Making cupcakes may be my one true love, but I have to admit that I may have taken up a mistress. For mother’s day, my husband bought me a complete canning set and a book of recipes. Since then, I’ve become obsessed with canning! When I was younger, my mom had a beautiful garden. As one of our chores, my brother and I were expected to weed, harvest, and help take care of the garden. We had tomatoes, green beans, corn, cucumbers, pretty much every delicious vegetable you could think of. At the peak of ripeness, my mom would sit us down in the kitchen with a huge pile of green beans soaking in water and we’d snap until the skin under our fingernails was sore and our fingers were shriveled. Then she would can all of the goodies. We’d have canned green beans, pickles, and my personal favorite – pickled beets! Of course at the time, my brother and I grumbled and hated this chore. It was always so hot when we had to work in the garden and our dripping sweat attracted gnats and mosquitoes. Well, years later, I am still not a very good gardener. I never found the passion for it. However, I am a veggie fanatic! I love fresh local produce and one of my favorite things is the local farmers markets. Someday, I may develop the knack for gardening, but until then, I will continue to can all of the delicious vegetables that everyone else grows for me.
A few years ago, I tried to can something. I can’t quite remember what I tried to can, but I know that things did not go well. However, I am not one to be defeated. I have had the itch to successfully can for awhile. Last season I had a huge amount of plums that were ripening faster than I could eat them. I attempted to make plum freezer jam. It tasted….well… just okay. And it ended up in a drippy mess in my freezer. However, I refused to give it up. So when I got my canning kit for mother’s day, I started plotting my first batch.
My mother-in-law gave us a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam on our recent trip home to St. Louis and my 11-year-old son went crazy for it. So, with strawberry (and rhubarb) season upon us in Michigan, I gave it a shot. Following one of the recipes from my new canning cookbook, The Ball Complete Bok of Home Preserving, I smashed two containers of hulled strawberries. I made sure to buy the ripest, juiciest, not necessarily the prettiest, strawberries I could find. They tasted like candy they were so sweet! Next, I chopped up two stalks of rhubarb. I mixed the strawberries and rhubarb together in a pan with about 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (apparently there is an acidity factor to canning that I have yet to explore). I added one full packet of pectin – which from my research, is naturally made from apples and helps the jam/jelly set into its delicious jam/jelly consistency. I brought the pan to a boil. Finally, I added 5 ½ cups of sugar all at once (whoa momma, that was a lot of sugar!). My beginner’s mistake was that I didn’t use a big enough pan. Next, time I’ll definitely use a bigger pot. Then you bring the entire pot to rolling boil and let it go for a couple of minutes. It should bubble and thicken. You can test the thickness of the jam/jelly using a spoon. Finally, fill the prepared jars with the jam and process***. When I was finished processing the jam, I was really nervous because the lids kept popping up. However, I think part of my mistake in my previous canning attempts was not being patient. So I threw a towel over the jars and left them alone for the next 24 hours. Sure enough, the seals took and I now have six jars of strawberry rhubarb deliciousness!
Not too shabby for a first attempt! However, there are so many things I have yet to learn about this process. While my jam/jelly was delicious, it wasn’t quite the consistency I’d like. I like thicker jam. So I need to work on that. Also, I really need to learn the art and science of the canning process. The ultimate goal is to preserve the food for the colder months. However, if you don’t do it correctly you could endanger those eating it. Well, summer is almost upon us and I plan to can as much as possible, so stay tuned for more adventures!
***I highly recommend The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: It has all kinds of recipes to get started canning, including the processing aspect of canning. Processing generally includes heating the glass jars until they reach a certain temperature (for my jam it was 180 degrees Fahrenheit) and heating the lids to a simmer. You also have to fill the hot jars one by one with the hot jam and put them back into the water. Once all jars are back in the water, crank the heat up until you reach a rolling boil. Let it go for about 10 minutes depending on your altitude. One really essential tip I found in this book was that when 10 minutes was up, kill the heat and let the jars rest in the water for about 5 minutes. Take the jars out of the water and let them rest (with a towel over top of them) for 24 hours. Then test the seals to make sure they don’t “pop”.