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A Gift Guide for Canners (+ Giveaway)

canning gift guide

I’ve been talking a lot lately about what you preservers out there can put in jars and gift to your friends and loved ones. However, I think that you all also deserve a few treats under the tree or menorah*. Here’s are a few of my favorite canning helpers, from cookbooks, to the best floursack towels out there, to my very favorite 2-quart measuring cup. My thought is that you can send a link to this post to a generous spouse, parent or best friend with a note that says, “I’d like number 2, please!”

Additionally, as my way of saying thank you to all of you who keep coming back, leaving comments and generally making the process of writing this blog a joy, I’m going to be giving away one of those 2-quart measuring cups. Mine’s an older model, but I find that I use this vessel more than any other bowl in my kitchen. This giveaway will be open for entry until Saturday, December 12th at 11:59 p.m. Just leave a comment to enter (one entry per person, winner to be picked via the random number generator).

Starting from the top left corner…

1. Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition This is one of the best canning books out there and is great for beginners, as it contains all the instruction you need to get started canning.

2. A Stainless Steel Jar Funnel. I like the metal ones better than plastic. Looks better and is sturdier in the long run.

3. Weck Canning Jars. These European jars are beautiful and functional. Extra thoughtful gift givers will also pick up a set of plastic snap-on lids, which turns these into the best leftover vessels I know.

4. A Set of Graduated Measuring Scoops. I prefer using a 1-cup measure like the one pictured when filling jars with hot jam. It gives greater control than a ladle does, and is the exact right amount for a half pint jar. The rest of the measuring cups are useful too.

5. Floursack Towels. Canning can be messy business so it’s always good to have a stack of clean towels on hand. I like these white floursack towels, as they are absorbent, fairly lintless and can be bleached clean when you’re all done cooking.

6. Ball Utensil Kit. This is an easy way to get a new canner started, or to help an experienced preserver refresh their collection of tools (that jar lifter takes a beating after years of use).

7. My Beloved 2-Quart Measuring Cup. I think I’ve said enough about this item. I just love it.

8. A Good, Sharp Knife. I’m a big fan of my Global, but any sturdy, sharp knife will do. When you’re processing a bushel or two of fruit, you want to use the best tool for the job.

9. A Roomy Stock Pot. Instead of buying a pot designed expressly for canning, invest in a good stock pot. That way, it can also work as your pasta or soup pot. But slip a rack in the bottom and voila, it’s a canning pot.

10. Wide Mouth Half-Pint Jars. I adore these squat, easy to fill jars. For some reason, they’ve become impossible to find in stores (I often order a couple dozen and keep them stashed under my couch, for when they’re the only jar that will do).

What are your favorite canning tools? What would you like to see under the tree?

*Yes, I do know that Hanukkah gifts don’t go under the menorah.

Gifts in Jars, Elsewhere

e's low-sugar jam

I have a bad habit of leaving my computer on for days and days at a stretch (although since my two-year-old MacBook stopped going to sleep, I do shut it down more than I once did). Part of the reason that my computer rarely powers down is that I collect canning recipes in the tabs along the top of my browser, sometimes having as many at 15 or 20 open. Right at the moment, I’ve reached critical mass and need to clear out some of those tabs, so I thought I’d share some of the recipes that have recently caught my eye. All would make excellent gifts in jars.

And, two recipes for baked goods that utilize jam (if, like me, you happen to have something of a glut).

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Gift in a Jar: Apple-Cranberry Jam

DSC_0118

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, my parents’ standard holiday gift for friends and family was a bag of my dad’s homemade pancake mix (in particularly flush years, we’d also gift a bottle of maple syrup). The bag would also contain printed instructions on how to turn the mix into batches of fluffy cakes or waffles. I have it on good authority that people looked forward with great anticipation to those pancake mix gifts.

Over the years, we were also the recipients of many a homemade holiday gift, including jars of lemon curd from our cousins in the Bay Area, bottles of homemade coffee liqueur and divided plastic plates from my dad’s business partner, overflowing with cookies, fudge and caramels, hand-wrapped in squares of waxed paper.

In recent years, as my canning practice has grown, more and more of the holiday gifts I give are home-jarred edibles. This year, I’m planning to give my Philadelphia cousins jars of apple butter and apple-cranberry jam, along with mini-loaves of cranberry bread. If you’d like to give your friends and family their own jars of apple-cranberry jam, the recipe is after the jump (it’d be great with some scones on Christmas morning).

I’ll be posting more ideas for gifts in jars in the coming weeks, in the hopes that I’ll be able to inspire you to give your own gifts in jars this year.

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Homemade Cranberry Jelly (for Thanksgiving)

cranberry sauce

It’s pretty much universally accepted that no Thanksgiving spread is complete without a cranberry condiment of some sort. My grandma Bunny was partial to a raw cranberry-orange relish she made with hand-cranked countertop grinder (I do wish I had her recipe, but both she and it have been gone since I was 15). My cousin Angie makes the same cranberry jello mold that her mother always used to make. My own mother has always been a secret fan of the standard canned stuff, not necessarily announcing her preference to people outside the family, but always ensuring that it appeared on any holiday table at which she ate.

In recent years, as I became enamored with the idea of making myself what I once mindlessly bought, I experimented with varieties of homemade cranberry sauce. I made whole berry compotes with fresh vanilla bean. I did an apple-cranberry sauce. I even tried that cranberry jello mold. As delicious as they all were, none were quite right.

french toast with cranberry

That is, until I determined to make a very simple cranberry sauce, using just fresh berries, a splash of apple cider and sugar. Essentially, I resisted the urge to fancy it up. After cooking, a pass through a food mill and a rest in the fridge overnight, I realized I had made something nearly identical to my mom’s favorite canned sauce, only without the high fructose corn syrup.

So, if you like the classic canned jelly, but have a burning desire to make your own, this is the recipe for you. Best of all, you can put it through a hot water process and make it shelf stable, making it a do-ahead Thanksgiving project (and it’s good on more than just turkey, it was delicious on the french toast you see above). The only downside I can see is that it won’t exist its vessel whole and retain the shape of the can.

The recipe is after the jump…

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Preserving Pumpkin

roasted pumpkin

Don’t forget to sign up for one of my cranberry classes – jelly on 11/15 and chutney on 11/21

Last week I picked up my final CSA share. The box included an adorable little sugar pumpkin. Normally, I would have kept it in the dining room for a week or two, in order to enjoy the autumnal look it would lend my grandmother’s table. However, this one came with a soft spot, so it had to be used right away, lest it rot away entirely (Jonathan at Wasted Food would be so proud). So Sunday morning, I cut out the bad spot, split it in half and put it cut sides down on a cookie sheet, to gently roast until soft at 350 degrees. When it was fork-tender, I turned the oven off and left it to cool in the oven until I was ready to deal with it.

Not having a plan for it, when it was soft and cool enough to handle, I simply scraped the flesh away from the skin and packed it into the jar you see above. It’s still in the fridge, and I’m hoping to puree it until smooth tomorrow night (it’s too late tonight to embark on a fresh kitchen project) and use some of it to make a batch of these whole wheat pumpkin muffins (if you follow that link, my apologies for the awful photo. I can’t believe I ever thought it was a good idea to post that horror). The rest is going to go into some variance on this seriously delicious potato/pumpkin/gruyere casserole (I promise you that if you try it, you will forever make a place for it on your Thanksgiving table).

However, all that doesn’t tell you a whole lot of about preserving pumpkin past this season (although, those muffins can be frozen to delicious results). What I can tell you is that you have a few options when it comes to this gorgeous, vitamin-rich vegetable. Most easily, as long as you have good storage space, you can simply keep these pumpkins whole. Ask your farmers and market vendors which they recommend most for long-term storage.

If you want to have roasted pumpkin/squash at your finger tips, freezing is your only safe option. The density of mashed/pureed pumpkin is such that even pressure canning cannot guarantee your safety. However, it’s very easy to freeze it. Roast your pumpkins just like I did above and then measure it out into zip top bags, plastic storage containers or jars (if you freeze in glass, make sure to leave plenty of room for expansion). If you have a favorite recipe that calls for pumpkin/squash puree, consider freezing in that exact proportion, to make for easy cooking/baking.

However, you are able to pressure can pumpkin chunks packed in water. Here’s what you do (these instructions were taken directly from So Easy to Preserve, the canning bible out of the University of Georgia cooperative extension). Peel the pumpkin and cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add to a pot of boiling water and cook for two minutes. Pack the hot cubes into hot jars and add cooking liquid, leaving 1-inch of head space. Remove the air bubbles, wipe rims and apply lids. Process in a pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure, 55 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.

When you’re ready to use this pumpkin in a recipe, you’ll find that a quick drain and a few smashes with a fork (or a run through a food processor if you’re a stickler for a lump-free texture) will provide you just what you need.

Lastly, if none of those options particularly float your boat, consider scoping out the Pumpkin Marmalade that the lovely Tigress in a Jam made recently. It’s currently stuck in my head and I’m thinking I may not be able to shake it loose until I make my own batch.

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Canning Catch-up

jars

I have a confession to make. I haven’t canned anything in over a month now. I’ve been collecting groceries with every intention of committing them to jars, but I’m experiencing something akin to canning block (as you can see from the picture above, my kitchen’s been messy enough lately without pulling the canning pot out of the hall closet).

However, I’ve got a nice, big daikon radish that needs to be pickled (as well as some green tomatoes), some cranberries that are intended for chutney, salmon to be packed in oil and pressure canned and 25 pounds of apples sitting on my dining room table, so unless I want all these lovely things to go bad, can I must (and there’s no better way to beat a block than to charge straight through it).

In the meantime, here are some links I’ve been collecting lately for inspiration and emulation.

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