines that stipulate that plants must be fairly low to the ground and clear pathways through the garden must be maintained.

We’re really happy about all the work we’ve gotten done on the Common so far.  The bones of a beautiful and functional garden are in place, and it will be great to watch it fill in and develop as the season progresses.  Thanks to all the folks who’ve helped out so far this year (and thanks also to Mike Large for the use of his photos for this post!).  We can always use more people at the work parties, so if you’re interested in hanging out in the sun, getting rad with fellow gardeners, learning about food gardens or permaculture food forests, or just stopping by to see what it’s all about, please keep an eye on this space for upcoming events!


-Info on gojis and goumis if you’d like to learn more about them
A great blog post by Maarten who attended some of our planning meetings
-Here’s a good starting point if you’re interested in learning more about permaculture food forests
A cool article and video about the Haultain Common
Instructions on how to make a trellis from branches like the one we constructed