Savor the best all year long!
Jams, Jellies, Preserves, Fruits, Pickles, Relishes, Vinegars, Chutneys, Salsas, Tomatoes
I grew up with Ball canning jars. My mother would fill them with jams and jellies and applesauce, and pickles of just about anything in abundance. She made sweet pickles, relish, dill pickles, zucchini pickles, and pickled green beans with dill. She turned carrots into marmalade, watermelon rinds into pickles, and green tomatoes and apples and spices into mincemeat.
The jars on the shelf looked like jewels; our own form of home security – the best and most abundant of the garden saved for the winter. After a season of making little batches here and there from our best produce, I get that same feeling when I look at my jars all lined up, waiting to be popped open or gifted to family and friends. I feel like a squirrel who has successfully tucked away acorns for winter.
Although I seldom eat jam, I make tons of it each year because I love the process. It is time to oneself, one that will have a reward at the end to share with others. It touches all sorts of places in my memory, and I feel connected to my family who came before me. I know I will use the blackberry jam to fill my Buche de Noel at Yuletide, my mom’s recipe, and raspberry jam always makes an appearance at spring family feasts with trifle for dessert – everyone looks forward to that one, and the children love to help in its assembly.
Make a new memory!
Even if you have no home-canning memories of your own, you can make some for your family starting now! The easiest way to introduce yourself to canning is to try a small batch of jam or pickles that you will not process for shelf storage but will store in the refrigerator. You cannot keep these products as long, but a quick batch will run you through some of the basics.
Once you decide to try actual canning, starting with a high-acid food is the easiest beginning, and requires little in the form of special equipment beyond a big pot.
Any high-acid fruit or vegetable can be processed in a water bath as opposed to a pressure canner. Some produce does not have a high enough acid content, so you will have to add lemon juice or vinegar. The process is quick and simple, but you do need to follow the steps. If you have never canned before, I would recommend a good book on the subject, and the standard is the “Ball Blue Book”; get the most recent edition as techniques change. Ball also has an excellent website with tons of instructions and recipes for not only water bath canning, but also pressure processing and freezing.
I have a routine I follow when I’m canning, using the same utensils and process year after year. I pretty much do this the same way mother did, except she did not have a canning pot, but used a large stockpot instead. It worked fine.
I also put the kids to work! they love mashing berries, and packing pickles in jars. They’re making their own memories.
I’m using the term “jam” here, but the process is the same. The things that will change are processing time and head space in your jar which will be anywhere from 1/4 inch to a full inch.
Water Bath Canning for High Acid Foods
Home Canning 101
- What you’ll need: You will need jars, lids, and rings, a hot-water bath canner, or a large stockpot fitted with a cake rack in the bottom so the jars don’t crack from the heat, a chopstick, a ladle, tongs, and a canning funnel and jar lifter. The funnel is not absolutely necessary, but really handy as it helps to fill your jars without a lot of mess. The lifter makes life much easier and can be found at any hardware store with a kitchen section.
- Think ahead: Well ahead of your canning time, check your jars for nicks and cracks, and rings and lids for rust, warping, or other defects. You can reuse the rings, but not the lids. Any rings with rust, I toss into recycling. If you don’t have enough jars, now is the time to head to the hardware store, not when the jam is finished! I know this from experience.
- Jar prep: Wash lids and rings in hot sudsy water, rinse, then place in a large pot of water along with the funnel, tongs, and ladles. Heat to a simmer and let sit in the hot water until you are ready to can. Put the jars through the dishwasher and try to time it so they are done just about the time the jam is done. You can also just wash them in hot, sudsy water and keep hot until ready to use.
- Canner prep: Fill you canner to about half full and bring water to a simmer. I also put on a tea kettle of water to heat I case I need to top-off the pot once the jars are in place – I usually do! Once you start filling the jars, you will turn up the heat to get to a boil.
- Work station prep: I set out hot pads on my table to hold the pan with the lids as well as the cooked jam. I also set out tea towels to hold the clean and filled jars, the ladle, and the funnel.
- Fill your jars: Once your jam is finished, remove your jars from the hot water or dishwasher and place on the tea towel. Bring your pot with the lids to the table, followed by the jam pot. Using the funnel, or a ladle with a pouring spout, fill your jars to the recipe’s instructions. You might need to use the chopstick to release any air bubbles. Use a clean, damp towel to wipe the top of the jars. This is important if you want a good seal. Use the tongs to fish out your lid (shake it so avoid drips) and place squarely on the top of the jar. Add your ring, finger-tight, and place aside until all jars are filled. You will want to load them in the canner all at the same time.
- Start canning: Place the jars in the canner and make sure there is two inches of water over the tops. If not, top off with the kettle water. Once the water is back to a full rolling boil, set your timer and process according to the recipe. Most jams are 10 to 15 minutes.
- Set jars to cool: Using the lifter or tongs, remove the jars from the water bath and place gently on the tea towel. More than likely, you will hear the jar lids start “popping” shut indicating a good seal. Let the jars relax in this place for a full day.
- Check and store: Check each jar to ensure it sealed. Press gently on the middle of the top, there should be no flexing of the lid. If a jar did not seal, refrigerate and use this one immediately.
- Label the jars: It is pretty hard to tell the difference between some pickles or jams! Don’t forget to include the date, and store in a cool dry spot.