As the summer months come to a close, it’s time to start thinking of preserving those fruits and vegetables you enjoyed throughout those warm months. When one thinks of canning or preserving you may envision a grandmother on a farm cooking up leftover crops. The process of making jams, jellies, syrups and pickles may seem complicated but, with a few basic tools and some fresh fruit, it is really quite easy and rewarding!
I love to cook and loved receiving homemade jam from a friend at the holidays. So, I investigated what it took to can at home and realized it was pretty easy. My wife presented me with a canning kit for my birthday and I was off. Most of my canning involves making jams and syrups using blueberries and strawberries. To begin, you of course need a supply of fresh fruit. My wife and daughters enjoy picking blueberries and strawberries as summer begins. There are several farms that have “pick your own” areas and it is a great activity for all ages. Your clothes may get a little stained but when you carry home your buckets filled with fresh berries you will be so pleased. My wife enjoys picking blueberries at a farm in Rochester, MA and we typically get our strawberries from a farm stand in Marion, MA. Farm stands are a great place to get freshly picked items if you cannot find time to pick your own. I don’t enjoy canning during the summer so we freeze the fruits as soon as they are picked or purchased. It is best to only wash the berries lightly and let them dry spread out on a cookie sheet. Once dry, we freeze them on that sheet pan or in cake pans, so the berries are separated. Once frozen, we place them in zipper freezer bags in one or two cup portions. They are now ready for canning in the months to come.
Ok, let’s start canning! Here are the supplies I use to make my preserved item:
- Canning Water Bath Pot - This kit comes with a jar lifter rack and the lid is vented with a pressure gauge in its knob. Completed preserves need to be immersed and boiled for a certain period of time and temperature so they will not spoil. I use a Victorio 24 quart canner/steamer with rack. There are other versions of a water bath pots. There are black-enameled ones that are similar to lobster pots and some recipes call for pressure cookers.
- Jars – There are a variety of canning jars available depending on what you are preparing. I use jars made by Ball. This is the 8 ounce one I use for jam, quilted with a two-piece lid. They can be purchased at supermarkets and store like Ocean State Job Lot.
- Individual Jar Lifter – This is used to handle jars going in and out of water bath.
- Canning Funnel – Makes ladling hot jam mixtures into jars a lot neater. Or, you can purchase a 4-piece Tool Set from Ball with a Jar Funnel, a Jar Lifter, a lid lifter with magnet and a Bubble Remover (something I rarely use).
- Pectin – This is what makes jams become jams. It comes in powder and liquid forms. Different recipes call for a certain type. I use Ball’s RealFruit Classic Pectin powder.
- Candy Thermometer – You will need this for making syrups. It doesn’t need to be fancy. They are found in all types of stores that sell cooking equipment.
- Labels – There are many ways to label your finished products. I use Avery labels that I customize on my computer and print them myself. However, you can purchase blank ones to write on or use tie-on tags instead. You can get very creative!
Ok, let’s get cooking! First you need a good recipe for your concoction. There are numerous canning and preserving cookbooks out there, many with some interesting combinations of flavors. I prefer to keep it simple. I use Ball’s Traditional Strawberry Jam recipe:
- 5 cups crushed strawberries (about 5 lbs.) – If you freeze your berries you don’t need to crush them as they will mash easily when they are cooking
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Classic Pectin
- 7 cups sugar
- Prepare the water bath canning pot, which means fill it with water to within 3-4 inches from top and start the water boiling. While that is starting, heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready to use (this is to sterilize them). Set rim parts of lids aside.
- Combine strawberries and lemon juice in a 6-8 quart pot on medium heat, mashing while you stir. Gradually stir in pectin a little at a time. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, on high heat, that settles down when you stir it. The smell this gives off is AMAZING!
- Add entire measure of sugar. Stir until dissolve. Return to rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
- Ladle jam into hot jars, leaving about ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rim cover. Place lids on jars and screw rims on tight. Place jar rack into water bath pot in an elevated position. Place jars onto rack carefully, using jar lifter. Submerge jars gently, cover pot and boil for 10 minutes. If using Victorio pot, the lid knob has a pressure guide to follow.
- Elevate jar rack back to elevated position and carefully remove jars from pot using jar lifter. Place on cooling rack. As they cool you will hear the lids compress and “pop”, sealing the jars.
This recipe makes about 8-9 8 ounce jars of jam.
I store my completed jam in a cool, dry place. They only need refrigeration after opening.
Mixed Berry Jam is also delicious! It is basically the same recipe as the Classic Strawberry but I dived the needed cups of fruit into blueberry/strawberry or blueberry/raspberry/strawberry totaling around 5 cups. It is difficult to find a place to pick raspberries because their season is short. I mix frozen raspberries in with my fresh berries and they work great.
Another interesting recipe, especially for the holidays is Christmas Jam:
- 3 cups cranberries
- 1 orange, peeled and seeded
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1 ½ cups strawberries
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 cups sugar
- ½ cup water
- 4 tablespoons RealFruit pectin
- Combine cranberries and sections of seeded orange in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add strawberries, zest, cloves, and cinnamon. Continue processing until finely chopped, but not pureed.
- Stir together fruit mixture, sugar, and water in a large saucepan until blended. Cook 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Increase heat to high and bring mixture to a rolling boil. Stir in pectin slowly. Bring to a rolling boil again for 1 minute. Skim off foam and ladle into 8 ounce jars, sterilized as before.
- Process in water bath for 10 minutes. Makes about seven 8 ounce jars.
I also enjoy making Blueberry Syrup which can be used on pancakes and ice cream. For syrups, you do not need to use the water bath pot. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 ½ pounds blueberries (5 cups)
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 1-inch strips of lemon zest (removed with vegetable peeler)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- In a pot, combine blueberries with 1 cup of water and start cooking on low heat. Crush the berries with a potatoes masher and bring to a simmer. Simmer juice on low heat for 15 minutes. Using fine mesh strainer, strain juice into heat-proof bowl pressing hard on the solids to get the most juice out you can. Discard the solids.
- Rinse out your pot. Add the sugar, lemon zest and the remaining 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup over medium heat until it registers 225 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes. Add the blueberry juice and lemon juice to pot and boil over high heat for 1 minute. Let syrup cool, then discard the pieces of lemon zest. Pour syrup into clean bottles. Seal and refrigerate for 6 months.
I get my syrup bottles through a website called SpecialtyBottle.com. They have many different types of bottles with different tips to fit your needs. This is what mine looks like:
Now let’s talk about pickling! I haven’t dabbled in pickling much but I have made dill pickles and pickled mini peppers. For pickles, I use Ball’s 32 ounce jars. Here’s the recipe:
For every two quart-sized jars of pickles –
- 3 ½ pounds pickling cucumbers (small ones, about 6 inches long. I buy them at grocery store)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup Ball Kosher Dill Pickle Mix
- 2 32 ounce jars with lids and bands
- First, cut off ends of cucumber and cut into spears or halves.
- Combine water, vinegar and Kosher Dill Pickle Mix in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil.
- As with jams, prepare water bath canning pot and simmer jars and lids (not rims) in warm water to cleanse.
- Pack cucumbers into warm jars. Pour pickling liquid over spears leaving about ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rims. Place lids and screw rims on.
- As with jams, gently place jars in jar rack and lower into water bath. Place lid on bath and boil for 15 minutes (check Victorio knob dial). Remove jars from water bath and allow to cool. Lids should “pop” and seal just like jams. For best flavor, allow pickles to stand 4-6 weeks.
I used the same process for the small peppers as well.
I also enjoy making fruit-infused beverages. These are very easy to prepare but take a month or so for the fruit to infuse their essence into the liquid and for the flavors to develop. After the infusing process, the liquid is strained with cheesecloth or fine-mesh strainer into special bottles. I get these bottles at SpecialtyBottles.com as well.
Even though the initial set up seems daunting, the actual cooking process is pretty straightforward. The aromas you create preparing fresh berries is terrific! I guarantee that you friends and family will go crazy for your homemade gifts you have prepared for them. For gift giving, I often pair jams with a box of scone mix and syrups with a pancake/waffle mix. There is nothing better than being handed an empty jar or bottle from a previous recipient, begging for a refill!
You really Can Can, it’s fun and very rewarding!
By Dr. Scott Petrie