When you first start canning, one of the things you hear a lot is how important it is to stick to the tested recipes. We’re told that because canning is as much science as it is kitchen art, you’ve got no choice but to color within the lines. And to a large degree, this is true. There are rules that you must follow in order to keep your canned goods safe.
However, I often get questions from people wondering how I’ve gotten to the point where I can incorporate elements of creativity in my canning and how they might be able to do the same. Here’s what I tell them.
Stick to the high the acid products like jams, jellies and vinegar pickles.
Because botulism can’t grow in high acid environments, this is a space where you can experiment a bit. Within the structure of high acid fruit preserves, play around with different fruit and flavor combinations. My Blackberry-Apricot Jam was a happy accident that is now going on the permanent roster. I knew it would be a safe deviation from my standard blackberry jam recipe because fresh apricot puree has plenty of acid and it was a delight to learn just how good they tasted together.
As far as getting creative with pickles, check out this post on Pickled Carrot and Daikon. Those were some good pickles that were born out of the recipe triangulation method I describe below.
Add a splash of booze to enhance a flavor.
It’s well-known that peaches go naturally with bourbon, but what about an adult apple butter spiked with a jigger of applejack or rum? That could be fun. This is an easy way to take a reliable, tested recipe and give it a new kick.
Consult a variety of reliable canning sources and use them to triangulate towards the recipe you want to create.
When I want to create something new, I consult So Easy to Preserve, Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving and any applicable book by Linda Ziedrich. I figure out the ratios and determine whether what I want to do seems to fit within these previously tested recipes.
On reducing sugar.
Sugar plays two roles in homemade preserves. First, the addition of sugar is what allows the temperature of your product to reach 220 degrees (or thereabouts), which then helps with the set of your jam or jelly. This is particularly important when you’re working without pectin, but is also necessary even when you’re working with commercial pectin. If you’ve ever had a situation in which you’ve drastically reduced the amount of sugar in your recipe and then found yourself with a very runny product, this is why.
Second, sugar acts as a preservative. If you reduce the amount of sugar in your jam or jelly, its shelf life will not be as long. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to know, particularly if you’re making jam to give or sell others. It’s also good to remember that a high amount of sugar is not a substitute for the proper acid balance in a recipe. Sugar does not inhibit the growth of botulism spores.
Know your limits.
There are certain things you really shouldn’t mess with. Quite a few famously delicious fruits camp out in or above acidity grey zone. These include figs, bananas, mango, tomatoes, white peaches, dates and melons. When you’re working with those, don’t screw around. Follow tested recipes (and just so you know, not all recipes found on the internet are actually tested. Only use recipes from sources you know and trust).
Additionally, I would strongly advice that you not try to invent your own chutney recipe. They are typically a combination of low acid foods like onions combined with higher acid foods like apples, pears and peaches. If you don’t have the balance of onions to fruit/vinegar correct, you can make a product that may not be safe.
Be safe and enjoy.
I strongly believe that the act of preserving food at home is one that everyone should try at least once. It is so satisfying to create something in your own kitchen that tastes good and extends the season beyond its allotted calendar pages. Just know the rules and don’t be scared!