Thinking Ahead to Winter Pt2 – Canning

This is the 2nd part of what is going to end up being more than 2 parts all about preparing items for the winter ahead.  The key to all of this is to get as fresh and local as you can find or afford.  While traditionally Canning is thought of as a fall activity, there are many things in season now that can be prepared.  If you do things as the fruit or vegetable comes into season, you’ll be doing a bunch of little projects as you go instead of trying to attempt one big marathon session of canning, the thought of which makes my feet hurt already! 

Canning involves a lot more preparation then freezing does.  If you want to be able to keep the items you make, safely, in your cupboards or root cellar, they have to be processed in a water bath before putting them away.  The main items you’ll need to successfully can your own jam, pickles, spaghetti sauce, or whatever else you can think of are the following:

– Large, Heavy bottomed pot for cooking sauces or jams in. 

– Jars.  My favorite sizes are jam jars, pint jars (2 cups or 500ml), and quart jars (4 cups or 1000ml)  Jars can be bought at Canadian tire for a decent price or you can search kijiji or MCC/Value Village for cans.

-Lids.  Canning lids come in 2 parts.  There’s a metal ring that screws on and a metal snap lid with a rubber seal on the bottom.  If you buy your jars brand new, they will come with both parts.  Otherwise, both the metal rings and snap lids can be bought at Canadian tire, sometimes dollar stores.  It’s best to replace snap lids after one use, although if I’m just canning soup without processing it and am keeping it in the fridge I will re-use them.

– Tongs.  Metal tongs will help you lift the hot jars in and out of the water bath before and after processing.  It also helps you grab the lids and rings from the hot water before putting them on the jars.

– Funnel.  Really handy if you don’t want to make a huge mess when trying to ladle your hot jam/sauce into the jars!

– Cookie Sheet.  Makes moving the jars in and out of the oven that much easier…and we like easy.

– Canner.  A canner is a large pot used to process jars in.  It usually comes with a rack and is cheaper to buy then a stock pot.  Although I suppose Alton Brown would be upset with me for buying an item that isn’t very multipurpose.  Oh well.

The general steps to canning involve heating (read, sterilizing) your jars in a 200 degree oven, heating (sterilizing) your lids and rings in a small sauce pan of boiling water, cooking your jam/sauce as per the recipe, ladling it into the hot jars, wiping off the edges, placing the lids and rings on the jar and then processing it in a canner filled with boiling water for the recommended time.  The jars are usually left in the water for about 5-10 minutes after you’ve removed it from the heat and then removed to the side.  Let the jars sit on the counter for about 24 hours, check the seals to make sure it’s sealed properly and then store in a dark, cool place for about 1 year.  I find it very simple, the most tedious part of the entire thing is preparing your fruit or veggies for cooking. 

The first item I canned was a batch of cherry preserves.  I’ve never had cherry preserves or used cherry preserves but it sounded like a good idea at the time and bing cherries were on sale for under $2/lb.  I brought 4lbs home with me and proceeded to de-step and pit all 4 lbs of cherries.  It took me about an hour by myself.  Two days later and my fingers are still stained.  (!)  3lbs of cherries were turned into preserve and the other lb were frozen for use in the winter, probably for smoothies.  Since I had already removed the pits, I didn’t want to just eat them.  I ended up with about 3 pint jars of preserves.  I don’t think I let them cook down far enough, cause they seem fairly runny in the jars but I don’t have any fruit float and you can see cherries throughout the syrup.  Although since I’ve never HAD cherry preserves, I don’t know how thick it’s supposed to be!

Simple Cherry Preserves

3 lbs sweet or sour cherries, stems and pits removed

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

1. Place the cherries in a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Add a splash of water and bring to a boil.  Crush cherries to release the juice. 

2. Add sugar and mix to dissolve.  Then add lemon juice and stir.  Bring to a nice boil and let it go for about 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired gel is reached.  Turn off heat and let fruit sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release any trapped air (helps prevent fruit from floating to the top of the jars).  Skim off any foam.

3.  Ladle into hot pint jars.  Wipe the edges clean and place a new seal lid on top.  Screw the ring down until just tight.  Process in water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove lid and remove pot from heat, let stand for 5 minutes.  Remove jars from pot, let sit on the counter for 24 hours. Check seals and store in dark cool place for about a year.

It really is that easy!