With just a few more days left in July, we’re now about halfway through the height of the summer preserving season. So far this year I’ve made jam from strawberries, plums, peaches, apricots, rhubarb and done some mixed fruit compotes. I’ve pickled asparagus, string beans, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, carrots and okra. I’ve canned peaches with vanilla bean and star anise, brewed some homemade syrups, made chutney and experimented with tomato jam. Over the weekend, I led a canning workshop in which we processed 58 quarts of whole tomatoes (I came home with several) and I finally pulled out the pressure canner and put up seven quarts of homemade stock.
I’ve learned a lot through all that canning. Here are some of the most useful things I’ve gleaned recently.
- A melon baller does a great job of extracting the pits from stone fruit (peaches, nectarines and plums).
- Sour cherries make the best jam ever and should be purchased whenever you find them at reasonable prices.
- Always cook jam in a larger pot than you think you need. It’s easier to scrub out a pot than it is to scour burnt sugar and fruit off your stove.
- Make sure to keep a couple of wooden spoons that are just used for jam, there’s nothing worse than stirring your strawberry jam with a spoon that smells like garlic or onions.
- Although I often preach that you don’t need to buy any special tools in order to can, having a jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel handy makes everything (at least in the world of home canning) easier.
- Measure everything out before you start.
- When it comes to canning peaches and whole tomatoes, pack ’em tight to avoid float.
- A mortar and pestle is great for breaking down berries for jam (just make sure it doesn’t smell like garlic).
- Taste what you’re making. Adjust your seasonings before committing food to jar.
- When using a pressure canner, make sure to put a bit of white vinegar in the water, otherwise you get ugly water marks on all your jars.
- Don’t be afraid to experience with new herbs and spices.
- Just about everything can be pickled.
- Making jam from the fruit you’ve picked with your own two hands is hugely satisfying (admittedly, I knew this one before, but I continually reaffirm it).
- It’s okay if you aren’t perfect as long as you follow good safety precautions (a good lesson for life in general).
- If the jam doesn’t set, call it sauce. No one will know or care.
- Pickles just keep on getting better.
Okay kids, now it’s your turn. I want to hear about what you’ve made so far, the mishaps and the things you’ve learned. What will you make again next year and what’s going into the blooper pile? How do you feel? What still scares you? Has canning changed how you approach the summer?