Our food columnist loves to do some canning

Most years, I can ... something.

Applesauce is the only thing I can every year. Who can say no to the leftover apples from my parents' orchard at the end of the season? I have two kids who are spoiled with the homemade stuff and won't touch store-bought.

Every few years or so, I decide to can some jam. But really, my favorite is strawberry freezer jam, so I often don't bother with hauling out the canner for jam. We just eat the strawberry freezer jam, but invariably it runs out long before the next strawberry season.

Sometimes I can peaches. I can't imagine how store-bought canned peaches can be so gross when homemade ones are so good. It's highly worth it to can peaches at home. But for several years in a row, I missed peach season entirely at my parents' farm (Triple B Farms in Forward), and the itty-bitty peaches at my local farmers market seemed like too much work. The smaller the peaches, the more skin you have to peel.

I used to make bread-and-butter zucchini pickles, but I haven't done that in years. And the one time I tried to make salsa, it tasted exactly like chunky vinegar, so I had to throw out the entire batch because we all hated it.

This year I decided to turn over a new leaf. A temporary change in my husband's job requires us to be thriftier this year. Both my kids went back to school in mid-August -- prime canning season -- and I would have time to myself to accomplish it. And we visited my parents' farm right before the start of school, so I had dibs on free produce. The evidence in favor of canning stacked up before my eyes.

And it's not too late for readers to join me in this venture. Although I started my canning binge almost a month ago, there's still plenty of fresh, local produce available for home canners at farms and farmers markets.

I came home from that farm visit with a minivan that looked like a farmers market on wheels. I had two half-bushel boxes of tomatoes, two half-bushel boxes of peaches, a cooler stuffed with a big lidded bucket of pitted sour cherries and two bags of frozen raspberries, and the sweet corn, pickling cucumbers and sweet peppers that we would eat without prior canning.

When we pulled into the driveway, we were three days from the start of school. I hauled the boxes of peaches and tomatoes right into the air-conditioned living room.

But somehow, deep inside, I had a premonition that it would be nasty business if I left those things sit there for three days.

The next morning, I got up and got right to work. Kids, schmids -- let 'em play in the back yard. I put up two canner loads of peaches -- 14 quarts.

And then I figured, the tomatoes aren't all that ripe yet... why not just let them sit there until back-to-school?

But lounging on the couch that evening, I could smell those tomatoes. And it was a scary smell. What if they ripened before I got to them?

So I canned tomato sauce and raw-pack tomatoes the next day -- seven jars of each. And I vowed I'd never bother with sauce again; you need about a million tomatoes to yield a canner batch of sauce. Admittedly, though, we will enjoy this batch.

I knew I still wanted to make some more good stuff, but the rest could wait. The sour cherries and raspberries went into the freezer; they make jam just as nicely from frozen as from fresh. I also wanted to make my mom's Plum Conserve that I remembered salivating over in my girlhood. And I started to think it would be a good idea to revisit salsa, too. But I didn't even have plums or salsa ingredients, so I could hit the farmers market after school started.

So we plunged into school open houses and the first day of school. I waited out at my son's bus stop with him that first morning and realized he had forgotten his lunch. I ran back in to get it -- and fell out of my slip-on shoe and broke my foot.

And all I could think was, "Thank goodness I canned those tomatoes!"

Plum conserve

PG tested

Whoa. It is every bit as good as I remembered from childhood.

  • 5 cups chopped, pitted plums (about 2 pounds)

  • 3 cups sugar

  • 1 cup chopped, seeded orange pulp (from about 1 large orange)

  • 1 cup raisins

  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced orange peel

  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Combine all ingredients except pecans in a large saucepot. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly almost to gelling point, about 15 minutes. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add nuts the last 5 minutes of cooking. Ladle hot conserve into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust 2-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

-- Ball Blue Book of Preserving (Alltrista Consumer Products,

first printed 1909)

Mixed-fruit jelly

PG tested

You can go online and find methods to make cherry juice from whole cherries, for instance, but I have found that the easiest way to make fruit juice is to freeze your fruit. Thaw the fruit in the refrigerator, drain it in a strainer over a bowl and voila -- fruit juice. (The drained fruit can then be used to make jam or pies.)

I had on hand frozen sour cherries and black and red raspberries that I thawed in the refrigerator. For my mixed-fruit jelly, I used a combination of about 21/2 cups black-raspberry juice, 1 cup sour-cherry juice and 1/2 cup red-raspberry juice. I was about 1/2 cup short on liquid, so I filled in with 1/2 cup bottled apple juice. This combination yielded an attractive purple jelly with just the right sweetness.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 4 1/2 cups fruit juice (see note above)

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl, divided

  • 1 box Sure-Jell For Less or No Sugar pectin

  • 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine

Place fruit juice in a large saucepot.

In a separate small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the sugar and pectin in a small bowl. Add pectin mixture to fruit juice in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 21/4 cups sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches.) Add boiling water if necessary. Cover; bring water to gentle boil Process 5 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely.

-- Adapted from kraftbrands.com/surejell

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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