Posts Tagged by canning

5 Tips to Get Started Canning – Don’t Be Afraid!

Start Canning

When we used to visit my grandparents – on my dad’s side, in the country – I remember loving to play “store” in their pantry in the carport. Inside was shelf after shelf of things my grandmother had put up. Countless jars of delicious jams and beautiful canned veggies, along with a random dusty box of jar rings and bottles of soda (prized by us grandkids) created the perfect store set up and I was always the cashier.   There weren’t that many customers at my little shop -mostly Pancho (the dog with two different colored eyes – who slept more than he shopped) and some pretend “ladies from town” that I had fabulous and important gossipy conversations with while they made their selections.  I made gobs of pretend money and became independently wealthy every time I opened the door for business to sell my wares.  Those magical jars were priceless.

Years later, as desperately as I wanted to replicate my grandmother’s collection, I steered clear of canning, and for a perfectly good reason—I found it incredibly intimidating. Finally, I decided that I was tired of spending a fortune on little pots of fancy preserves just because they were “all natural.” And I knew could do better for my family than the less expensive versions of those sugary technicolor gels by making my own.  Fortunately, I have crazy easy access to fresh fruit  and other produce in my area in the summertime, and let’s be honest, nothing beats homemade.

There are a few things that I’ve learned along the way and I hope I can sway some of you “on the fence” people that canning is not as scary and weird as it might seem.

5 Tips to Get Started Canning

1. Always start with really fresh produce and remove any blemishes or bruised spots.   Microorganisms multiply so fast on decaying areas that the processing might not be able to destroy them all.

fresh strawberries

 

2. Always works in small batches. To keep it from being too overwhelming, I typically do around eight pints—that’s about four or five pounds of fresh produce at a time. I’m not usually looking for a weekend project!  I have trouble committing to chunks of time like that.  Besides, working in small batches also makes it easier to can a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Strawberries

3. Making jams and preserves can be riddled with anxiety: Will it set? Will it set enough? The trick is in the balance of fruit, sugar, and added pectin, a natural substance that’s found in varying degrees in fruits and that causes the cooked down mass to set, or gel. Older recipes use equal amounts of sugar and fruit, but I found that I’d wind up with something that was way too sweet. Living with a Free Range Diabetic, I try to cut back on sugar whenever I can. Sugar-free, however, requires so much cooking to ensure thickening that it’s just mush and not very fresh-tasting.  The key here is using a commercial pectin and just following the directions on the box. I use a low sugar pectin like this one.  Easy.  Breathe.

Peach Fig jam

4. The only pieces of specialty equipment required for canning high-acid foods are a boiling-water canner  (or simply use a large pot and a rack) and canning jars with lids and rings. The jars and rings may be used more than once, but you have to use a new lid each time. I also purchased a starter kit for canning that includes a wide canning funnel, a jar lifter and a magnetic lid lifter.

Canning-Lid-Lifter

5. Finally, get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning and Preserving, the canning bible. It’s like everything our moms and grandmothers and great-grandmothers know all in one handy dandy book. When in doubt, go to the Blue Book.

Strawberry-Jam

Still nervous?  Take your prized produce to a friend who is familiar with canning and put it up together.  Of course you’ll have to share the treasure, but once you get your feet wet, you’ll want to dive right in!

Jam Jars

Do any experienced canners have bits of wisdom to share? I can always use a few good good tips!

 

 

18 Tips to Make Canning Easier

Canning Tips

 

I only started canning a few years ago. My grandmothers use to “put up” all kinds of goodies and I hoped to follow in their beautiful footsteps.  I’ve made some really fabulous jams and preserves since then, but I’ve also had my share of flops. My well-intentioned Blueberry Jam comes to mind. In hindsight, I learned that blueberries are usually more suited for jelly rather than jam. The jars of thick, seedy paste that I lovingly created still sit in my pantry.

Through a lot of trial-and-error, research and friendly advice from those most experienced than I, I’ve gathered some of my most helpful tips for all canning jobs, large and small. These are all through the water bath canning “lens,” though many of them can also be applied to pressure canning. Here are my tips to make canning easier!

  1. Don’t be afraid. (start here)  I wasted many years being afraid to try. I expected that so much science, calculating and luck was required just to make jam, and I was overwhelmed. There is a little of that stuff, but jump in! It’s pretty simple.  Here’s a great chart of Canning Basics.
  2. Start with a clean, organized work space and lay out everything you’ll need before you get started. Once you’re ready to start filling jars, you don’t want to be looking for your funnel.
  3. If the spices and herbs you’re using aren’t going in the finished jar, put them in cheesecloth tied with kitchen string to make them easier to fish out.
  4. Avoid boil over by using the size of sauce pan or Dutch oven specified in the recipe, even if it seems a larger at first then you think you’ll need. Just trust me on this one.
  5. A small ceramic or stoneware baking dish is ideal for warming lids. It holds heat nicely, is wide enough to let you scatter the lids and keep them from sticking together, and is shallow enough to make fishing out the lids easy.
  6. Don’t stir jam or jelly mixtures with a whisk. It will create air bubbles that you don’t want in the finished product. Use a wooden or non-aluminum spoon.
  7. Jam and jelly making is sticky business. You’ll be stirring often so should have a clean spoon rest handy to minimize sticky stove tops and counters and avoid introducing any counter bacteria and do your fruit mixture.
  8. Always let boiled mixtures stand off the heat at least one minute before skimming. This allows the foam to rise and the food settle, making skimming easier.
  9. Use a microplane to zest citrus. It produces tiny strands that are uniform in the final product and avoids path that can turn canned goods better or cloudy.
  10. Be sure to stir after skimming, then before and between ladling into jars to ensure each jar gets an equal amount of liquids and solids.
  11. Fill jars on wax paper or parchment paper lined jelly roll pan to catch drips and make moving the jars from your workspace to the stove easier.
  12. Many preserves with added spices and herbs, and most canned pickles, taste best and achieve their best texture after 3 weeks in the jar.
  13. Having doubts about your jelly setting after you’ve canned them? Look at what’s left in the pot. Does it cling to the sides? Then it’s likely going to set.
  14. If your jelly or jam seems too thin when you check the seals, don’t fret. Some jellies take a week or more to fully set. If yours doesn’t set after 2 weeks, just call it syrup, and store it in the fridge. It will still taste great!
  15. Screw top, freezer safe plastic containers like these are good options for freezer preserves.
  16. If you freeze preserves and glass jars, be sure to thaw the frozen jars one day in the fridge before using. Don’t run a frozen jar under hot water or put it in the microwave. Frozen jars make crack with a severe
  17. Start with hot water in the canning pot to reduce the time it takes to come to a boil.
  18. If you don’t have soft water and are using hard water to sterilize and processed jars, add a 1/4 cup of vinegar for each gallon of water in the canning pot to avoid leaving a cloudy mineral deposit on the jars.
  19. Always use new canning lids purchased within the past year. Even if the package is unopened and the lids are unused, the seal can degrade over time.
  20. Save the boxes that canning jars are sold in; they come in handy when transporting canned products and storing the emptied jars for reuse.

When in doubt, I always refer to the canning bible – the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (available on Amazon or in the Ball Store.) Tons of information can also be found on their website.

 

What are your best tips for canning?  Please share them with all of us in the Comments.

Canning Basics- Awesome Infographic!

Using a Water Bath for Canning

I’m so excited! Our local berry farm opened for everyone to start picking strawberries this week. We love to go out to the farm and pick whatever’s growing in the field. Right now it’s strawberries.  In a few weeks it will be blackberries, blueberries and corn.  Tomatoes and squash pop in somewhere in there, too.  And, oh my gosh,don’t forget the figs! Did I mention that I’m excited?

Beautiful fresh-picked strawberries!

Strawberries-picked-this-morning

Blackberries!

Blackberries-ready-to-pick

Figs!

Picking-fresh-figs

(Just about the best resource I’ve found for locating “you-pick” farms in your area is the Pick Your Own website. Not only can you find the fruits and vegetables near you, but it’s also a wealth of information on canning and storing your bounty.)

All this fresh fruit can only mean one thing…its canning season! I got a pressure canner for Christmas that I’ve been waiting to call into action, but the good old water bath method is all that’s needed to make some of the yummiest jams, jellies and preserves.

One of my favorite websites, Attainable Sustainable has joined forces with KathleenReilly.com to create a fabulous treasure trove of information and canning recipes. I love this infographic!

Basics for Canning Using a Water Bath

I can’t wait to make more of my Balsamic Strawberry Jam and some yummy Fig (or Fig and Peach) Preserves! Neither one lasts very long around here…

Are you a canner? What are you looking forward to making this year? Will you be trying anything new?

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Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Thank you to my friend Kate over at Food Babbles!

In the height of summer with plump strawberries everywhere I knew I wanted to make them into jam before they’re all gone and the cold weather sets in. And you all know me, what do I love with my strawberries? Balsamic vinegar. Much like that lovely Rosemary Peach Butter, this Balsamic Strawberry Jam is beyond easy to make. That being said, you will be so happy it is because in the end you’ll have 8 jars that capture those summer strawberries at the peak of freshness to get you through the dreary winter months.

I’ve made two batches so far and I may make another before the strawberries disappear because all but 2 jars of my first two batches are already gone. Family and friends loved this jam! It’s like biting into the sweetest, ripest summer strawberry and that balsamic vinegar really heightens the flavor.  You could use it when making my favorite Chocolate Cake with Balsamic Strawberry Whipped Cream Filling or stirred into vanilla ice cream. Spreading it on my morning English muffin has been the way I’ve been enjoying this strawberry jam most often but I’ve also used it in two recent dishes that I cannot wait to share with you. In the meantime, get jammin’! I’ll have other ways for you to use this strawberry jam soon but eating it right off a spoon is perfectly acceptable also.

Enjoy!

Balsamic Strawberry Jam

1 hour

Yield: 8 (8 oz) jars

Ingredients
  • 6 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups granulated sugar

Instructions

In a large, deep pot combine strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Bring the mixture to a low boil and cook for 20 minutes, until strawberries are tender. Mash the strawberries a bit with a potato masher to break them up but leave the mixture chunky. Continue boiling, stirring almost constantly until mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 30 minutes.

To Can:
  1. Wash your jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Rinse well. Sterilize the jars and rings by boiling them in a large pot of water for 10 minutes, making sure the water covers the jars completely. Remove the jars and rings onto a clean towel, placing the jars upside down to remove any excess water. Remove the lids and move onto the clean towel.
  2. Divide the hot jam evenly between the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space at the top. Wipe the rims clean with a paper towel and cover with lids and screw on the rings just until hand tight. Submerge the jars in the pot of boiling water fitted with a canning rack on the bottom, ensuring the jars are fully submerged and covered with at least 1 inch of water. Boil for ten minutes. Remove the jars and let cool completely on a clean towel untouched overnight.
  3. You may begin to hear popping sounds. This is completely normal and good sign the jars have been processed properly. The next morning, check the lids to ensure they don’t budge or flex. If so, place the jar in the refrigerator and use right away.

 

Fresh Fig Preserves

Fresh Fig Preserves

Let me just get this out of the way right here at the beginning…I love figs. I love the taste. I love the color. I love the sentimentality. Unfortunately, most people have only been exposed to figs via the fig newton.  Folks, this is not a fig.  I have no problem with these chewy cookies – DH is a big fan- but there’s nothing like a fresh fig.  When they’re ripe, they’re sweet, but not overly sweet.  And they just remind me of summer. One of my grandmothers had a giant fig tree in her back yard that was loaded with fruit for a couple of weeks every summer. My other grandmother was a master at making fig preserves and we always seemed to have some at my house growing up.

fig picking

So, now it’s fig season!  Yay!  I don’t have the luxury of having a fig tree in my yard, but we’ve found a neighbor who has 12 in hers! She let us come over after work the other day to pick them. It was quite a battle with the bees, the ants and a sassy cat named Abby, but we ended up with three gallons of Brown Turkey figs and Celeste figs. We ate a bunch, and I decided to make preserves with the rest of them. I made both plain Fig Preserves and fabulous Peach and Fig Preserves.   I used a recipe from one of my fave New Orleans chefs, John Besh, and it was really easy. It’s very basic, but that’s the best kind, isn’t it?


Here’s the step-by-step process:

OLD-FASHIONED FIG PRESERVES

From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Makes 5–7 pint jars

5 pounds fresh figs, halved or quartered depending on size

5 pounds sugar

1. Wash the figs, and then trim off the stem ends. Put the figs into a large pot and cover with the sugar. Allow them to sit at room temperature for 3 hours or so.

2. Heat the figs and the sugar, stirring constantly, over moderate heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to high and bring to a hard boil.

3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently boil for 40 minutes, stirring frequently.

Fresh Fig Preserves Recipe

4. The preserves are done when the foam that has formed on the surface dissipates and the syrup coats the back of the spoon. Ladle the figs and syrup into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars clean, then place sterilized lids on top and screw on the rings.

5. Put the filled jars into a canning pot and cover with water at least 2 inches over the jar tops. Bring to a boil and boil for 15 minutes. Use tongs to carefully remove the jars from the water; place on a kitchen towel. Allow the jars to cool completely before you move them.

Note: To sterilize the jars, bottles, and lids for the preserves, place them on a rack in a large canning pot, fill with water to the tops of the jars and bring the water to a boil for 5 minutes. Then, use tongs to carefully remove the jars and bottles. Drain them upside down on a clean kitchen towel until ready to fill.


 

 Peach Fig jam

Peach and Fig Preserves

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and 1 cinnamon stick 
  • 1 large lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh figs, quartered
  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh peaches, diced

 

Directions

  1. In a large pot place sugar, vanilla pod and the seeds, figs, peaches, with optional cinnamon or ginger, lemon juice, zest and meat of lemon.
  2. Stir to release juices. It will be thick. Simmer over low heat stirring not to burn. Juices will come and when it does raise heat to high stirring most of the time.
  3. Remove vanilla and cinnamon.fig preserves
  4. If you prefer a jam consistency rather than preserves, use an immersion blender, blend fruit till chunky smooth.
  5. Add back the vanilla and cinnamon.
  6. As mixture thickens, you must stir more frequently to ensure that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  7. When it hits a rolling boil, cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  8. I’ve read lots of different ways to check for doneness. It really depends on how thick you like it. Personally, I cook the mixture until it reaches about 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit on my candy thermometer.
  9. Remove and discard bean and cinnamon.
  10. Pour into sterile jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, undisturbed, for about 24 hours. 

Fresh Figs