Finally! I can’t tell you how long I have been wanting to try my hand at canning something. I started to get the urge last summer when I had tons of tomatoes and was running out of space in my tiny freezer. I looked into classes at the Parks & Recreation Dept., but they were always on the weekends and I worked weekends. So I let it drop until winter when I checked a few books out of the library. It seemed difficult when I read the “what went wrong” sections of the books. Jars could break, lids could not seal properly or your stuff inside the jar could simply be yucky. There was water bath canning and pressure canning. Things you could can in one but not the other. Levels of acidity required and warnings. It just seemed complicated.
As things will do, however, time will pass and for some reason they start to make sense. I think ones self conscious works on the problem until they figure it out. And it’s strawberry season for Pete’s sake. How could I miss that? So this weekend, I bit the bullet and gave it a shot. You know what? It’s EASY. Let me repeat that… EASY. There were no broken jars, no lids that didn’t seal and that strawberry/ginger jam I had on my oatmeal this morning was downright delicious.
If you have been thinking about trying your hand at canning, do. It’s a great way to save some of the harvest you work so hard to produce. It is also a great way to make sure that the food your family eats is healthy. They now have No Sugar Needed Pectin which worked fabulously with dried Stevia as a sweetener. Now you may not want to use a sweetener other than sugar, but you might want the option of using less. Did you know that many recipes call for as many cups (or more) of sugar as you have fruit? Four cups of fruit can use 4 cups of sugar. With regular pectin you need the sugar to help things jell. With the No Sugar Needed Pectin you have the choice on how much you use. Think about how much sugar is in that store bought jam and you might want to consider giving canning a try.
Some things I’ve learned so far:
1. You really don’t need a ton of fancy gadgets. You do need a water bath canner with rack, a jar lifter (because they are hot) and a good quality funnel is nice. You need canning jars with fresh lids. You can easily get started for around $40. A lid lifter would be nice to have, but isn’t necessary. I got by just using some tongs but had to be careful not to dip the end of the lid in the jam.
2. Sugar does make the jam retain color better. If you are giving them away as gifts, you may want to use at least some sugar.
3. There are tons of resources and information on the internet. You really don’t need a book. Check out the goings on over at Tigress in a Jam’s Can Jam. The monthly challenges can really inspire. There is also tons of information and recipes over at the Ball website. There are even great recipes on the insert in the pectin box.
4. Don’t try and use your water bath canner to warm your jars. It takes too long to reach boiling once you’ve filled the jars and they begin to cool. Use your dishwasher or a separate pot to warm the lids and jars. Get your canner boiling when you start to cook your jam.
5. It’s easy. As a coworker put it, “It’s just steps.” Read the process through a few times and then just take it step by step.
6. Strawberry growers often sell seconds at a discounted rate. Just by asking for seconds (berries that are undersized or a bit overripe) at the strawberry stand I paid $7 instead of $18. You are going to be smashing them up anyway.
7. A full flat of strawberries is a bit much your first time out. Half a flat will give you two batches of jam.
8. Hearing the jars pop as they seal after processing is a very satisfying sound. It means you did it!
8. Canning can be addictive.
9. Canning is fun.