This is Part 1 of a four part series about basic preserving and canning. If you’re new to preserving, we hope this series will lessen fears and intimidation about canning and inspire you to try a few easy recipes and have fun doing it.
DEMYSTIFYING CANNING FOR THE MODERN COOK
I was instilled with a passion for preserving at an early age, as I helped my mother “put up” preserves on hot summer and early fall afternoons. I was fortunate to learn the basics of canning without fear. Years later, I was surprised to discover that all families did not go through this annual summer canning ritual! Since then, I’ve shared this tradition with my own children, testing and perfecting recipes with their help for many of the jams, jellies, curds, chutneys, glazes, pickles and condiments of every description that I developed at home and professionally.
Canning days were signaled by order and cleanliness — kitchen counters were cleared of extraneous clutter while large pots of water heated to boiling on the stove. Large black-enameled canning pots with jangly metal rack inserts were brought in from the storage room along with boxes of dusty Mason jars, which were stacked in the corner of the kitchen. Canning jars were washed by hand in hot sudsy water. The jars were gently fitted into the pots of boiling water and clanked together noisily as they boiled on the stove. The hot, sterilized jars were carefully lifted out with rubber coated jar tongs and placed on baking sheets that went into a warm oven. Packages of new lids and bands were opened and dumped into smaller pots of boiling water. And this was all done before we started to prepare the fruits or vegetables to be preserved!
Once the jars were filled with the fruit or vegetable du jour, lids centered over clean rims and bands secured tightly, they were loaded into the metal rack inserts and lowered into the boiling water bath canner. When the jars were removed from the canner after a 10 or 15 minute bath, they were placed on the cloth-covered counter to cool and “set” for 24 hours. Over the next few hours, intermittent “ping-ing” noises from the jars signaled good vacuum seals — a satisfying sound, indeed.
The best part of all came the next day – washing and polishing the filled jars, labeling and getting the canned goods ready for storage. The jewel-like colors of preserves lined up on the counter, glistened prettily in the light. Canned peaches and pears were sensual works of art. Corn chow-chow relish (no idea where that name came from, but that’s what we called it), my mother’s specialty, was a yellow mosaic of corn and flecks of red peppers. I loved arranging and admiring the jars on the storage room shelves.
To many, this annual “chore” appears to be too time consuming, too labor intensive, and requires too much specialized equipment. Why bother when one can buy almost any condiment and artisan product at their local supermarket? The answer is simple. It’s immensely satisfying. It’s also economical and an easy to learn skill. And best of all, you can use fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables from your farmers markets.
Small batch preserving is enjoying a resurgence by a new generation of cooks who may not have learned the basics of canning from mothers or grandmothers. Many are interested in food preservation from a sustainable lifestyle perspective – others enjoy preserving because they have an appreciation for interesting jams, relishes, or chutneys. Regardless of motivation, canning is a pleasurable, rewarding craft and very easy to do. By following our simple, step-by-step instructions, you’ll be turning summer’s bounty into your own gourmet preserves and joining in the shared traditions of generations both past and future!