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Cook's Corner

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Diana Parker | The Journal Gazette
Mary Willems-Akers cans many food items and organizes food swaps in the area.

Canner shares nature’s bounty in food swaps

– Mary Willems-Akers enjoys running and eating local foods. One day while running, the mother of two teenage boys passed a neighbor’s property with a yellow transparent apple tree and noticed many of the apples lying on the ground.

“I stopped and left a note with my phone number,” she says. “He called and said, ‘Sure. I’ve got peach trees, too.’ He wanted a jar of the applesauce I made from his apples.”

Willems-Akers, a social worker with Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home Inc., likes to can the bounty she gets from her two 6-by-4 garden beds, at her Fort Wayne home. One of her favorite canning books is “Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round” by Marisa McClellan. She and her husband, Andy Akers, also have a community-supported agriculture share in Roanoke.

After seeing a food swap in Indianapolis, Willems-Akers became involved the Northeast Indiana Food Swap and is now the coordinator.

“People take food that they’ve made, grown or forged. You have to register in advance. Then get a name tag, a bid sheet and a table. It’s a mix between a cookie swap and a silent auction. No money is involved. In theory, it’s about an hour.”

“Some have taken dry mixes, jams, tea mixes. A friend took honeycomb lavender brittle. Fresh fruits and vegetables that are (either) homegrown or canned – even vanilla extract. All are homemade,” she says.

The food swap planned for Aug. 18 will be at Wunderkammer Co., 3402 Fairfield Ave. Anyone interested in registering for upcoming food swaps may go to facebook.com/neifoodswap. She’s already planned one for October.

Willems-Akers says a food swap in this area draws about 35 people. As of Monday, 29 had signed up.

“I had one in Huntington. We only had a couple of swappers. We all had so much fun. My sister made mayonnaise and peanut butter for the first time. I was so proud of her. She was doing things in her kitchen she would not normally do. I think people that make and share their food is a success in itself. It’s another way to build community,” she says.

Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam

1 quart strawberries, 1 1/2 pounds or about 4 cups chopped berries

2 cups sugar, divided

2 vanilla beans, split and scraped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Wash and chop berries. Toss them with 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla beans/seeds and place in a large jar or bowl. Allow the berries to macerate for at least 2 to 3 hours and up to 72 hours. When ready to make jam, prepare three half-pint jars. Pour macerated strawberries into a large pot and add the remaining cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees, stirring regularly. Add the lemon zest and juice in the final 5 minutes of cooking. When the jam has reached 220 degrees, remove the pan from the heat. Pour jam into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in canner for 10 minutes. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a towel-lined counter top. When jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and check seals. If jars are not sealed, store them in the refrigerator and use them first. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place. Makes 3 half-pint jars.

Tomato Jam

5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped

3 1/2 cups sugar

8 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon red chili flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a simmer. Stirring regularly, simmer the jam until it reduces to a sticky, jammy mess. This will take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, depending on how high you keep your heat. When the jam has cooked down sufficiently, remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 -inch of head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. When time is up, remove jars from water bath and allow them to cool. When jars are cool enough to handle, test seals. Store jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Makes 2 to 4 half-pint jars depending on size of tomatoes and how far the jam reduces.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648 or email dparker@jg.net.

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