Tag Archives | canning 101

Canning 101: Resources for New Canners

canning pot trivet rack

Canning season is beginning to pick up speed, and so I wanted to take just a moment to pull together some useful resources and reminders. These are great for brand new jammers and picklers, as well as practiced food preservers who just need shake off the cobwebs after a winter away from their boiling water bath canners.

black blossom trivet

For brand new canners, the best starting points are these two posts. One details the gear you need (most of which you probably already have in your kitchen) and the other talks you through the canning process.

Once you’re ready to can, here are some posts to help you with getting jam to set, what to do if a jar breaks, how to fix runny jam, and much more.

You can see my complete Canning 101 archive here.

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Canning 101: How to Make Jam With Frozen Fruit + Apricot Meyer Lemon Jam

frozen apricots - Food in Jars

It is mid-winter, which means that the pickings are quite slim for canners in search of fresh fruit to turn into jams and fruit butters. However, if you’ve got a preserving itch that must be scratched, take heart and turn to the freezer.

frozen apricots top - Food in Jars

Whether you’re using fruit you yourself tucked into the deep freeze or you’ve decided to rely on that which you can find in the cases at the grocery store, it’s possible to coax satisfying spreads out of previously as long as you remember a couple of things.

frozen apricots sugared - Food in Jars

First and most important, don’t defrost your fruit prior to combining it with the sugar. I’ve made jam from a wide array of frozen fruit in my time, and I’ve learned that my results are always better if I liberally dust the fruit with sugar while it’s still frozen.

The sugar draws away some of the water in the fruit, which helps it hold its shape better, while also providing some protection against browning. This is especially helpful in the case of light-colored fruit like apricots and peaches, which will turn grey and squishy if left to defrost on their own.

defrosting apricots - Food in Jars

The second tip for success when using frozen fruit in preserving is to use weight as your measurement tool. Because you’re going to sugar the fruit before it has defrosted, volume measurements for the fruit won’t be accurate. By using weight as your guiding measurement, you’ll be able to keep the proportions of fruit to sugar steady and set yourself up for success.

finished jam - Food in Jars

For those of you who made plenty of jam back in the summer and question why one would want to make jam from frozen fruit, I have four words for you. Apricot Meyer Lemon Jam.

This season bending preserve isn’t possible to make on the east coast without the aid of a freezer, but it is good enough that I try to stash four pounds of apricots in my freezer drawer each summer, so that I’m able to make it when Meyer lemons are in season. Oh, and if you can’t wait another year for this one, try freezing some Meyer lemon juice and zest right now, to save for apricot season.

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Canning 101: How to Prevent Jam Separation

fruit float image

This time of year, lots of people are making and canning strawberry jam. Though it’s a universally loved preserve, I find it to be one of the trickier jams to get right, particularly for beginning jam makers. One of the reasons that people struggle with strawberries is that the finished jam has the tendency to separate into two layers* once it has cooled in the jars.

If you are one of the ones who have struggled with this two layer jam, worry not. It’s not a sign of danger or even that you did something wrong. It’s simply a sign that there is still some air trapped in the strawberries. They are lighter than the syrup and so rise to the tops of the jars.

I find that this jam separation happens primary in recipes that call for relatively short cooking times or very large pieces of fruit that have not been given a long maceration period.

You can work to prevent this two layer effect by chopping the fruit into smaller pieces, macerating it with the sugar overnight, mashing it with a potato masher during cooking (this action is best if you’re noticing big hunks of fruit bobbing around towards the end of cooking), and even extending the cooking period a bit.

If you’ve taken these actions and you’re still noticing that your jam is separating during the cooling stage, you can gently shake the cooling jars to reintegrate the fruit and the syrup.

My preferred method of dealing with this separation is simply to tell people that I meant it to be that way and that if you want a more integrated preserve, that they should stir the fruit into the now-set jelly when they open the jars.

*This can also happen with other varieties of fruit as well, but is simply most common with strawberries.

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Canning 101: White Vinegar in the Canning Pot Prevents Mineral and Metallic Deposits

white vinegar

I was reading through the comments on the FreshTECH Electric Canner a moment ago and saw several people mentioning their frustration with their current canners because they left spots and rough deposits on the jars. Happily, there is a way to prevent this without investing in a new canner. Pour about 1/2 cup white vinegar into your canning pot when you first set it up.

Whether the residue on the jars is minerals from hard water or particulate matter from your canning rack, adding vinegar to the water will help keep it off the jars and prevent build-up on the inside of your canner. Make it part of your canning routine this summer!

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Canning 101: Can You Preserve With Artificial Sweeteners?

sweeteners

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a Canning 101 post about the different roles that sugar plays in preserving. This was my attempt to conclusively answer the questions I regularly get from people wanting to reduce the amount of sugar in their preserves.

There was one thing I didn’t address in that post and that was question of artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, Equal, Truvia, or xylitol. Personally, I don’t work with artificial sweeteners much simply because I don’t like the way they taste. I do understand, though, that for some folks it is necessary to use these products as a way to cut back on sugar. So here we go.

First, let’s talk about the situations in which artificial sweeteners aren’t going to work. When you make jam in the traditional manner, you are relying on the fact that as you cook, the sugar you added to the fruit is going to thicken as heat is applied, eventually thickening to the point where it bonds with the conventional pectin (either natural or added). If you remove the sugar from the equation, the jam is never going to set.

Sure, you might be able to boil it down into something to stir into yogurt, but it’s not going to be jam. What’s more, lots of the artificial sweeteners become bitter during extended cooking, so if you added your sweetener at the beginning of the cooking and then boiled the heck out of the fruit for 45 minutes, the finished product may well be inedible.

What this really means is that you can’t take a traditional recipe for jam, swap in Splenda and think you’re going to get anywhere near the same result. I know this might feel frustrating to some of you, but truly, this advice will save you buckets of aggravation in the long run.

So, here’s what you can do. You can use pectin that was designed to work in low or no-sugar environments. There are a couple different versions out there. Ball makes a special modified pectin and the package insert will be able to guide you through the process of creating serviceable jams.

Pomona’s Pectin is another good option. Known as low methoxyl pectin, it’s requires both a pectin made from citrus peels and a calcium solution. Instead of needing sugar to trigger the set, the calcium activates the pectin. This means that you can make spreadable preserves with whatever sweetener you choose, including a wide range of artificial sweeteners.

Another option is to start making fruit butters rather than jams and jellies. When you make a fruit butter, you cook a fruit puree at low temperature for a long period of time. In doing so, you remove much of the moisture, and concentrate the natural sugars in the fruit. You can then either leave it as-is (though the juice of a lemon or two will help preserve the color and brighten the flavor) or adjust it slightly with the artificial sweetener of your choice.

Just remember, as discussed in this blog post, when you reduce or remove sugar, shelf life and the quality once open shortens. I combat this by making low sugar or sugar-free preserves in small batches and canning them in four ounce jars, to ensure that they are as good and fresh as I can make them.

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Canning 101: Why Do Colors Change in Home Canned Foods?

Packing jars

It happens to all of us at some point in our canning careers. You go to retrieve a jar of precious, brightly colored jam, only to discover that the once vibrant color has gone muddy and dull. Once you get over the disappointment, you start to wonder two things. What happened to cause the loss in color and is that jar of jam (or pickles, jelly, fruit butter, relish, fruit halves or tomatoes) still safe to eat?

There are a number of reasons why a preserve has lost its color. Let’s dig in.

Weather Conditions During Growing – The opportunity for discoloration starts while the fruit is still on the tree. Fruit that’s grown during really hot, dry summers has a tendency to turn pink once in the jars. If you experience this kind of discoloration, worry not. While it can’t be avoided, it won’t impact the flavor, texture or safety.

Picking and Storage – Produce starts to break down as soon as it comes off the tree, plant or bush. Heat and extended storage can lead to faded color. However, as long as the fruits and vegetables were still in edible shape when it went into the jar, the product is still safe to eat.

Oxidation – This one is the bane of all canners. As soon as you start cutting up fruit and exposing the flesh to air, it starts to brown. During prep, you can stave off oxidation by submerging the fruit in acidified water (a couple tablespoons of bottled lemon juice in a bowl will do the job). But even when you think you’ve done everything right, you sometimes have some browning on the surface of the finished jam (peach, nectarine, and apricot are particularly prone to this) or, in the case of whole fruit, anything peeking up out of the syrup may discolor. Still safe, though some people prefer to scrape the browned layer away.

Light Exposure – Anytime something with color is exposed to ultraviolet light, it will fade. The reason is that those UV rays weaken the chemical bonds of the color particles over time, causing them to break down. We experience this as color loss. Light-faded products are still safe to eat, but they may not be as delicious as they originally were.

Reduced Sugar – Sugar helps maintain color because it absorbs water and acts as a buffer. The more you reduce sugar in a preserve, the more prone to color loss that product will be.

Exposure to Reactive Metals – Reactive metals like copper, aluminum, and cast iron can leach small amounts of metal into your preserve during cooking, which can lead to darkening and a bonus metallic flavor (yum!). It’s best to keep highly acidic foods out of cookware made with these metals (the exception is high sugar preserves cooked in copper. The sugar prevents the metallic leaching). These preserves aren’t unsafe, but they don’t always taste good.

Use of Salt with Additives – This applies primarily to pickles, but it’s a good one to know. The reason recipes typically call for pickling salt is not just because it dissolves quickly. It’s also free of iodine and anti-caking agents, both of which can cause pickles to yellow or darken.

The basic takeaway here is that most forms of mild fading or browning don’t impact the safety of your finished product. As long as the seal is good, the preserve don’t have any mold growing on the sugar, and it doesn’t bubble when you open the jar, it’s really okay (just to be clear, we’re talking about high acid preserves here). For best quality, keep your canned goods out of direct light and in a place between 50 and 70 degrees F.

Information for this post came from the following sources: Bernardin FAQ, NCHFP Pickle Problems page, Fresh Preserving, the Library of Congress and my brain.

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