There was a time not that long ago when preserving fruit and vegetables in vacuum-sealed mason jars was a necessity. There was scarcity and it was one to ensure the family got fed through the winter months. These days, it’s just a really cool way to preserve the bounty that summer’s (and fall’s) harvest brings. Seasoned canning aficionados love to debate and share tips on their best practices; to use pectin or not, what to water bathe, what to pressure can. Intimidating for first time canners but it shouldn’t be because canning is as easy as 1-2-3.
The first and best advice, before even thinking about canning as a project is to ask yourself this, “what do I miss most when winter comes? What do I want to eat all year round that isn’t easy to get all year round? And there you have it; you just made your list of what to can and stash away in the pantry for you and your family.
Pectin is a gelling agent naturally found in many fruits. Most recipes call for added pectin. You can buy it in either liquid or powdered form. There is a third choice of pectin – if you can find it - for making low-sugar preserves. Jams or jellies can be made without pectin, they just need to simmer longer depending on the amount of natural pectin in the fruit you’re using.
In preserving, typically lemon juice is meant for fruit preserves and vinegar for vegetable preserves. The acid that lemons and vinegar provide is important for the fermentation process. They also play a role as changing agents to flavour, texture and to help prevent bacterial growth.
The investment in canning supplies is minimal and many kits are designed for newbies. These days, first-timers can purchase starter kits with everything they need and instructions for what they should know. There are canning racks made from hard silicone that holds three to four jars, that fit in a stockpot for small batch canning. To remove jars, you can either buy special canning tongs or just as easily wrap rubber bands around the tongs you already have at home and remove the jars that way.
Head to the garden, a local you pick your own farm or the farmer’s market for what you want to can. Plunge everything into galvanized tubs of cool water and scrub. If you want to involve your kids, you can turn your backyard into a canning station and make it a fun outdoor activity with a party vibe. Set the work area up in a shady area, plug in a speaker, put out drinks and snacks, let them run off to the swing set or dip under the sprinkler or in the pool whenever they get antsy.
Wash the jars. Let them dry before filling. Meanwhile, soak the lids in hot water for ten minutes to soften the rubber edge. This way the lids will grip better to the tops of the jars when you screw on the rings. A canning funnel keeps things neat. Fill jars, leaving room at the tops so contents have the space to expand. Run a thin spatula inside the jars after they’ve been filled. This is to remove the air bubbles. Wipe clean to ensure a proper seal. Place warm lids onto rims and screw into place. Tighten the rings some more after jars have had more time to cool.
Fill an extra-large pot with enough water to cover the tops of the jars by a good inch or so. Bring it to a boil. Lower the jars and cover. Refer to the instructions in your recipe for time. Once the processed jars have been removed from the water bath canner, let them sit for about an hour. Don’t get startled should you hear some “pinging” going on. That’s the sound of the lids being sealed.
Here’s a sample recipe for jam to get you started:
Because we're not using store-bought pectin the cook time to reach a gel point can vary based on the ripeness and water content of your berries at harvest. Liquid or pureed berries take longer to reach the gelling point.
Always inspect your jars of jam and jelly before using. If the seal is broken, the jar is leaking, off odour, off appearance, or any signs of mold, do not eat or taste it. Throw it out. Check the seal when you go to use a jar, even if it is sealed when you put it in the pantry. Seals can sometimes come undone over time.
Oh… the sense of accomplishment and pride a person takes in having completed canning for the months ahead. Pretty mason jars of many sizes all in a row, with their decorative labels, waiting to be plucked up and served with dinner or given as a hostess gift. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s nutritious, economical and easy on the environment. All good things.
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