Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Forays into Canning

In addition to putting corn and zucchini in the freezer, this summer I have been making forays into canning.  I grew up surrounded by people canning, my mamaw canned everything she could -- green beans, tomatoes, pickles, peaches, meat, sausage, relish, chow chow, and on and on.  She kept her jars  on wooden shelves down under the house in a little dirt-floored cellar until the day my papaw built a storage building so she could get to her canned goods a little more conveniently.  They also had at least two large chest freezers on the back porch that were stuffed full of more food.  If there had ever been a national disaster, I would've headed for their little house in the hills -- it would take a long time to starve them out.  For many years Mamaw kept me supplied with quart jars of green beans, tomatoes, and pickles.  When I got too many empty jars, I would bag them up and send them back to be used again.  It was my grandparents' way of taking care of me even though I lived far away.

Only once, about eighteen years ago, did I do any canning for myself, and then I made strawberry jam. I made that first batch of jam using Pomona's Universal Pectin, which allows you to use MUCH less sugar.  You can even make jams with sugar substitutes or honey.  I like being able to sweeten to taste because everyone at my house likes their jam a little less sweet.  And the directions that come with the pectin are easy to follow.  I found it at my local health food store, but if you can't find it locally you can find it online.  A box lasts you for at least two batches.  

This year I started with that same recipe.  I didn't grow any berries, but I found some at a good price and bought enough so that I was forced to can them.
I made ten little jelly jars of strawberry jam, and I was so proud and tickled pink I gave them their own little photo shoot.  Don't you love those little quilted jelly jars?

Then I had a whole counter full of cucumbers that needed to be dealt with.  This was on the same day that I put up that last batch of corn -- the day before I was leaving to go out of town.  Not great timing, but it needed to be done.  Maybe I work better under pressure.
Ignore the pack of hamburger that snuck into the picture
I sliced the cucumbers up into spears.
Since I hadn't done this before (not even eighteen years ago), I did the easy thing and purchased the Ball Kosher Dill seasonings mix and followed the directions on the package.
Pouring the pickling mix over the pickles
These are the wide-mouth pint jars.  At the moment I don't have a canner (although I have my eye on one), so I'm using my largest stockpot with a cake rack in the bottom.  It works fine except it is not deep enough for quarts.

The pickles have to sit six weeks in the jars without being opened, so I don't know yet how they turned out.  At least they actually LOOK like pickles.  I ended up with a dozen pint jars.
Here are the jars with their pretty labels.  The labels are a somewhat superfluous -- I could write on the lids -- but this is my first year canning, and I enjoyed shopping for the little accessories ;)
This past weekend I had the same problem with tomatoes that I had had with cucumbers.  They were overrunning my counter and had to be dealt with.  I had some slicing tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, but mostly I had Romas.  I initially planted the Romas intending to dehydrate them.  (I love dehydrated tomatoes.  They are a treat as good as candy to me).  But I don't own a dehydrator, and before I buy one I want to make sure I would really use it.  Any regular dehydrator users out there?
The last jar has a little separation but will still be fine (I think)
Anyway, I decided to can the tomatoes since I already had everything I needed for that.  I ended up with two pints of crushed tomatoes and two pints of tomato juice.  I learned three things from this experience:  1) a LOT of tomatoes go a LITTLE way  2)  better to use overripe tomatoes than underripe (don't even try)  3)  to make crushed tomatoes, you wring out the juice.  You might as well save all that juice and can it, too.

Finally, the strawberry jam was so delicious that I decided to do it again, only this time I made strawberry-rhubarb jam (eight jars).
It turned out delicious, too!
There is something about putting up food that is so satisfying. The pings as the lids seal are definitely music to my ears.  It is work, but it would be a rare person who is not proud of every jar they put on the shelf and every bag they put in the freezer.  Next I hope to get some peaches to freeze!

Here are the recipes I used:

Strawberry Jam -- Pomona Pectin recipes
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam -- Pomona Pectin recipes
Kosher Dill Pickles -- just followed the directions on Ball Kosher Dill mix
Crushed Tomatoes --

Let me add here that the PickYourOwn site is chockfull of helpful information.  Well worth a look!

I purchased a canning utensil set, which includes a wide-mouth funnel, a magnetic wand (to fish the lids out of the hot water), a thing to remove air bubbles, and a jar lifter.  I also purchased the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, the jars themselves (which can be reused), and the labels (not necessary, but a Sharpie marker is).  Not too much of an outlay, and next year it will be even less.  I am already dreaming of what else I can put up :)


  1. How wonderful! So impressed at your efforts, Angela. To begin with, those quilted jam jars...! I love them! And as for the contents. well words fail me! There is something absolutely primeval I guess about putting aside the plenty of summer for the winter that is not yet on the horizon but will surely come. And there is also something about being self-sufficient rather than reliant on the supplies of shops. I have never tried canning - my mother is a great preserver of fruit etc in Kilner jars which looking at your pics look very similar to your method and certainly involves the boiling to seal process. I know it's not about the look of the finished product but I think the jars just look so beautiful with their preserved contents glowing through the glass and their beautifully written labels.
    When you refer to dehyrated tomatoes do you mean sun-dried tomatoes? I absolutely adore these - one of my favourite suppers is a large homemade bread roll filled with sun-dried tomatoes that have been soaked in olive oil and herbs and then plenty of crisp lettuce out of the garden stuffed on top! Try it - it's yummy! Would have thought it might be worth raiding what the Italians do with their tomatoes to dry them - I think they do literally put them out in the sun and then store them submerged in olive oil. I don't know how they keep wildlife from pinching them though which might need considering. Texan sunshine ought to be perfect for the drying though. Keep me posted! I'll be fascinated to see what you put up next! Going to badger my mother now for the low-down on the Kilner Jars! E x

  2. From one canner to another Angela, you have been so busy and what a great job!! Isn't it a wonderful feeling to step back and look at your bounty in jars! I am on hiatus from canning for now as I have nothing coming from the garden to can or freeze, but my corn will soon be ready! And this has been a blessing as I am having to pack up my dishes , pictures and what nots to get the hardwood floors refinished.
    I enjoyed you telling of how your grandmother canned, I had a grandmother who did the same, she canned everything,she could. Seeing her do this when I was a young child must have instilled within me the desire to do the same. I do enjoy canning and freezing produce, though it is a lot of work, but it is so rewarding, plus I know who handled the product! ~smile~
    Now take a rest and enjoy!

  3. This is one bug I never caught...the canning one that is. I did make some pickles with my mother a couple of years ago and it was fun to make them with her, but to do it myself? Nope. At least, I know what you're talking about with the satisfying little pings as the jars seal. ☺

    Angela, my antivirus nearly goes wild as I try to visit you. I'll send a picture of it to your email so you can see. Perhaps it is something that you know about.

  4. Angela, Iso admire how you keep stepping out and trying new things! And doing them all so well! Your canned jams and produce look beautiful!
    Our canning this year has consisted of strawberry/pineapple jam. Last year, we made and canned green pepper jam, pepper relish, and blueberry/lime jam, but we still have some of each, so we probably skip a year on those products. A friend gave us some lemon/ginger marmalade this past Christmas, and if I could get ahold of that recipe, I'd be making some of that! :D

  5. You go girl...I am applauding and cheering from this side of the highway. You are pushing me to go do my grapes.
    You have been overly productive this summer and should pat yourself on the back!!!

  6. Wow!! That's a lot of canning! Beautiful to look at, and so satisfying after it's all done.

  7. You deserve a canner! It is lovely to see your preserves.

  8. Well, haven't you just been a busy little bee? Isn't it gratifying to work that hard and then have something to look at for it? Your grandma sounds like my mama. She's always loading us down wih jars filled with all kinds of good things to eat.


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