A Canning Chat with Jim Coleman and WHYY

me, holding a jar of peaches

Mark your calendars, canners! This Thursday, August 5 at 12 noon (eastern time), I’ll be participating in a  web chat with Jim Coleman, host of the WHYY show A Chef’s Table. We’ll be answering canning questions between 12 – 1 p.m., so if you’ve got a burning quandary, now’s your chance to get an answer.

To participate, click here. I’ll be sending out reminders a few minutes before we get started via the Food in Jars Facebook and Twitter accounts, so follow or fan if you think you’ll need a nudge to log on.

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Canning 101: Why You Shouldn’t Can Like Your Grandmother Did

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When I first started canning in earnest, every few months, I’d wrap up a collection of full jars and ship them off to my parents. I just couldn’t resist sharing all the delicious things I was making with them. One evening, my dad took a moment to call and thank me for the orange marmalade I had recently sent his way. During that phone call, he also made a request. Could I possibly make grape jelly sealed with paraffin wax, like his Grandma Bartlett used to make?

I adore my dad and am nearly always willing to go pretty darn far out of my way to do something to make him happy. Sadly, this was one request that I had to turn down. The reason? It’s just not safe to do it the way Grandma Bartlett used to do it.

Some of the vintage techniques you should avoid include:

Open Kettle Canning: This is the sealing method in which you pour hot jam, jelly or other preserves into a hot jar, quickly wipe the rim and apply the lids and rings. Then you simply allow the heat of the product to produce a seal. While this will typically produce a seal, you don’t have the back-up of the boiling water process, which means that you run a higher risk developing mold or other bacteria in your preserves.

Paraffin Wax Seals: The method my father remembers so fondly. In this technique, you pour thin layers of wax over your jam, until you built up about 1/2 an inch of wax on top of your product. The primary issue with this method is that there’s no way to check your seal. Additionally, these seals have a high rate of failure. My mother remembers her aunt frequently opening jellies sealed in this manner, only to discover that they were furry with mold under the wax.

Upside Down Sealing: This is sealing method found most often in Europe and is a variation on the Open Kettle approach. In it, you fill your jars, wipe rims, apply lids and rings and then, instead of processing you invert the jars and cover with a kitchen towel until they’re cool. While this technique will give you a concave lid and a fairly firm lid, it does not always produce a quality seal (and again, you lack the safety insurance that the boiling water process grants you). Additionally, if you do this with a firm setting jam or jelly, you’ll end up setting your jam up against your lid and not down at the bottom of the jar where it should be.

Steam Canners: A steam canner is a piece of equipment that looks like a cake carrier. It has a very shallow base with a high domed lid. You place it on the stove, pour a small amount of water into the shallow pan, put your jars on top and then cover with the domed lid. The steam then circulates to heat the jars. However, while steam can be hotter than boiling water, it can also exist at much lower temperatures as well. Additionally, it doesn’t have the same heat penetrating abilities as boiling water, so the heat of the processing pot will not penetrate to the core of your jars.

The way I look at canning is this. We all invest our time, money and equipment into our canned goods. It just makes good sense to use the most reliable processing techniques available, to ensure the best outcome possible. As far as I know, the most reliable process (for high acid foods) is a boiling water bath for the length of time prescribed by your recipe.

I think even Grandma Bartlett would change her ways if she was canning in the 21st century.

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Blackberry-Apricot Jam

blackberry-apricot jam

Blackberry season has come to the mid-atlantic region and I couldn’t be more delighted. I spent my childhood foraging blackberries in the Oregon brambles and those sweet, tart, juicy berries are some of my favorite summer fruits. While they don’t grow wild out here in Pennsylvania in the same way they do out west, I’m lucky enough to have a good pick-your-own location.

smashing blackberries

The weekend before last, I picked just over eight pounds (and had a lovely couple of hours outside with my friend Shay). I spent the week eating them crushed into yogurt and straight out of the container. By Thursday night, it was time to turn them into something longer lasting. I smashed up a bunch, until I had a generous four cups of smashed berries.

rival apricots

I combined the four cups of mashed berries with four cups of apricot puree. Those apricots were lovely, juicy things that came to me via the Washington State Fruit Commission. They’ve just launched a website called Sweet Preservation that is dedicated to the art of canning and fruit preservation. Several weeks ago, they invited me to be one of the “CANbassadors” and help them spread word of this new resource.

Having gone to college in Washington State (go Whitman!), I’m happy to do what I can to lend my support. I also made whole canned apricots in a honey-vanilla syrup and pickled sweet cherries from the goodness that came in the box above. Stay tuned for those recipes, they’ll be rolling out over the next week.

blackberries merging with apricot puree

In the past, I’ve been something of a single fruit jam kind of girl. I like my preserves fairly simple and tasting of the fruit that it is. However, I’ve already made apricot jam, apricot butter and blackberry jam this season. But I had a hunch that a marriage of the two would be an interesting and worthy pursuit. Happily, I was right. This jam turned out to have the sweetness of the apricots and the tart, juiciness of the blackberries.

empty jam pot

Typically, when I make blackberry jam, I seed the blackberries by pushing them through a fine mesh sieve so that all the fruit and pulp winds up in a bowl and the seeds are left behind in the strainer. This time, I chose to include the seeds, since the apricot was there balancing things out. I find the seeds add a nice textural interest. However, if you aren’t a fan of seeds in your jam, you could absolutely use seeded blackberry pulp.

blackberry-apricot jam

Just so you know, as I wrote this post, I found myself struggling to remember what this jam tasted like (I’ve made a lot of jam lately). So I did was any good canner would do. I popped opened a jar to remind myself. That led to five minutes of eating the jam out of the jar with a spoon. It is that good. The open jar is sitting right next to me. As soon as this recipe is published, I’ll be back in the kitchen, looking for something upon which to slather it.

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Site Wackiness – An update

Hello all, Scott here again (Marisa’s husband/tech support).

Just an update to let you all know that we’re still rooting around on the blog to get to the bottom of the wackiness Marisa mentioned yesterday.

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Site Wackiness

Hey Food in Jars readers. Just wanted to let you know that we’ve discovered a small, strange hack on this site. We have to go to a baby baptism right now, but will be back later this afternoon to fix this problem. Essentially, when you search for something on Google and a Food in Jars result turns up, Google is displaying information about propecia. Rest assured, all will be well by later today.

I’ve never been more grateful to have a husband who wrote a book about WordPress than I am right now.

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Upcoming Classes in Philadelphia

empty jam pot

We’re heading head-long into the final days of summer. The edible delights of the season are now reaching their zenith and what better way to honor all that abundance than to learn to can? I’ve got a number of classes coming up in the Philadelphia area…

Monday, August 2 (yes, that’s tomorrow)
Peach Jam at the Devon Whole Foods
6:30-8:30 p.m.
This class is free! Email me at foodinjars@gmail.com to sign up!

Saturday, August 7 (currently full, contact me if you’d like to get on the waiting list)
Cucumber Dills at Indy Hall
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 21
Tomato Chutney at Terrain at Styer’s
2-4 p.m.

Thursday, September 16
Pickled Zucchini at Terrain at Styer’s
6-8 p.m.

I’m also plotting out classes for fall. Leave a comment if you’d be interested in a class around applesauce, pear-ginger jam and an array of cranberry products.

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