Canning 101: Can I Reduce the Sugar?

3 cups sugar

Like so many of these Canning 101 posts, I’m writing this one to address one of the questions I am frequently asked. I’ve covered this topic as part of larger blog posts before, so if you’re a long-time reader, some of this may be familiar. But it felt like time to pull out this question specifically in the hopes of helping people find the information more easily.

So often, people look at one of my recipes and see the volume of sugar it calls for and have something of a heart attack thinking about all those cups. And so, they write in to ask, “can I safely reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe?”

The answer is that you can always safely reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe, because sugar doesn’t make things safe. The only thing that makes a jam, jelly or other sweet preserve safe for canning in a boiling water bath canner is the acid content, because that’s what prevents any potential botulism growth.

However, when you reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe, you can compromise that preserve’s shelf life, yield, and ability to set up.

Sugar is a powerful preservative, because once you have a certain concentration of sugar in a recipe, the sugar sucks up all the available water. Mold and bacteria need water in order to develop, and if there’s no water available, they cannot grow.

This is why preserves with higher amounts of sugar hold their quality longer than lower sugar preserves. As long as you’re okay with a somewhat decreased shelf life and a relatively short lifespan once the jar has been opened, then go ahead and reduce the sugar.

Things get a little trickier when you take set into account. Sugar has the ability to change physical consistency as you heat it. If you’ve ever made candy, you’ve seen how you get different outcomes the higher you allow the temperature of the cooking sugar to go.

When you make a sweet preserve, you boil the fruit and sugar together, cooking out the water and increasing the concentration of sugars (both natural and added) to the point where they can elevate in temperature to around 220 degrees F. That’s the point at which sugar starts to thicken into a gel and is then able to bond with the pectin (again, both the natural pectin in the fruit and any pectin you added) and that’s how your jams and jellies set up.

If you pull out a lot of the added sugar in a recipe that is depending on sugar to achieve set, the chances are good that the finished product may be forever runny (true story. As a kid, I thought all homemade jam was inherently runny, because my mom always reduced the sugar to the point where set could not be achieved).

You can often reduce the sugar a little bit, but if you do, you may need to cook it longer so that the proper concentration can be reached. That reduced sugar and longer cooking can end up reducing the yield by as much as a cup or two.

Now, if you’re working with Pomona’s Pectin or some other low/no sugar pectin, you can ignore everything I’ve said about set and yield, because those pectins use an entirely different paradigm in order to achieve set. But the advice about shelf life will still hold true.

One final word. Do not take this blog post to mean that I am advocating super high sugar preserves. My favorite ratio for basic jam is two parts fruit to one part sugar, which is actually a fairly conservative amount of sugar, when you look at the traditional jam recipe canon.

When I make smaller batches, I drop the sugar to a three parts fruit to one part sugar ratio, because smaller batches lend themselves to more rapid water evaporation and sugar concentration. And I’m currently writing a book about preserving with a half dozen natural sweeteners, so I am more than open to using a wide world of sweeteners. But I feel strongly that people understand why an ingredient is in place before they go and start changing things up.

Comments { 23 }

A Pressure Canned Bean Reminder and A Mighty Nest Giveaway

pressure canned beans in Weck jars

There are a lot of people out there who think that there’s nothing to can during the winter months. That when the cold days roll in, the best thing to do is just hang up the canning pot and apply one’s energy to emptying the jars they spent so much time filling up during summer and fall.

And while it’s true that there’s less to can this time of year, there are a number of pantry building projects you can do during this time of year, particularly if you have a pressure canner.

fully soaked beans

Restocking my supply of home canned beans is one of my particular favorite projects to take on when outdoor temperatures plummet (it’s just 8 degrees F today in Philly). While store bought canned beans are plenty cheap for most budgets, dried beans are even more affordable. When you soak, simmer, and process your own beans, you’re reducing the amount of waste you product (no cans into the recycling) and you’re making better tasting beans. It’s a winning situation, if you ask me.

I wrote a post all about how to process beans in a pressure canner this time last year and it’s such a useful post (if I do say so myself) that I thought it merited a reminder.

close on pinto beans

Once you have a stash of home canned beans in the pantry, you use them just like you would cans of beans from the grocery store. I regularly stir them into batches of soup or chili, and use them to top trays of homemade nachos. They’re also good for burrito bowls and adding extra protein to salad.

You can also pre-season the beans with ground spices, a sliver of chile pepper or some fresh herbs before canning, so that they become even more useful meal starters (later this week, I’ll be posting a variation on this pressure canning technique that I use to make ready-to-use white bean and rosemary soup).

canned beans square

Last year when I first posted this bean tutorial, the post also included a giveaway from the nice folks at Mighty Nest. Happily, they’ve agreed to offer a giveaway with this one as well! Use the widget below to enter for a chance to win a 6 Quart Dutch Oven, a set of six 1/2 liter mold jars (they’re the same ones pictured above), and a People Who Love to Eat Tea Towel. Additionally, Mighty Nest will donate $150 to the winner’s school of choice.

Comments { 55 }

Links: Winter Baking, More Citrus, and a Winner

Tea, oatmeal, and @aimeebourque's beautiful book!

My husband turned 38 on Saturday, and so we spent most of the last three days celebrating in a very lovely, low-key way. I blew off doing any work on Friday and we went on a mission to find a new love seat (we bought one two years ago from Pottery Barn and it is falling to pieces. Most disappointing). The next day, I made a big dinner and Scott’s mom came over. We ate ourselves silly, watched a movie and then went on a late night adventure through the snowfall to Whole Foods. Sunday, we sat under blankets and binge-watched season three of Veronica Mars (it is my current obsession). It was a truly delightful weekend and I’m sad to see it end.

Worker B gift set

As always, so many thanks to all of you who took the time to enter the Worker B giveaway last week. The winner is long time commenter, first time winner Tammy B. (#210). For all of you who didn’t win, don’t forget that the Rescue Putty is 20% off through the end of this month.

Comments { 3 }

Other People’s Products: Christina’s Cookies

Christina's Cookies

Other People’s Preserves Products is my opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the very delicious jams, pickles, preserves, and in this case, cookies, being made by hardworking artisan producers. Consider this my stamp of delicious approval.

In a departure from my regularly focus on pickles, preserves, and other condiments, this weekend, I wanted to feature Christina’s Cookies from vegan chef Christina Pirello. They come in flavors like chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, and peanut butter. If you find conventional cookies to be a little too sweet, you will love these.

Christina's cookie assortment

In addition to tasting delicious, they’re also made with organic whole grain flours, no refined sugars, and high quality oils and fats. What’s more, they’re entirely vegan, which I know is something a number of you are looking for.

Christina's chocolate chocolate cookies

I realize I’m a little too late sharing these cookies for Valentine’s Day, but if you need to send a sweet treat to a friend who is trying to skip refined sugars, make sure to keep these cookies on your list. Get all the details on pricing and shipping here.

Disclosure: These cookies were sent to me as a free sample, for potential review. After a couple bites, I determined that they were good enough to share. However, all opinions expresses are honest and uncompromising. No additional compensation was provided.

Comments { 0 }

The Best, Cheapest Cloth Napkins

mug on napkin

When I was a kid, we used paper napkins for everyday meals. I don’t think anyone really thought about it too much beyond the fact that they made for easy clean-up, but I grew up thinking that cloth napkins were reserved solely for holiday meals and restaurant dining.

As I got older, I started being a little bit more concerned about the number of disposable products I was using and switching to cloth napkins seemed like any easy place to start. The only issue was that true, readymade cloth napkins were kind of expensive, particularly if you were building a supply from scratch on the very low salary from your first job like I was (and at that point, I did not have the sewing awareness necessary to make my own).

basket of napkins

For a long time, I made due with a short stack of cloth napkins culled from clearance bins and thrift stores. But then, I discovered something that totally rocked my cloth napkin world. I found myself at a dollar store in need of inexpensive cleaning cloths. They didn’t have exactly what I wanted, but I picked up a package of their red shop rags, thinking I might be able to make due with them.

They didn’t work for my original project, but once I’d washed folded them, I realized that they looked for all the world like a pile of cloth napkins. I tucked them into a basket, put them on our dining room table and we haven’t looked back (we’re on our second set. It took more than four years of daily use to wear out the first batch).

I am now convinced that for everyday use, there is nothing better than a pile of shop rag napkins. They are cheap (typically no more than $10 for a package of 25), made of cotton, and are nearly indestructible. Both my sister and Alana use them in their households and have told me how great they are for family dinners (in Raina’s house, they’re also used for wiping tiny noses and mopping up spills).

plate with napkin

There are just a couple tricks you should know before you turn to shop rags for your own napkin needs. First is that they need a good wash before you start using them. Skip the fabric softener, as it makes them less absorbent and add a little white vinegar to the cycle. I also find that it’s best that you wash them with similar colors the first time out, because they do tend to run a little the first time.

After you’ve used them for a while, they may eventually start to smell of rancid grease (this happens with most cloth napkins). If this occurs, heap them in your biggest stock pot (or canning pot!), fill it up with water and add a small amount of dish soap (not laundry soap). Boil them for 15-20 minutes, drain them, and wash and dry as normal. They’ll be good as new.

I realize this post might seem out of the ordinary for a blog that deals mostly with canning and preserving, but the way I see it, inexpensive cloth napkins are a natural extension of the ethos that would lead someone to start canning in the first place. And it’s such a good tip, I had to share.

Comments { 47 }

Giveaway: Worker B Product Kit

Worker B gift set

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Worker B Rescue Putty and how pleased I was to have discovered a product that helped heal my cracking hands. I heard back from a lot of you on the topic of winter skin remedies and several folks reached out to say that they had tried the Rescue Putty and were just as in love with it as I was.

Worker B cream

While they didn’t know about my Rescue Putty love before I write that post, the internet is really nothing but a small town, and so soon enough, the nice folks at Worker B saw my post and got in touch. They were happy to hear that I was so pleased with their products and were curious how I had discovered their balms, salves, and creams.

Worker B expiration date

I told them that my sister gave me a tube of Worker B lip balm a part of a birthday present three or four years ago. I used and loved that lip balm for nearly two years, until I was scraping the last bits out with my fingernail. In the meantime, I picked up a couple different sized balms when they went on sale at West Elm. I’ve been a fan ever since, because while I’m not obsessive about only using totally natural cosmetics, I really appreciate effective products that are made simple, real ingredients.

Worker B balm

They liked my enthusiasm for their products as well as the very kind responses from you guys and suggested that we team up on some kind of promotion. And that brings us to today, with a giveaway for a pack of lovely Worker B products. The winner will get a box that includes jars of Rescue Putty, the Worker B cream, a chunky treatment stick, and their gentle face wash.

Worker B bee

One of the reasons that we decided to run this giveaway today is that Worker B just relaunched their website, so the shopping experience is better than ever (if you visited them when I first posted, you’ll notice a big change. The new site is really pretty).

Additionally, their various social media accounts and their newsletter are now easy to find and follow (up at the top of the site). They make a point of sharing their deals and sales via Twitter and Facebook, so make sure to follow ’em if you want to stay in the know. For instances, just earlier today, they let their followers know that my beloved Rescue Putty is 20% all month long. Can’t beat that!

Worker B face wash

Here’s how to enter for a chance to win this box of goodies.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share a tale that has something to do with bees. Does your neighbor have a hive? Did you make beeswax candles as a kid? Do you drink your tea with honey?
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, February 14, 2015. The winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog by Sunday, February 15, 2015.
  3. Giveaway is open to US residents only (sorry!).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.

Disclosure: While I bought my original jar of Rescue Putty on my own, for this post, the kind folks at Worker B did send me the products you see pictured here. No other compensation was exchanged.