Adventures in Home Canning
It took a cross-country flight, a ferry ride, a two-hour drive and a lady named Midge from Indiana for me to learn the fine art of canning.
While planning my trip to Seattle earlier this summer, I asked my friend Kate, a self-proclaimed hippie who's done her fair share of homesteading and living off the land, if she could teach me how to can. Much to my surprise, Kate was equally in the dark as this home-canning rube, so we agreed to embark on this adventure together.
It was decided that the canning extravaganza would take place at Kate's house in Port Angeles, Wash. About 90 miles northwest of Seattle, Port Angeles is a funky Olympic Mountain town known for Dungeness crabs, endless lavender fields and its close proximity to Victoria, B.C. It's also where the short story writer Raymond Carver is buried and lived with his wife, Tess Gallagher, before his death in 1988.
In preparation, Kate bought a set of wide-mouth quart and half-pint jars from Velma at the Serenity House thrift store, and my Seattle houseboat pal Leslie and I picked up a case of peaches and a flat of irresistible-looking raspberries from the Ballard farmers' market.
In a perfect world, we would have roadtripped to Port Angeles the night before and been fresh for a morning of canning, but alas, we got a late start and did both the drive as well as the canning all in one day. We also were short on lemons, sugar and additional canning supplies such as a rack, seals, wide-mouth funnel, but that meant a visit was in order to Swain's, the coolest general store on the planet, a blast from the sawdusty hardware-store past. (I bought a fab pair of purple galoshes in the midst of the madness.)
Back in the kitchen, we begin to peel through various books, including "Joy of Cooking," an antiquated copy of a canning guide from jar manufacturer Kerr's and two cookbooks from Seattle-area chef, cookbook author and preserving aficionado Greg Atkinson.
While I perused Atkinson's books for simple recipes using peaches and berries, the girls studied the other books for canning technique and safety. We were feeling a bit overwhelmed, particularly by the process, but then Kate announces there is a backyard resource in our midst available for consultation. She rings up Midge, a neighbor's mother-in-law visiting from Indiana, who grew up canning in North Dakota, and has continued the tradition as a married lady for the past 47 years.
Midge lent us a special set of tongs to help with jar extraction from boiling water and an extra wide pot (think lobster pot) and wished us luck.
While I blanched, peeled and pitted the peaches, Kate brought up three huge pots of water to a boil, outfitted us with aprons and cranked up the tunes on her record player. Yep, that's right, we canned to vinyl from the 70s, a mix of Earth, Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin, Doobie Brothers and Santana to keep us on our canning toes.
For the next several hours, we played with boiling water, jars and seals, an incredibly gratifying experience that requires not two, but three people to do the job without feeling overwhelmed. Everyone had a job, which required our full attention and precision, not to mention a constant supply of boiling water.
After two projects, we were tuckered out, hungry and ready for wine. In the morning, we called Midge and asked her to verify our seals and we got gold stars of approval. Unfortunately, our jam was more like "syrup" or compote that you'd use on pancakes or waffles, but it was delicious nonetheless.
Below, the recipes we used, followed by a few pointers e-mailed from readers with canning experience. And by all means, share your canning tales, tips and tricks in the comments area below.
And yes, I'll be canning again. We three have agreed to make this an annual tradition, back in Port Angeles. Kate says she's been invited to a canning party this month, and I'm thinking I could use more practice; I just need to find a few eager kindred spirits. Tomatoes, anyone?
Home-Canned Peaches With Vanilla Beans
From "In Season" by Greg Atkinson
16 freestone peaches
6 cups water
3 - 3 Â½ cups granulated sugar
4 vanilla beans
To sterilize jars: In a canning kettle or large stockpot filled with boiling water, submerge wide-mouthed, quart-sized canning jars and allow them to simmer while peaches are being prepared. Make sure the jars are completely covered with water.
"In a separate pot of boiling water, blanch peaches for about 1 minute to help loosen skins and ease peeling. With tongs, extract peaches and place in an ice bath to cool. Peel peaches and slice in half; remove pits.
In a large saucepan, combine water and sugar. Stir until dissolved and bring mixture up to a boil. Cook for a minute, then remove pot from heat and allow to rest.
With canning tongs, remove jars from simmering water and place on a table lined with an absorbent towel. Empty jars of water (do one at a time) and place 7 or 8 peach halves and 1 split vanilla bean in each sterilized jar.
Using wide-mouthed funnel, pour syrup over peaches, leaving Â½ inch headspace at top of each jar. Seal jars according to manufacturers' instructions (available in canning guides or on packaging of canning seals).
Dip one corner of a clean towel into boiling water and wipe lips of jars to remove dirt, remaining food, etc. You want a pristine lid environment.
Place sealed jar back in boiling water (rack is useful( and allow to boil for 30 minutes. Lift out of water bath and allow jars to cool, undisturbed, for several hours or overnight.
Note from Midge: Jars will "ping" on their own telling you that they have properly sealed, or you can test jars the next day, tapping the center of the jar tops with a knife (or something metal). If the jar "sings," the seal is good; if the sound is dull and hollow, the seal is incorrect. Those jars must be refrigerated and used within a few weeks. Properly sealed jars can store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Makes 4 quarts.
Backyard Raspberry Jam
From "West Coast Cooking" by Greg Atkinson
4 cups raspberries (we used a combination of raspberries and blackberries)
Â½ cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
To sterilize jars: In a canning kettle or large stockpot filled with boiling water, submerge wide-mouthed, half pint-sized canning jars and allow them to simmer, while fruit is being prepared. Make sure jars are completely covered with boiling water.
Meanwhile, mash berries over high heat with lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring up to a boil, then add sugar and return to a boil. Cook until mixture has reached a temperature of 220 degrees. Take off heat.
Ladle jam into sterilized jars.
Dip one corner of a clean towel into boiling water and wipe lips of jars to remove dirt, remaining food, etc. You want a pristine lid environment. Seal jars according to manufacturers' instructions (available in canning guides or on packaging of canning seals).
Return jars to boiling water for 5 minutes.
Lift out of water bath and allow jars to cool, undisturbed, for several hours or overnight.
Makes 5 half-pint jars.
Erin from Rochester, NY writes: "For inspiration about canning that doesn't require you to turn your kitchen â€¨into a factory, I recommend reading Laurie Colwin's essay "Jam Anxiety" in â€¨More Home Cooking. Then check out Edon Waycott's "Preserving the Taste," aâ€¨ short book that gives a fine basic overview of basic preserving projects and â€¨includes recipes that aren't unpleasantly sweet
Yvonne from Fort Wayne, Ind. suggests canning in a dishwasher: "Process your tomatoes into juice or whatever, put hot juice into hot jars, add hot lids and rings [follow package directions]. Put in dishwasher without soap. Put on normal cycle with hot drying. By the time the jars have run through the cycle and cooled they are sealed.) Excellent when you have a bonanza of tomatoes because you can can everything in one batch instead of standing over a hot stove all day with multiple batches."
Sarah from Long Island, NY , who canned as a kid with her mother recommends" "super strong magnets on an extending arm. They collapse into a pen size/shape, but you can make them longer, and they make it really easy to get the lids and seals out of hot (but not boiling!) water. Here's a picture of one from amazon - they often have them at hardware stores. " (http://tinyurl.com/2judjj )
"They also sometimes sell something similar with canning supplies for 4 times the price, but it's not always extendable - I really like having the extra length, when I have 3 or 4 kettles going on the stove."
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