I think I’m finally ready to come out with it: I have a tremendous, completely irrational fear of Clostridium botulinum. More specifically, my fear is that something I can will harbor botulism, and me or someone else who eats it, over subsequent days, will develop symptoms of botulism, and die.
You might think that someone who cans/preserves as much as I do would be comfortable with all the ins and outs of canning safety, and I am, but you see, my fear of botulism is totally irrational. So regardless of whether I know that there were only 22 reported cases of food-born botulism in the entire US last year, and despite the fact that I follow proper safety precautions, the fear slips in… and then it takes over.
This past February, there was a particularly bad episode that we’ll call “The Fermented Pickle Incident”. I went to a fermented food tasting party with some fellow pickling buddies I had met through twitter (is that weird?). I brought a batch of Indian carrot pickles with mustard seed that I had recently made following Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe, which included oil. That little bit of oil brought my fear gushing in. My mind went: oil –> anaerobic environment –> botulism –> death to all tweeting picklers.
One thing that I do when I freak out like this, and which I did the day of The Fermented Pickle Incident (foreshadowing: and today) is call random canning experts that I find online. That time, like other times, I wound up talking to a sweet woman from the Utah Cooperative Extension program. It was clear she didn’t get many calls from neurotic New York Jews like me, or she wouldn’t have pointed out that “you can’t be sure unless you get your stomach pumped.” Ummmmmm……WHAT?!
Long story short, I didn’t get my stomach pumped, but only because Matthew and I braved a snow storm to drive to Whole Foods at 9pm to buy pH strips. After testing the carrots in the parking lot, it was clear the environment was acidic enough to prevent botulism and I would be OK. But I didn’t really feel better until I was sure I was alive 7 days later. And then I went right back to pickling. Why? I have no idea. Maybe ’cause I love the cute jars. And pickles.
October Can Jam: Chilies
This month started out fine. I heard that the Tigress Can Jam October ingredient was chilies, and I was excited to make a grapefruit chili sauce inspired by Marie Sharp’s Grapefruit Habenero Sauce that I had tasted on a trip to Belize last year. Stupidly, I only brought back a tiny bottle of the stuff, and it went fast. With this challenge, I was looking forward to finally trying my hand at replicating that tangy, spicy, savory, delectable sauce. So, I hit the books. The only thing that kinda came close to what I was after was a recipe for Orange Chili Marmalade in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. So, that was my starting point, and this is where I ended: heart beating, calls to Utah, pH test strips strewn around my kitchen…
So, since I feel like I might have modified too much, I won’t be sharing a recipe this month. The published recipe said to take OUT the chili peppers after they cooked with the grapefruit; I kept them in. The recipe was too large, so I did 40% of it; was my computation correct? I added some water to thin out the marmalade as it cooked. Was that a good instinct, or a fatal one?
Utah Canning Lady said that I was ‘probably fine’, but she ‘can’t be sure’. So, just to be safe, I’m going to do the other thing that I do when I’m afraid that my cans weren’t properly sealed and that they might not be preserved correctly. I’m going to eat it, all, very very fast. And it happens to be delicious!