Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Button Soup Canning Bee

Until recently the only bees I knew of were honey bees, spelling bees, and quilting bees.  There was a time when there were many other types of bees.  Canning bees, for instance.

A "bee" is any gathering with a task in mind.  In the days of yore it was often implied that people were coming together to help one person or family accomplish a large task in a relatively short amount of time.  In rural Canada a community might gather to help a family thresh all their grain.  Another threshing bee might be held the following week at a different farm.

A family history book tells me that food and whiskey were provided to those who helped.  That same family history cautioned not to serve the whiskey until the chores are done.

The Button Soup Canning Bee

After a summer hiatus for my trip to Austria, the Button Soup Supper Club returned in September.  A group of ten friends helped me put up a large amount of preserves, and were then treated to a large spread for dinner.

Preserves included dill pickles, pickled onions, onion marmelade, beet relish, figgy mustard, highbush cranberry sauce, pickled garlic (cloves and scapes), and piccalilli.  For those unaware, "piccalilli," at left, is just relish, made with a wide assortment of vegetables instead of just cucumber. My mother's family always made it with green tomatoes.   This particular batch used overgrown zucchini, bell peppers, and onions.

 Preserving Mountain Ash (Don't...)

Besides the more familiar preserves listed above, we also made some experimental batches of mountain ash jelly. A botanist friend has ensured me, time and time again, that our mountain ash are edible. I've finally conceded that they may be safe to eat, but they aren't worth eating.

I hate to say that, because we had people cleaning and processing mountain ash all day, but the fact is that the berries are just too soapy and bitter.  We even tried a traditional Scottish recipe for rowan jelly in which the whole, uncrushed berries are gently simmered, supposedly to minimize the extraction of soapy flavours, but the resulting liquid was still inedible.

Crushing Apples with a Meat Grinder (Don't...)

We also crushed and pressed another round of apples that day.  On the recommendation of an internet site, instead of using a proper crusher, we tried a large meat grinder. It didn't work very well. The grinder worm wasn't able to put the apples through the machine, so we had to force them through with the plunger.  We ended up crushing the apples more with the plunger than the blade of the grinder.  It took forever.  Never again.


Part way through the afternoon we pulled out the hard cider, which was in its bubbly, alcoholic, sweet spot.

For dinner, since the kitchen was tied up with people chopping vegetables and boiling jars, we ate simple dishes that could be prepared well in advance.

First was headcheese, ideal for serving large groups because a) it's cheap as nails, and b) it can be made the night before and simply sliced to order.  Taken with pumpkin seed oil and cider vinegar.

Next we put out some roasts: pork shoulder, pork belly, and beef eye of round.  Sliced and served on crusty buns with coleslaw and homemade potato chips.

A jar of each preserve was set out to sample with the sandwiches.

Dessert was sour cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.

Thanks to those who helped out.  I have you all scheduled for next September.


  1. Ah, life's fails are such good lessons. Wish I could have been there.

  2. Let me know the next time you want to make applesauce and I will lend you my champion juicer.

    Headcheese looks yummy!

  3. I may be wrong but I think the rowan berries (or mountain ash)are like high bush cranberies and rose hips in that they improve with freezing.
    I have to say, I was served some leftover pork shoulder the next day and it was so.... good. What Allan failed to mentions was that it was more like ham on a scale with the first home made ham that I ever had. That one was served by Allan, Easter before last. It was the best ham I have had in my life. Store bought does not begin to compare.

  4. Kevin - Agreed!

    Tara - Building a proper crusher is going to be this winter's project. And next time I'll save you some headcheese.

    Judy - I could see the frost helping with the sugar content, but I can't imagine it completely solving the alkalinity issue.

    And thank you. Next year's Easter ham is in the freezer!

  5. I find the Rowan berry failure quite heartening: it means never again will I be cleaning a whole pail of nature's most tedious berry. : ) We'll let the birds enjoy them.

  6. Hi Martin. Again: I'm sorry. Hope the ham and cherry pie made up for it.