in this Issue
Yes - You Can Can
By Aenne Carver
Whenever I smell peaches I think of my grandmother. She lived in Utah, and I visited her every summer when her peaches were ripening. Inevitably, on the hottest day of August, the canning commenced. My grandmother calmly orchestrated a bubbling pot of peaches, sweaty bottles dipped in and out of water, and plenty of gadgets, like funnels, spoons and tongs, all lined up and ready to go. Strangely, I never recall helping her, except for the eating part. She would save some peach jam, still runny and warm, and pour it over vanilla ice cream.
Her jam was the best in the world. I saved my last jar after she died, like a bottle of fine wine. It was peaches with toasted, slivered almonds and a hint of vanilla and cinnamon. This stuff was ambrosia, and I ate it slowly, one small bite at a time. I still have the jar.
Now I am growing more fruits and vegetables, and like most gardeners today I want to preserve my produce. I have made freezer jam and quick pickled vegetables, but I want to try the old fashioned, real-deal: Canning. However, I don’t want to spend the day in a hot kitchen and I don’t want to poison my friends. My grandmother made it look like clockwork. Why did I not pay more attention?
I needed advice from an expert, so I called on Caron Golden, who writes the column “Local Bounty” for San Diego Magazine, and a popular blog called San Diego Foodstuff. Golden agrees that most cooks don’t want daylong sessions of canning. To shorten the process, Golden suggests making small batches, rather than aiming for twenty quarts of something and becoming overwhelmed. Golden points out that in our mild climate most produce is available year-round, so she focuses on preserving produce that is fleeting or seasonally abundant, like loquats, strawberries and tomatoes.
Golden laughs when the topic of poisoning friends inevitably comes up, and she explains that June Taylor, www.junetaylorjams.com a well-known jam maker from Berkley, says the only danger from homemade preserves is if a jar is thrown at your head. Golden notes that it is easy to tell when a jar doesn’t seal properly. After a jar has cooled completely from its water bath, the lid should not have any flex, nor should it make a popping sound when pressed in the center. The lid on a properly sealed jar does not have any give. Hold the jar in question at eye level and look across the lid. It should be concave (curved down slightly in the center). If the lid is either flat or bulging, it may not be sealed.
If somehow an improperly sealed jar gets by you, don’t worry because even non-cooks recognize when foodstuff goes bad—the odor and appearance produces a universally identifiable red flag. When you open a spoiled jar, you immediately are hit with a bad scent, and likely will see mold growth on the food surface.
Tools for Success
Golden concedes that first time canning may cause stress. To bypass high kitchen anxiety she recommends buying The Complete Book of Home Preserving, by Judi Kingly and Lauren Divine (Ball corporation publisher, 2006). This book, Golden says, breaks down the canning process into simple steps enabling the preparation of everything ahead of time. Preparation is the key to less stress. Golden observes that people have canned food for centuries, without help from our modern kitchen gadgets.
To take advantage of modern conveniences inexpensively, try places like Wal-Mart or Target. On-line shopping delivers a seven piece canning set with a steel canning rack, sterilizing rack for lids, two stainless-steel funnels, a magnetic lid wand, a jar lifter, a canning rack, and cheese cloth - all for $49.95! Such kits often lack large pots, which can be purchased separately. They vary in price from $18.00 to $200.00.
Start off with simple recipes. For hands-on-learning, there is a class called Canning for Dummies at Great News Cooking School in Pacific Beach.
Keep in mind canning dates back to the 18th century in France. The Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, wanting to feed his armies, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert won the competition with airtight sealing in a newly designed glass canning jar.
Canning remains an inexpensive way to preserve homegrown food that is preservative-free and tastes garden-fresh. Persevere with preservation and become an expert, like my grandmother.
Anna’s Orange Marmalade
A Barefoot Contessa recipe (www.barefootcontessa.com)
Yields 3-4 pints
4 large seedless oranges
8 cups of water
8 cups of sugar
Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless-steel pot. Add 8 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves.
Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.
The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Turn the heat to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it and if it’s too hard, add more water.)
Pour the mar marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars; wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damppaper towel, and seal with the lids. Store in the pantry for up to a year.
Easy Loquat Jam
By Erika Kerekes (www.inerikaskitchen.com)
Peel the loquats and strip the flesh from the seedpod with your hands over a bowl, mushing it up as you go.
Add sugar - I used about a cup per pound of loquats (before peeling)—but this is very approximate. Let the mixture sit about half an hour so the juices come out of the fruit, then mix with a spoon to distribute.
Then put over a medium flame, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 45 minutes or until it looks thickened. I don't use pectin—loquats have their own.
Pour into sterilized jars and cap.
Aenne Carver is a Master Gardener, writer and lecturer. She also is associate editor of California Garden magazine. Visit her web site, www.thethriftygardener.com for a schedule of her talks and classes.