Checking In + Upcoming Canning Classes

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I realize it’s been quite silent around here lately. The middle chunk of my book was due yesterday and so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve done nothing but work (recipe testing, writing and day job), eat and sleep. Yesterday, after I cut and pasted everything together and hit send, I stood up, stretched and walked to Trader Joe’s.

It was around 5 pm and all the others on the street were heading home from work. A block away from home, I noticed that I was getting funny looks from people and realized that I had been grinning at everyone who passed me. As I gathered my groceries, I also selected the daffodils you see above. To my mind, they are one of the most joyous and celebratory of flowers, perfect for a girl who has just met a deadline.

I still have one more big push of writing to accomplish before the draft is done. However, for the next 48 hours or so, I’m just going to enjoy my daffodils and the fact that so much of it is already written.

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If you’re in the Philadelphia area, you might be interested in the fact that I’m teaching a Vanilla Rhubarb Jam class this Saturday at Indy Hall (20 N. 3rd Street, Old City). There are still four available spots, so please do shoot me an email if you’d like to sign up. The class is from 11-12:30 and will include the basics of boiling water bath canning, a chance to make and taste a delicious jam, and the opportunity to pick my brain for the bulk of that time.

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Now, what delicious jar-based things have you been eating lately?

Comments { 26 }

Lemon Curd and Yogurt

lime curd on plain yogurt

This isn’t a recipe post. Nor does it contain a giveaway. It is simply an gentle nudge in the direction of something delicious.

In pursuit of cookbook greatness, I made a lot of curds last week. Lemon curd. Lime curd. Vanilla orange curd. And all of this week, I’ve been eating the run-off from those projects stirred into plain yogurt (greek yogurt. Homemade yogurt. Trader Joe’s creamy European-style yogurt. We go through a lot of yogurt).

Sometimes topped with granola. Sometimes plain. Always delicious.

empty lime curd jar

I exhort you. While citrus is still in season, do yourself a favor and make up a batch of curd. Meyer lemons are wonderful, though limes add a more tropical feel. If you want to feel like you’re eating pie for breakfast, search out some tiny key limes.

This recipe is nice, though I’ve heard that the bits of zest are a textural challenge for some folks. If you want a perfectly smooth curd, rub the zest into the sugar before cooking, that way it imparts all its flavor but doesn’t end up in the final product.

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Canning 101: Pectin Verses Clear Jel


I recently got a question from a reader asking about the difference between pectin and Clear Jel. She was primarily curious because when she researched pricing, she found that Clear Jel was significantly less expensive than the pectin options she was finding. Could they be used interchangeably, she asked?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

While they both have thickening properties, they act upon the fruit in jams and jellies differently. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber that is divided into very fine particles. When heated with a sugar solution, it takes up position, bonds with the sugar molecules and expands in a way that makes it nearly impossible to separate out from the rest of the product, thus creating a stable, gelled preserve.

Clear Jel is a modified cornstarch that is recommended for canning because it doesn’t lose its thickening powers after extended heating (conventional cornstarch starts to break down at high heat and also doesn’t thicken high acid liquids well). Clear Jel thickens by creating bonds between the water molecules and the starch molecules. As you heat those bonded molecules up, they continue to expand until they form a network of sticky bonds that keep the liquid thick. It’s a very different process that how fruit pectins thicken, and were you to compare a well-set cherry jam and a cherry pie filling, you’d easily be able to see the difference in consistency.

Note: Please know that I’m not a scientist and that I’ve explained this to the best of my ability. If there are any food scientists out there who feel like they could do a better job of makes these differences even clearer, please get in touch. I’d love to feature your post.

Comments { 47 }

Meyer Lemon Zest Sugar and Salt

meyer lemon zest sugar

Last Friday, in the process of testing four recipes for the cookbook, I found myself awash in Meyer lemon zest. Knowing that I needed to juice 20 Meyers, I made sure to zest each one beforehand so as not to waste a drop of those precious babies. Because I had no time to be fussy, I split the zest into two piles and made quick work of it.

I tossed the  first mound of fragrant, juicy zest with three cups of plain sugar. Spread between this jar and a smaller one, I’m currently entertaining fantasies of sprinkling some across the tops of scones just before they go into the oven or rimming cocktail glasses with it when the weather gets warmer.

And the other portion of zest? Layered in a jar with kosher salt, for serving with fish and boosting the flavor of salad dressings.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to wait for those times when you’re wealthy in Meyer lemons to do something like this. Next time you go to juice a lemon, scrape the zest off with a microplane or even a vegetable peeler. In the beginning choose either salt or sugar and begin popping your unneeded zest into the jar each time you cook. Soon enough, you’ll have effortlessly made a jar or two of these flavor enhancers.

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Weck Jar Giveaway

Goodness, you guys are crazy for Weck jars! I had feeling this would be a popular giveaway, but I had no idea that it would be a Food in Jars record breaker. An impressive 670 of you signed up for a chance to win a six-pack of jars from Kaufmann Mercantile. As is my way, I turned to for help choosing a winner. After a moment of consideration, it spit out #606, which is the comment left by Atarah. Congratulations, you lucky canner!

So many thanks to all of you for playing!

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Canning 101: How to Can Using Weck Jars + Giveaway

weck jar laid out

Recently, after panting after them for years, I finally broke down and ordered a dozen Weck jars*. For those of you not in the know, they are a brand of canning jar that is produced in Germany and is quite popular across Europe. Instead of using a disposable lid with the sealing compound embedded in it (like our familiar Ball and Kerr jars), these jars depend on a rubber ring for their sealing power.

They are much like the bailing wire canning jars that were once quite popular across this country (I wrote about canning in those jars here, if you care to give a gander). One of their primary benefits is the fact that because the lid is made from glass, the only thing that’s in contact with your food is glass (just like the Tattler reusable lids, there’s no BPA-imbued surface to worry about when you use these suckers). They also feel a bit less wasteful than the Ball/Kerr jars, because the only piece you end up throwing away is the rubber ring, not an entire lid. The primary downside of Weck jars is that they are expensive. I have hopes that if enough people start buying them, they’ll become more accessible and affordable here.

weck rubber ring

The Weck jars are made up of four components. The first is the rubber ring, which is the analog to the sealing compound in American lids. And just like our lids, these rings need to be submerged in boiling water for a few minutes before use in order to soften up. Keep them in the hot water until the moment you’re ready to use them to maximize their sealing abilities. These rings should also be given a once over before use, to ensure that they don’t have any cracks or tears. Another way these rings are like conventional lids is that they can only be used once.

weck lid and ring

Next comes the flat, glass lid. Prior to use, make sure to give them a careful inspection, to ensure that the lid is free from chips, particularly on the edge that comes in contact with the rubber ring. Even the smallest chip can prevent a quality seal. Keep in mind that if you’re planning on processing something in these jars that will be in the boiling water bath canner for less than ten minutes, these lids need to be sterilized along with your jars.

weck lid and ring on jar

I have found that the best way to assemble these jars is to caress the rubber ring onto the lid and then place the lid on the jar. Before you settle it into place, make sure to wipe those rims. It’s just good canning practice.

weck with lid clamped into place

Now come the clips. All Weck jars come with two stainless steel clips. They do the work that our screw-on bands typically perform, holding the lid in place so that air can escape during processing and cooling, but no air or liquid can get in. I believe the best way to attach a clip is to hook it over the lid and then firmly (but carefully) push down. There should be a satisfying click when the clip is in place and there should be no wiggle or movement. I have found that it often requires just a hair more pressure than feels appropriate. Take it slowly and make sure to hold onto the jar (wrap a towel or pot holder around it so you don’t burn yourself) so that you don’t slosh the product on to your counter.

Once you have the clips in place, quickly check the status of the ring. It should still be flat and even between the top of the jar and the bottom of the lid. On one occasion, I have had the ring wrinkle up while I was finessing the clips onto the jars. Had I not caught it before the jar went into the canner, I could have compromised my potential seal.

testing weck seal

Now that your jars are filled and the rubber rings, lids and clips are in place, it’s time to process. This step is just like all other boiling water bath canning. The only caution I have to offer here is to take care with your jar lifter placement when working with Weck jars. I once nearly tipping several jars over while maneuvering in and out of the pot because my lifter caught on the clips. They hold tightly enough that you shouldn’t be able to dislodge one with the lifter, but it is something to be aware of.

weck jar tab note

Once the jars are finished processing, let them cool fully. Once they are totally cool to the touch, you can remove the clips and check your seals. There are two easy ways to ensure you’ve got a good seal. The first is to grab onto the jar holding onto just the lid and lift the jar just a bit (I will never be a hand model). If it holds, it’s good.

The other way to check the seals is to take a look at the tab. It should be pointing down, like it’s sticking its tongue out at you. Also note that Weck jars should be stored with the clips off when it’s on your pantry shelf. This is for the same reason that we store Ball and Kerr jars without their rings. If something happens to grow inside the jar, the off-gassing will break the seal and you’ll know right away that the product is compromised.

When it comes time to open a Weck jar, it’s incredibly easy. Just grab hold of the tab and gently pull it, until you hear air rushing in and the seal breaks. Do this slowly, so that you don’t run the risk of popping the lid off the jar with too much vigor. While the jar lives in the fridge, you can use the clips to hold the lid in place, or you can invest in some of the snap-on plastic lids that Weck makes as well.

I  made my recent purchase of Weck jars through a really lovely online store called Kaufmann Mercantile. They offer a full array of Weck jars and shipping is free if your order is over $25. Because they’re awesome, they’ll also be giving away a six-pack of Weck’s 1/5L tall mold jar. It’s the same jar that’s been pictured throughout this post (it holds a bit less than a half pint). What’s more, if you sign up for their newsletter, they’ll give you a $7 gift card code that you can apply to the cost of your first order.

You can also order Weck jars directly from the U.S. distributor (they finally have launched an online ordering capability), but the shipping charges vary widely and can get really expensive. Updated: An eagle-eyed canner just did the math and discovered that buying Weck jars through the U.S. distributor has gotten much more affordable than it was when last I checked. Please make sure to compare pricing before placing your order, to ensure that you get the best deal possible.

To sign up for this Kaufmann Mercantile giveaway, leave a comment on this post and tell me what the first thing you’d like to can in Weck would be. One comment per person, please. The comments will close and the giveaway will end on Friday, March 11th at 11:59 p.m.

*Though this is the first time I’ve owned my own Weck jars, I have used them many times before and have even taught classes with them. Rest assured, I know what I’m talking about.

**There was no pay to play in the making of this post. I bought my jars from Kaufmann Mercantile with my hard earned money. They just happen to be awesome folks who want to make the day of one Food in Jars reader a little bit brighter.