Mid-Summer Preserving Check-In

sweet cherries

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?

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24 Responses to Mid-Summer Preserving Check-In

  1. 1
    Lynn says:

    Wow, you’ve made a lot this summer! I haven’t done anything with vegetables yet, just jam. Blooper- Fruit rises to the top leaving only jelly at the bottom of the jar. A Master Food Preserver told me I need to stir the jam for 3-5 minutes off the heat after it has been at a rolling boil. Also my Strawberry Balsamic Jam didn’t set :( Success- Experimenting I came up with Mango, Papaya Jam with Mirin. I’d had a recipe for Apricot Riesling Jam but I didn’t have apricots or riesling. I substituted Mirin rice cooking wine and it came out great! What I’ll try next year- More varieties of fruit, e.g., white nectarine, and vegetables.

  2. 2
    Meghan says:

    My biggest success so far this summer was the peach-poblano jam that I made a few weeks back. It’s amazing–just hot enough that the sweet isn’t overwhelming, plus there’s a fantastic little kick of basil in it. So far we’ve mostly eaten it with cheese, but I glazed some chicken with it the other night and it was fantastic.

    Next weekend’s project is preserving lemons, and eventually there’ll be tomato sauce to put up. Blackberries and black raspberries should be coming into season soon, too, so those will make an appearance in the jam sessions as well. I just bought the onions for onion jam, and I’m thinking that I’m going to experiment with a raspberry-chipotle jam, as well.

  3. 3
    Lelo says:

    I’ve learned that the more confident you are in your canning, the easier it gets. It’s all a process, and when it’s a new process, it’s mind and time consuming. But I feel this year I have the process down.

    Have sources and resources you can go to when you need them in a pinch. I recently had the opportunity for free plums and I knew that I could jump on it and figure it out. With my three preserving books, I know where to go for tried and true canning recipes. And when fruit is ripe, there’s no waiting around. The opportunity came that afternoon, picked the fruit, and that night was canning plum sauce, dreaming of the appetizer we’ll use it for on Thanksgiving. To me, that is a fantastic summer evening. But then perhaps I’m weird that way. Or perhaps we’re just alike that way. :)

    Finally, I’ve also learned there’s such thing as too much jam. We made so much last year I’m madly giving it all away right now. I need to do better with freely using and distributing what I can throughout the year. It’s too easy to hoard!

  4. 4
    Amelia says:

    I have canned raspberry sundae topper, chili, dill relish, about 16-20 half pints of field berry freezer jam, blueberry syrup and butter, chicken soup, 20 quarts of green beans. Planning on doing tomatoes, raspberry jam, pickles, more green beans, applesauce, peaches, fruit nectar, spiced honey, and some other things on my list that I can’t think of right now. I have enjoyed canning this year so far, but I have so many plans and very impatient for the food to come in. My surprise so far was the chili. It is going to be so good. I ate some already and it was excellent.

  5. 5
    Erin says:

    I second the recommendation to use the largest pot you have when making Jam. I very nearly had a strawberry flood trying to be skimpy.

  6. 6
    JoAnna says:

    Peaches don’t last a full week. Don’t buy a half-bushel with the intent of canning it over two weekends… Fortunately, chickens like decaying peaches.

  7. 7
    Meryl says:

    I’ve frozen ever-so-many tomatoes, and canned several jars of pickles (although I’ve eaten several jars of pickles too, so I think I’m going to have to make s’more!).

  8. 8
    michelle says:

    Mishap- my key lime marmalade was so sour that I’m afraid to open the jars, but I had added so much sugar already that it is probably just sour sugar cubes in there anyway.
    Lessons- Even if something doesn’t turn out, we probably had fun making it. My kids are great! Even though they aren’t old enough to chop the fruit, they are willing to wash it, measure it, stir it and time everything- and are darned proud of themselves after! Also, next year I will make a LOT more orange marmalade- by the time I took some to work for people to taste, gave a jar to mom/friend/person who gave me the oranges and the kids ate pb&m sandwiches, it was gone in less than a week.

  9. 9
    Karen says:

    So far I have canned jams, pickles, kethcup, tomato sauce, salsa, tomatoes (forgot BBQ sauce and still have to do it), various chutneys and sauces for dipping and cooking with, relishes, butters, and concentrates for fruit cordials. I have 320 jars so far. I think I will end up with about 400.

    I have canned rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, gooseberries, currants, onions, asparagus, and apricots.

    I have dried zuchinni, onions, peppers (hot and sweet), broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, tomaotes, mushrooms, garlic and herbs.

    I have frozen strawberries, blueberries, onions, asparagus, peas, beets, and green onions.

    I still have to put up the apples, peaches and corn. I am waiting for them to be in season here.

    I have learned many of things you mentioned – esp about using a larger pot than you think you will need! If you get a dusty coating on your jars after processing, it means that your rack inside the pot is rusting and covering your jars in rust. I have learned that as you get better at it, you can play with the recipes. But, don’t try that in the very beginning. I am nervous about using the pressure canner, so it is still in the box. The kids like to help. A big thing I learned is that tomato sauce and ketchup are extremely time consuming. I think BBQ sauce will be as well.

  10. 10
    Jane says:

    I have canned a lot also. I’ve done tuna (got sushi grade for a very good price), pickles, tomatoes, green beans and of course jams. My plan is to can at least 300 jars this year. I did 200 last year and since I’m now doing pressure canning I’m sure I will be doing it and may be more!

    What have learned??? A lot, I dislike fruit float so I reworked my peaches into peach butter. I am going to keep trying getting better each time.

    Also how does everyone store there jars???? I have 2 large racks full of full jars and a in the basement I have the part under the stairs for my new jars.

  11. 11
    Kim says:

    These are great tips! I agree that the only tools you really need are two big pots (one for cooking, one for water bath) a jar lifter (I’ve done it without and it sucks) and a wide mouth funnel. Everything else most people have in their kitchen.

    The only other things I’ve found especially handy: an electric kettle – fill it with water and get it going right before you put the jars in the canner. If you need to add water, it’s one less thing on your stove.
    Lots of clean dishtowels – for wiping lids, drying hands and putting hot jars on the counter.

  12. 12
    radish says:

    Would you be willing to share sour cherry jam recipe? It’s my absolute favorite! :)

  13. 13
    Marisa says:

    Sassy Radish, you’re in luck! The sour cherry jam recipe is already here! http://foodinjars.com.s164546.gridserver.com/arugulapesto/2009/07/07/sour-cherry-jam-recipe/

  14. 14
    Emily says:

    So far this summer, I’ve made sour cherry, blueberry-lime, mixed berry and apricot jams and pickled grape tomatoes and dilly beans. I think my blueberry lime is the best one! I’ve learned that you should make dilly beans in quart jars because it is too hard to get them in pint jars! I wish I had made tayberry jam when tayberries were at the farmers market. But now they are gone. :( I’m looking forward to more pickling — I want to have a Thanksgiving relish tray that is full of my pickled vegetables — and doing apple butter this fall when the apples come in. Here’s a query: I’m pricking my grape tomatoes before I can them but the skins still crack. Anything I can do?

  15. 15
    Meghan E says:

    The clear winner for me has been some apricot Riesling jam. It’s so freaking good.

  16. 16
    dogear6 says:

    I’d love to get the recipe for the peaches w/vanilla bean and star anise (what proportion did you use) as well as the peaches with poblanos. Both sound great!

  17. 17
    Susan says:

    So far this spring/summer I’ve made strawberry jam (more like sauce), sour cherry jam (more like fruit roll-up in a jar – oops), blueberry jam, rhubarb sauce, sweet & sour sauce with rhubarb and onions, dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, pickled cauliflower and pickled summer squash ribbons. For the next couple of weeks, I have my eyes on peach jam, pickled peppers, and of course, tomatoes! I’ve been having a ton of fun and do most of my canning in the evenings after I put my twin toddlers to bed – it’s the perfect therapeutic activity after a day of chasing them around.

  18. 18
    Tara says:

    I have made blueberry jam, strawberry vanilla bean jam, pickled asparagus, and pickled beets so far. I also froze the majority of the blueberries and some green beans. They jams were great and I am still searching for peaches and other fruit to put up.

    I used a new recipe for beets and will admit that I did taste the brine and thought it tasted kind of vinegary but I forged ahead anyway, adding fennel fronds, mustard seeds, and peppercorns to the jars. Well……..the spice seems ok, but those beets are sour like nothing else. Way. To. Much. Vinegar.

    Any ideas on how to fix it when I open them? I was thinking maybe drain half (or more) of the brine, add water and let sit in the fridge for a day before I want to eat it-or maybe add sugar and water. Anyone else have this problem before?

  19. 19
    Fran says:

    Bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, blackberries in chambord, black-and-blue berry jam, blueberry-lime jam.
    I love the bread-and-butter pickles, but we haven’t opened the dill yet…probably in another 2 weeks. When we started the jam I had managed to acquire the rack for the canner (my improvised one had already been taken apart…I need those lid rings) and the jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel, which were good, but I also had boil-over, dropped jar with jam all over the floor, and the black-and-blue jam is a little on the runny side, but really not too bad. I have a pint of blackberry-chambord light syrup leftover that is yummy in drinks!
    I hope to do pickled beets in August, but I have no other canning plans for this year–I have too many other projects!

  20. 20
    Era says:

    What a great post! I love reading everyone’s comments.
    This is my first summer canning and so far I’ve done jams/jellies and refrigerator pickles. A lot of my fruit has been scavenged from urban street trees or my aunt’s property in PA. Strawberry jam, strawberry mint jam, mulberry/serviceberry “sauce,” raspberry jam, raspberry/blackberry jelly, and blueberry jam so far. My boyfriend and I have been experimenting a lot with different pickle brines like the asian pickles from your blog and turmeric pickles. I actually think that the Asian pickles were my biggest flop so far, I tweaked the recipe a bit too much. This year has been mostly about learning what to do differently next time, like don’t make the raspberry jam so seedy and use pectin from a box in the mulberry/serviceberry jam instead of relying on apples.

  21. 21
    Meagan says:

    I think the biggest thing I learned this year is that anyone can jam, including me. My family is surprised/proud that I’ve picked up this hobby. I’ve also learned that giving a gift you’ve made can mean a whole lot to someone else. It also means that you’ll be asked repeatedly to give them a sample of the next jam you make.
    One thing I was surprised about when I started cooking sour cherries was the scent of cherry pie emanating from my pot. I also wished I picked more.

  22. 22
    Tenaya Darlington says:

    So, I have a couple canning questions:
    1. Why do garlic cloves turn blue in pickling solution? This happened when I made some pickled asparagus based on one of your recipes. It didn’t turn completely blue, but certainly blue-ish. It happened after I heated the garlic in the hot pickling solution, if I remember correctly.

    2. Do you use any particular thumb for re-using pickling brine? I made some refrigerator pickles about a month ago, and the brine still looks clear, though the dill looks sad. Can I strain it and dump in some new cuke spears, or do you recommend starting with fresh herbs and vinegars. I’m amassing a lot of pickling brine, so any suggestions for uses (aside from salad dressing and bloody mary mix–which I’ve played around with) would be terrific.

    As usual, loving your recipes!

  23. 23
    Kimberly says:

    Our weather has been off here in Colorado this year, so I’ve not canned as much as I had hope by this time. So far I’ve made strawberry jam, strawberry vanilla jam, over 50 jars of cucumber pickles, currant jam, watermelon rind pickles, squash pickles and pickled onions. I was planning another batch of pickles for this weekend if I could just get kids and weather to cooperate! So far I think everything is a success, but I’ll be curious to try the watermelon rind pickles. Those could go either way. i just started canning last summer. I love it! You also inspired me to keep the extra brine I had from the pickles and to just pickle some fresh cucumbers slices and some carrots just to have in the fridge. Yum!

  24. 24
    Rebecca says:

    My very first pressure canning experience was very nearly my last. I got the idea to can some mixed dry beans for my favorite chili recipe rather than buying expensive cans at the store. I broke out my shiny new pressure canner and set it up like the instructions, never having seen pressure canning before except on youtube, and went about doing it. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, since most of the canners looked different than mine, and ended up boiling the entire canner dry trying to get the right pressure. Burnt beans, blackened canner, and one very dissapointed novice canner. It took a long while before I worked up the courage to pressure can again. Not had any issues since though.

    The second canning mishap was a misunderstanding on how jams work. I found what I thought was this awesome recipe for ugly apple jelly, using the skins and cores from other projects. What I didn’t realize was that to get it to gel properly jelly should be done in smaller batches. I tried to load up the biggest pot I had with the remnants of a lot of applesauce making, and the resulting boilover trying to get it to gel took me 3 days of deep cleaning my kitchen around an exuberant 3 year old to fix.

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