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Pomona’s Pectin on Clearance at Williams-Somona

pomona's pectin

Since the weather has been improving, I’ve been treating myself to an afternoon walk a couple times a week. It’s so nice to get out of my apartment for half an hour, move around a little and generally feel like I’m part of the world.

A couple of days ago, I was on one such walk and found that my feet had taken me right to the front door of my local Williams-Somona (it’s a dangerous thing to have one just six blocks away). I wandered in, promising myself that I was just there to browse (and drool over the new Vitamix S30. Have you seen that thing? I am having serious blender envy).

However, I spotted a deal that was too good to pass up. Pomona’s Pectin reduced to $3.99 a box. It’s not a huge discount, but enough of a price cut that I picked up four boxes, which is more than enough to get me through a couple years of canning (and Pomona’s Pectin never expires, so it’s good as long as it lasts).

If you have a Williams-Sonoma and use Pomona’s Pectin, I recommend picking up a box or two.

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Giveaway: New Blue and Green Lids From Ball

boxes of lids

Several years back, I had a small stash of red and white checked lids and rings that I’d picked up at a close-out sale. I rationed them carefully, using them on preserves I planned on giving as gifts or featuring her on the blog. Every time I posted a picture, someone would comment to ask where I’d gotten then. I hated always having to disappoint people by telling them that they weren’t available anymore.

colored lids

Happily, Ball recently released a new option for those canners who are itching to dress their jars up with something other than a basic silver lid. Called the Design Series, these new lids come in either metallic blue or green and are sold with matching rings. They come in boxes of six and currently retail for $5.95. Just like their silver siblings, they are BPA-free and are good for a single trip through the canner.

colored rings

I realize that these lids and rings are a bit pricier than the regular ones. If you can many hundreds of jars a year, they might not be the ones you reach for. What they are is a fun option for people who focus on small batches, are canning for an event (a wedding, perhaps?), or just want to give a few select jars a little extra sparkle. They also match up really nicely with the limited edition blue and green jars.

lids on colored jars

Thanks to the nice folks at Ball, I have five sets of these lids to give away. Each winner will get one of the green ones and one of the blue (each box holds six lids and rings, so each winner will receive a dozen lids and rings in total). Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me one thing you’re looking forward to canning this season.
  2. Comments will close at 12 noon on Sunday, March 2, 2014. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog later that day.
  3. Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: Ball gave me a set of these lids for photography purposes and are providing the giveaway units as well. No money has changed hands and my opinions are, as always, my own. 

Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System

Ball® FreshTECH

Sometime yesterday, Jarden Home Brands added a new Ball branded appliance to the Fresh Preserving online store. Called the Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System, this device takes the place of a traditional water bath in the processing of jars for shelf stability. A couple weeks ago, I went up to New York for a media event at which the FreshTECH Automatic Canner was demonstrated and was intrigued by its potential (though just to be clear, I also have a number of reservations about it. We’ll get to those later).

Instead of submerging the jars in a pot of water, it works with just a few inches of water. The device uses that water to create steam and a small amount of pressure to ensure safely processed and sterilized jars. For those of you who are made nervous by the talk of pressure, know that this canner doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of pressure that your average pressure cooker or canner reaches. It goes to just 3 psi, in order to get the temperature to between 215 and 218 degrees F.

image

The capacity of this canner is three quart jars, four pint jars, or six regular mouth half pints. They don’t recommend stacking jars inside the canner, so if you were to use wide mouth half pints, it would only be able to hold four.

The way it works is that you put your full, closed jars of product in the canner and punch in a code that corresponds with the recipe you’ve used. It will slowly heat and build pressure. Once it has reached the appropriate temperature and pressure setting, it sings a little tune and the processing period begins. When the time is up, the canner then cools and depressurizes. The period the jars are in the canner are often longer overall than in a traditional canning, because of the necessary heating and cooling. However, it’s all hands-off time. You don’t have to tend a canning pot or check to ensure that it’s maintaining the proper boil.

Hugh Acheson

Southern chef Hugh Acheson demonstrated the FreshTECH canner at the media event. I was amused by the fact that he cracked some of the same canning jokes that I typically make in my classes. Canning geeks, unite!

I haven’t had my hands one of these FreshTECH Canners yet, but am expecting a review unit in the next week or so (I’ll follow up with first-hand thoughts after I’ve had a chance to use it). But from observation, here are some of my initial thoughts.

It could be a great device to get nervous beginners acclimated to canning. It may also be a boon for people who want to can but have small kids or work responsibilities that makes it hard to tend a canning pot. You put the jars in, set the machine and it processes them without another thought. You just have to stay close enough to open it and remove the jars once the time is up.

One thing that gives me major pause is the fact that the manufacturers currently recommend that you only use this device with their recipes and they have no plans to offer instruction as to how you can adapt it for use with your favorite recipes. I can understand that they don’t want to be responsible for preserving projects gone awry, but to my mind, if a recipe is safe for boiling water bath canning, it should be safe for use in the FreshTECH Canner. The fact that it seems like they’re trying to create a closed system of recipes and products makes me hesitant.

Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System

The other thing that concerns me is what the FreshTECH communicates to the canning uncertain. I spend a goodly portion of my life calming the fears of beginning preservers and so am well acquainted with the level of anxiety that canning carries. Because this device uses a small amount of pressure to elevate the temperature a few degrees over the boiling point, I worry that some will interpret that to mean that the boiling water bath (the gold standard of high acid canning) is no longer good enough and that an elevated temperature is necessary for all products.

All that said, I am still curious about it and am looking forward to seeing first-hand how it works. My best case scenario is that it becomes a useful appliance in a home canner’s toolbox (though at $299.95, it will be a pricy tool).

What do you all think? Is this something you’d use?

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The Sur La Table Preserving Box + Giveaway

Quattro Stagione jars

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I take a certain amount of pride in being on top of all things canning. I like to know about the preserving cookbooks that are in the pipeline. I do my darnedest to be aware of any tools that are being marketed with canning mind. And I want to have canned in every jar out there, so as to be able to answer questions with some level of knowledge and understanding.

Progressive International canning kit and Le Parfait jars

So, when the folks at Sur La Table got in touch to ask if they could send me a box filled with some of the canning gear they sell in their store, of course I said yes (after all, I had to see if there was anything out there that I didn’t know about!).

The package arrived a little more than a week ago and contained an assortment of the Quattro Stagioni jars (the three sizes I got were .5 L, .25 L, and .15 L) a pair of these Le Parfait jars (these were new to me and I adore them! They’re the same style as used by Bonne Maman), and the box of canning essentials made by Progressive International (I wrote about these tools here).

trendsheet clip 475

The other thing that Sur La Table sent me along with this box full of goodies was a PDF fact sheet full of current statistics about local food, farmers market shopping, and canning and preserving. There was one particularly hunk of data that I found particularly interesting (that’s the image you see above).

I’ve always noted that when I teach a jam class, I mostly get women participating. The percentage of men goes way up in my pickling classes. It’s neat to see the numerical breakdown of something I’ve long observed.

Progressive International tools

Because it’s Monday and that’s giveaway ’round these parts, I’m going to share some of this goodie box with one lucky reader. I’m giving away the Progressive canning tools that they sent me (the lid lifter is the best one I’ve found) as well as the set of four .15L Quattro Stagioni jars they sent. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post. Tell me about your favorite jar, about something you’ve canned this summer, or your most beloved canning tool (we’re taking the grab bag approach this week).
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Friday, August 23, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random (using random.org) and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, August 25, 2013.
  3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Sur La Table sent me this box of canning goodies for free. I’m choosing to share out some of its contents with one of my readers. I did not receive monetary compensation for this post and all opinions expresses are entirely mine. 

Introducing BNTO! New Product From the Makers of Cuppow

bnto

Fun news, jar lovers! Today, the folks that make the Cuppow have released a new product that I predict will have a giant impact on how we use canning jars to tote meals and snacks. Called the BNTO (a nod to the Japanese bento boxes that served as inspiration), it’s a 6 ounce cup made in the USA from recycled and BPA-free plastic, that nests into a wide mouth mason jar.

bnto in use from Cuppow

What it does is give you the ability to stash both wet and dry ingredients in a single jar. This means that your granola won’t get soggy, you can keep your peanut butter off your apple slices or crackers, and you can even pack up chips and salsa in a single container.

bnto in a jar

It’s designed to work with a canning jar lid and ring. The rim of the BNTO has raised strip which nestles into the sealing compound in the lid and creates a leakproof seal. You’ll notice that the ring doesn’t tighten quite as far as it does with just a lid, but there’s still plenty of space to ensure security.

For more on BNTO, click over to the Cuppow website. There’s a video here that will give you a peek at all BNTO can do.

Disclosure: The folks at Cuppow sent me a couple of samples of the BNTO to try out. They are also a sponsor of this site. Even if I had no relationship with them, I’d still think that this was a super cool product. 
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New to Canning? Start Here: Equipment

canning pots

For months now, I’ve had it in my head to do a series here on the blog that would give new canners everything they needed to know to get started. A collection of posts that would detail necessary equipment, the boiling water bath process, best safety practices, good starter recipes, tips for successful jam making, and hints on how to make flavorful, texturally pleasing pickles.

As is the case with so many ideas, it’s taken me a while to bring it from concept to execution, but my plan is to start this series now and continue for the next six to eight weeks. As we move along, if you feel like there’s something that belongs in a canning primer that I’m missing, do get in touch and let me know.

trivet canning rack

One of the misconceptions about canning is the belief that you must have a dedicated canning pot in order to can. This is not true. All you need is a pot that is tall enough to hold a rack, your jars, an inch of water above the jars and an additional inch or so of space where the water can boil.

Most often, I use this 12 quart stock pot made buy Cuisinart (in the picture above, it’s the one on the left). For batches that only make three or four jars, I use the yellow stock pot in the middle of the photo (made by Dansk, that one was an eBay find). And for when I only have two or three half pints to process, I use a 4th burner pot.

Any time you turn a stock pot into a canning pot, you need to find a small rack to drop into the bottom. I’ve used round cake cooling racks, kitchen towels, a layer of old canning jar rings, dedicated racks like this one from Progressive International (it’s quite good). However, my favorite is this silicone trivet. It folds up for easy storage, never rusts, and because it’s flexible, it works in a fairly wide array of pots.

Obviously, you don’t need to have all three of these pots when you’re starting out. The idea is simply to show that nearly any tall pot can serve as a canner and that if you’re only canning a few jars, you can use a smaller pot, should you have one in your kitchen arsenal.

jam pans

Once you have your canning pot figured out, you need a pot in which to cook your product. For jams, jellies, tomato products, chutneys, and other products that need to be cooked down, I typically opt for a roomy Dutch oven. I really like the my nine quart Le Creuset that’s pictured above for its ability to conduct heat.

I also regularly use an 8 quart stainless steel All-Clad Dutch oven, particularly when I’m cooking something that I know has a tendency to burn (my tomato jam springs to mind). You can always scrub a burnt spot off stainless steel. It’s harder to do without ruining the finish on an enameled pan. I also recently added a Sur La Table 8 quart pan to the set of cookware I take to canning classes and I like it. It’s not quite as low and wide as the All-Clad model (a plus when trying to encourage evaporation), but is of equal tri-ply quality for about $100 less.

I also use a stainless steel skillet for a lot of my very small batches. The one I have is from that crazily high rated set of tri-ply cookware made by Tramontina that only Walmart* appears to sell. It’s also a third of the price of a comparable All-Clad model. Sur La Table makes a nice one that falls in the middle of the price range. Because these small batches quickly over very high heat, you want something that will perform well under those conditions and I’ve found that any heavy, low, wide stainless skillet will do.

For heating pickle brines, I always turn to the 4th burner pot pictured above. Because it’s got both the spout and the handle, it makes it a breeze to pour the brine into the jars.

favorite canning utensils

Finally, we come to the small tools. You’ll need a knife and a cutting board, but I figure most of you have those, so they’re not pictured here. A heatproof tool for stirring and scraping is always good and that silicone one on the left end is my favorite because it can go in the dishwasher (have five of them, to ensure that at least one is always clean).

A wide mouth funnel is always useful for getting your products into jars without a huge mess. I like the stainless steel ones just a little bit better than the plastic, but use both regularly. A jar lifter is a handy tool to have and I’ve found that the one made by Progressive International is my favorite (it’s got a stronger magnet than most, which makes retrieving lids a bit easier).

Jar lifters are designed to give you a secure grip on the jars as you move them in and out of the water. Though the jar lifter has been redesigned repeatedly over the last few years, I find that I still like the classic model the best (even if the rubber on the grips does have a tendency to peel away over time).

Finally, you want a good tool to move your product from the pot and into the jars. For years, I used an 8-ounce measuring cup to do this job (since it’s the same size as a half pint, you knew that with each scoop, you were getting enough to fill a jar). However, since getting this canning ladle from Progressive International last year, I find that I turn to it for almost every batch. Like my measuring cup, it’s sized to hold one cup,  really does a good job of getting those tricky last drops out of the bottom of the pot, and has a little hook that allows you rest it on the pot between scoops so that it doesn’t slide away and make a mess. If they made it in stainless steel, it would be the most perfect ladle ever.

bubbling the relish

Other tools that I like.

  • Potato mashers! They help break down large chunks without pureeing like an immersion blender does. I like this one and this one.
  • Skinny silicone spatulas! They are the perfect tool for easing air bubbles out of pickles and whole canned fruit because they can slip in without doing a lot of damage.
  • Paper towels or reusable cloth towels, like these from Athena Creates. I use these for wiping jar rims, cleaning up spills, and generally controlling the mess of canning.

As you’ve read through this post, you’ve probably noticed that a number of the things I call for are items that already exist in your kitchen. And if you don’t have exactly what I’m recommending, chances are you have something similar. Truly, it’s a kitchen task that many are already equipped to do.

Finally, remember that this post details just my opinions. You may have or discover favorites that aren’t mentioned here anywhere. Such is the way of life.

*I know Walmart isn’t for everyone (and they aren’t typically for me), but this particular line of cookware is of amazingly high quality and is ridiculously affordable.

Disclosure: This post is liberally peppered with affiliate links. If you follow those links and subsequently make a purchase, I get a few cents. Additionally, the Progressive International tools I mentioned above were received last year for review and giveaway. The opinions expressed here are the result of a year+ of regular use. No one asked me to update my thoughts or include them in this post, I wrote about them because they’ve proven to be useful. 
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