Canning craze keeps Teresa Fiocchi of Mundelein busy nearly year round
By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald Correspondent
When it comes to canning, it might be easier to ask our Cook of the Week, Teresa Fiocchi from Mundelein, what she doesn't can.
"I have so much food canned that my kids always tease me that I'm preparing for the zombie apocalypse," laughs Teresa.
If you were to peek into her pantry, you would find canned whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato salsa -- all from her garden. You'll also find pickles (dills and sweet), pickled asparagus and green beans, 15 different types of jams and jellies (even jalapeño!), applesauce, pie fillings, bloody mary mix and more.
"Years ago I inherited some beautiful Ball canning jars, so I read up on canning," she explains with a shrug. While Teresa is an avid gardener, she is also a fan of farmers markets and pick-your-own orchards.
"My kids have grown up going to farmers markets and orchards. It's a family thing. When we get home from cherry picking, they all know they will have to take a turn at pitting the cherries. We always pick a crazy amount of apples, which require peeling and slicing, but it's easy when you have many hands to help."
Teresa uses a hot water bath canner or a pressure cooker, (she assures us that modern pressure cookers don't explode). Teresa cans foods that are in season and then her family and friends enjoy the fruits of her labor throughout the year. Teresa shares a favorite jam recipe with us today, her Apricot Amaretto Jam.
"I love to gift food," says Teresa, who recently gave food gifts to teachers for teacher appreciation week. "It comes from the heart and shows how much you appreciate them more than a Starbucks card!"
At Christmas, Teresa enjoys pairing food gifts, for example, a jar of her tomato sauce with her homemade pasta, or her apple caramel jam with freshly baked biscotti.
"Sometimes I get the jars back with a request for refills!" she laughs.
Canning, however, is only one aspect of Teresa's passion for cooking. If you asked her children what her signature dish was, you would get three different answers: homemade pasta, chocolate cake or even homemade pretzels! Her husband would have another opinion -- possibly her lasagna? Or the recipe for short ribs Bolognese she shares with us today.
When Teresa married into an Italian family 21 years ago, she fell in love with cooking and was initially just eager to feed her husband. Now with three children, Teresa's priority is that her children eat well. Working full time and managing busy kid schedules with a husband who travels might sound like an excuse for a few nights off from cooking, but not for the Fiocchi's.
"I'm a big believer in planning ahead. I sit down and make a two-week meal plan. I try to have a stocked pantry, and I have two stand-up freezers. If I make lasagna, I will make five. If I make waffles, I freeze 30. If I make pie crust, I make six or seven to freeze. Double batches mean that I have a dozen things in the freezer that we can have to fill in for those nights when we are really busy."
Teresa enjoys making copycat versions of her kids' favorites -- like Chick-fil-A, Panda Express or breakfast sandwich biscuits that she freezes so they can quickly grab them from the freezer and microwave.
"When I cook, I know that they're not eating fast food or a lot of preservatives." Teresa doesn't worry too much about buying organic foods, however.
"It makes me feel good to feed people -- I must have a recessive Italian gene!" When her kids come home with friends, there are always cookies in her cookie jar, muffins or cakes in the cake dish, and she is more than happy to throw together a meal.
"There's always something I can make. With a batch of pie dough and my canned pie filling, I can make a pie faster than I could go to a Baker's Square for one! Everyone's always welcome."
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