Wecking Out

Chef Alex Grunert of Blue Hill at Stone Barns on the Beauty of Weck Jars



Photography by Andre Baranowski

In the 20th century, the practical art of canning got a bad rap. In comparison to the newfangled, foil-wrapped bricks of Birdseye, canning looked as old fashioned as Auntie Em in a root cellar. But in the last decade, canning’s image changed when diners re-discovered the rewards of eating locally grown food harvested in season. High-profile chefs, seeking to extend the flavors of local harvests, now embrace the charms of home pickling and canning.

    Predictably, Blue Hill at Stone Barns does canning with style. Not content with utilitarian (and cheap), American-made Ball or Mason jars, BHSB’s Pastry Chef Alex Grunert draws on his European childhood. In Austria, where Grunert was raised, “we called canning ‘Wecking’”—the idiom is drawn from the J. Weck Company, the German glassmaker that, at the dawn of the 20th century, invented a jar and clip for home canning. Says Grunert, “My grandmother made the pickled rind from giant watermelons from Italy. It’s something that I grew up with.” Lucky for us, he’s sharing this recipe here, along with four others.

    How does Grunert justify the imported glassware’s expense? “Well, the Wecks are just beautiful! But also, they make a lot of sense. Wecks are very clean to work with. They don’t crack when you put them in the oven—and because they’re so pretty, we use them in plating desserts.” Currently, you’ll find the strawberry-trademarked Weck jars throughout BHSB—on tables, cradling just-baked cheese soufflés, or behind the bar, holding infused liquors, honeys, and syrups.

Herbs, Flowers, and Honey

Yields 3 500-ml jars

3 500-ml “Tulip” Weck jars
1 qt flower honey
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig lavender
¼ cup sunflower petals
¼ cup rose petals
¼ cup fresh chamomile greens and flowers
1 tsp dark rum

In a bowl placed in a warm water bath, warm honey. Do not over heat. Prepare Weck jars according to package directions, and add all herbs and flowers to the prepared jar. Pour warmed honey over the herbs and flowers, drizzle dark rum onto the honey, light it with a match, and then immediately close jar to smother flame. Steep the mixture for a few days, then use it to sweeten tea and lemonade, or to drizzle over fresh fruit and granola.

Sweet Pickled Cherries or Watermelon Rind

Yields 3 560-ml jars for cherries; 2 1000-ml for watermelon

3 560-ml “Tulip” Weck jars (or for watermelon, 2 1000-ml "Tulip" Weck jars)
3 ¼ cups red wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1 ½ cups sugar
Zest of one lemon, removed with vegetable peeler
½ tsp whole peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 ½ lbs cherries or the rind of 1/2 large watermelon

In a large saucepan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil, and then add the lemon peel and spices (peppercorns, cinnamon, vanilla, bay leaves, and cloves). Cover the saucepan with plastic and steep for at least 1 hour. While the liquid is steeping, clean and cut flesh away from the watermelon rind or wash and pit cherries. Bring pickling liquid to a boil, strain, then return liquid to pot and add fruit. If preparing the watermelon rind, simmer fruit and liquid over medium heat for 10 minutes. If preparing the cherries, bring to a boil then remove from heat. Pour mixture into Weck jar and allow to rest overnight in refrigerator. Serve with salads, roasted or grilled meats, ceviche.

Preserved Apricots with Lemon Thyme

Yield 5 290-ml Weck jars

5 290-ml Weck jars
3 lbs apricots
3 cups sugar
2 lemons, juiced
1 vanilla bean, scraped
10 sprigs lemon thyme

Rinse and pit apricots and place in a bowl. Combine apricots, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla bean; cover and refrigerate overnight. Strain the apricots, reserving the syrup. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring syrup to a boil and cook to 230° F.
Add reserved apricots and lemon thyme and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes on low heat until mixture reaches a jam consistency. Immediately fill Weck jars (sterilized according to package directions) with jam, seal, and secure with metal clips. Place sealed jars in a water bath; water must be half way up to the rim of the glass. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 20 minutes at low heat to preserve the apricot jam.
Allow clips to remain on jars overnight; remove clips to ensure jars have sealed properly. Serve rolled in crêpes, under a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, spread on toast, or serve with soft, mild cheese.

Elderflower Syrup

Makes 1 liter

One liter “Tulip” Weck jar
4 cups water
2 cups honey
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
¼ tsp ascorbic acid or vitamin C
8 oz elderflower blossoms
3 oranges, zest and juice reserved
1 lemon, zest and juice reserved
5 cloves

Combine water, honey, sugar, and vanilla bean and bring to a boil; cool to room temperature and stir in ascorbic acid. Place cleaned elderflower blossoms, citrus peel and juice, cloves, and vanilla bean in the Weck jar, and pour cooled sugar syrup over mixture. Seal and refrigerate for two to three weeks. Add elderflower syrup to Champagne, Moscato d’Asti, or sparkling water, or drizzle over yogurt, granola, and fruits.

Yogurt Soufflé with Graham Crackers and Caramel Sauce

Serves 6

For the GRAHAM CRACKER BASE
6 290-ml Weck jars
½ cup graham cracker crumbs
(ground in food processor)
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
6 Tbsp (one and a half sticks) of melted butter

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix ingredients together by hand, and divide graham-cracker mixture evenly among the glasses. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown, then remove from oven and cool.

For the Caramel Sauce
½ cup sugar                                
1/3 cup + 4 tsp heavy cream                              
1 ¼ tsp cold butter

Melt sugar in a heavy saucepan, and heat (without stirring) until it reaches a deep amber color. Stir in heavy cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add cold butter, and, with a whisk, beat until smooth. Reserve.

For The Yogurt Soufflé
1 cup Greek yogurt
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, scraped
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites
4 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 400° F. Gently combine yogurt with egg yolks, scraped vanilla bean, and lemon zest; do not over-mix. In a stand mixer, beat egg whites with sugar until it is a creamy meringue, then fold meringue into the yogurt batter. Butter the side of the jars in which you have baked the graham-cracker base, and then pour the soufflé mixture on top of the cracker mixture, filling each glass halfway. Place jars in a baking pan and fill pan with hot water until it reaches half way to the top of the jars. Bake in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until the soufflés are golden brown on top. Remove the glasses from the water bath, cool slightly, and sift confectioner's sugar over soufflés. Drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve with vanilla ice cream or berry sorbet.

Julia Sexton is a Westchester-based food writer whose CRMA award-winning Eat.Drink.Post.
Blog appears at westchestermagazine.com