One of the things I love most about gardening isn’t gardening at all, it’s eating! There’s nothing better than a fresh tomato, sliced cucumber, tender-crisp floret of broccoli… Well, maybe there is. Maybe a dilly bean with a slice of cheese, pickled beets on a winter salad, applesauce with my pork chop, spaghetti sauce full of herbs and spices… I’m talking about all the types of food I can or preserve in late summer/early fall, that I, friends, and family get to enjoy all year through; far beyond bright summer days and the end of the growing season.
Canning and preserving was a way of life for most of our grandparents, when our country was mostly agrarian, people lived rurally, and you couldn’t run to the grocery to pick up a tomato, just flown in from Chile’, any day of the year. The tradition continued in my home because my grandparents left a 500 acre farm in Arkansas when many were doing the same in the mid-fifties. They came to the West Coast lured by the lucrative timber business, but couldn’t sever themselves completely from the lifestyle that had supported their families for generations. They always had a big garden and raised livestock. So, this time of year both my grandmothers kitchen and my mothers were a hive of activity “putting up” the various fruits and vegetables grown over the summer. Kids were put into production chopping, grinding relishes, smashing fruits and hanging corn to dry. Now that I have realized my life-long dream of a place to farm and my crops are large enough to do more with than have a few great dinners, I’ve been going back to my roots and relearning the skills that were instilled in me all those years ago. And I’m having a blast doing it!
I’ve talked about my canning on the air and on social media, and have had many, many requests for more information. I’m going to tell you just enough to hopefully get you interested in doing more research on your own and trying it for yourselves!
There are two methods of canning; hot water bath and pressure. The hot water method is used for high-acid food. It’s great for pickles, jellies and jams. The pressure canning method is used for low-acid foods. This method brings the temperature of the food up much higher than boiling water can and is necessary to prevent the growth of botulism, which, put bluntly, can kill you. So can driving a car, going swimming, or crossing a road, which most of us do fairly regularly without panic. Don’t be frightened of home canning, but do be cautious. Get the right equipment and follow directions TO THE LETTER. Think of it as “looking both ways” before you step into the crosswalk. If you’re new to canning, start out with pickles and jams please, then once you get the basics down move on to pressure canning for your meats and produce like green beans and corn that are not in pickling brines.
I’d recommend jam for your very first canning experience. You can buy grapes, berries, or other fruits from farmers markets or produce stands, and it doesn’t take much. You will need a large pot, small (1 or 1/2 pint) canning jars (often found in your supermarket cooking aisle this time of year) lids, seals, and a box of fruit pectin (SureJell is the brand I often use.) Buy the pectin first and read the directions, picking up any necessary supplies. Most recipes call for the fruit, chopped or as the recipe instructs, sugar (lots of sugar!) and pectin. The fruit mixture is usually cooked with the sugar and pectin and poured into sterilized jars. Sterilized seals and rings are used to close the jar and they are then place into the ‘hot water bath.’ The jars sit in boiling water for a specified amount of time bringing the jam and jar up to the same temperature. After they are removed, the cooling air in the jar compresses, sealing the contents. Viola! Jam!
Homemade jam is delicious! Just the knowledge that you made it yourself makes it taste ten thousand times better than anything you can pick up in the grocery store! Forget the toast – you want to eat this on top of ice cream, in milkshakes, a dab on a pork chop or with a sharp cheese – Ummm Ummm good!
So if you’ve ever been curious about canning – get out there and DO IT! Pick up one of the many guides put out by Kerr or Ball (standard canning supply providers) and get to jammin’! Your county extension office is also a good source for information as is your local library or, where else, the internet!
I want to know of your successes – and also if something doesn’t work right. Many times I’ve made jam or jelly that “doesn’t set”, but ya know what? It makes excellent syrup for pancakes and waffles!
CAN you do it? Yes, you CAN!!!