Canning is such an ordeal.
A good farmer friend recently gave me several pounds of apricots -- "seconds" that had weather blemishes but were fine for canning. And so I pulled from various parts of the basement my late grandmother's dusty, slightly rusty canning pot, some old jars and new lids, and other gear, fired up the stove, and went on an hours-long tear of boiling, skinning, chopping, more boiling, stirring, and boiling again -- all on one of the hottest Sundays of the year.
But when it was all over, I had four little half-pint jars of the sweetest, most gorgeous orange apricot jam to "put up" in the basement for winter, plus a jar to give to my farmer friend. A little partial jar I put in the fridge and fed it this week, on my wife's homemade bread, to her and my son, who told me, "I want your jam!"
Canning is so fabulous!
"Hard but wonderful" pretty much sums up my take on canning. I was inspired to do it again this season by not just the apricots, but also one of several preserving books to cross my desk this season: "Food in Jars" by Marisa McClellan (Running Press, 2012, $23).
Ms. McClellan blogs about canning, pickling and preserving at foodinjars.com, which twice was nominated by Saveur magazine for a Best Food Blog award. The book is subtitled, "Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round," and that and her simple sensibility make you feel like you really can do it, even if you've never done it before.
Doing small amounts, she says over the phone from Philadelphia, where she lives on the 20th floor of a high-rise, "really resonates with people," because it's less work and less you have to spend on fruit and vegetables. But that's not people's biggest canning fear.
"Hear me now," she writes in the introduction. "If you stick to the high-acid foods -- like most jams, jellies and pickles -- you are not going to kill anyone."
If something goes biologically wrong with high-acid foods, it will be evident as soon as you open the jar. With less acidic stuff, you just have to can with greater care, consulting trusted sources such as Ball, which published the bible, the "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving," and offers advice and recipes online at freshpreserving.com.
If you've toyed with trying this, or used to do it but haven't in a while, this is the season when fruits and vegetables are available in great quantity.
As for recipes, beautiful new books also are abundant. Another one that I plan to try soon is "Homemade Jams & Preserves: Over 90 Recipes for Luscious Jams, Tangy Marmalades, Crunchy Chutneys, and More" by Mary Tragellas. It's a charming British book, "Notes from the Jam Cupboard," just republished in the U.S. by Griffin ($24.99). Interestingly, Ms. Tragellas is old-school and does not use a hot-water bath for her recipes, but rather seals her hot jars with wax/wax paper. But the hot-water bath is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://nchfp.uga.edu/index.html), which also recommends a pressure canner for low-acid foods.
If you need a little more inspiration, Saturday, July 14, is National Can-It-Forward Day.
Organized by the canning experts at Ball, the second annual event will include canning events at farmers markets around the country -- alas, none in Western Pennsylvania. But you can watch online at the Ball website, FreshPreserving.com, as pros -- at the Minnestra farmers market in Muncie, Ind. -- demonstrate how easy it is to preserve fresh foods from the garden with a live webcast of canning demonstrations and fresh preserving techniques. Viewers can ask questions and get answers in real time.
The company welcomes home cooks to connect to all this by canning along with friends at home, as well as connecting on Facebook and Twitter.
The canning festivities continue July 20 to 23, when the fourth Can-a-Rama is organized by Canning Across America, a collective of cooks, gardeners and food lovers committed to the revival of the lost art of "putting up" food. As described on its website, canningacrossamerica.com, "Our goal is to promote safe food preservation and the joys of community building through food. We believe in celebrating the bounty of local and seasonal produce and taking greater control of our food supply. Together, we can."
Can-a-Rama is a weekend of "putting up, preserving, pickling and canning, coast to coast, from sea to shining sea." The group, which started in Seattle, will provide recipes and other resources, as well as prizes. Its website lists other events, including the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Sept. 21-23, which will include workshops on Savory Jams and "Perplexed by Preserving? Your home food preservation questions answered" by blogger Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of "Put 'em Up" (MotherEarthNewsFair.com).
For those itching to be hands-on, Slow Food Pittsburgh is once again offering a pickle-making class. It's at 1 p.m. July 15 at Fern Hollow Nature Center, Sewickley Heights. Students will make a pint of "Grandma's Dills," and get to watch as experts make pickled turnips, sweet and sour cherries, and zucchini pickles. Cost is $20 and includes lunch of bread and cheese, plus pickle and salad. Register by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the fourth year that Slow Food Pittsburgh has offered canning and preserving classes. Later this season, it will offer a class on canning peaches (July 29 at McConnell's Farm), one on canning tomatoes (Sept. 9 at Blackberry Meadows), a second pickle class, and a class on making kraut, kimchee, kombucha and other fermented foods. Early in 2013, the group will offer a class in winter preserving. For registration details, join Slow Food's email list at slowfoodpgh.com.
Slow Food Pittsburgh co-founder and my friend Virginia Phillips says, "We see interest over a broad age span -- mother/daughter couples, guys from college age to retired, young parents toting infants, youthful DIYers, grandparent types who are welcome to put in their wisdom of ages."
"I've found that just about any locally grown, tree-ripened apricot makes stellar jam," writes Marisa McClellan, "and I can't really see going a year without its sweet-tart goodness for spreading on buttered toast." I prepared 6 half-pint jars, per the straightforward 15-step process she outlines in her book, which you'll also need to follow. Heating the jam to 220 degrees is how she gets it to set.
-- Bob Batz Jr.
- 6 cups peeled, pitted, and diced apricots (about 3 pounds whole apricots)
- 3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Prepare a boiling water bath and 3 regular-mouth 1-pint jars according to the process on Page 10 of the book. Place the lids in a small saucepan, cover them with water, and simmer over very low heat.
Combine the apricots and sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fruit is tender and the liquid looks syrupy.
Add the lemon juice and zest and return to a boil. Insert your candy thermometer into the jam and attach it to the side of the pot. Let the jam boil vigorously until it reaches 220 degrees.
When the jam has reached 220 degrees and the temperature has remained steady for 2 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and ladle the jam into the prepared jars. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
-- "Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round" by Marisa McClellan (Running Press, 2012, $23).
Italian-Style Pickled Green Beans
Green beans can overwhelm the gardener. This recipe (it can be doubled) is a new way to put up beans from the new "Pickled Pantry" by Andrea Chesman. She notes, "Pack the beans tightly. You can chop some beans in half to fill the space at the top of the jar. It helps to hold the jar at an angle and add the beans vertically, shaking the jar to help them settle in."
-- Susan Banks
- 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 teaspoons pickling or fine sea salt
- 4 cups trimmed, 4-inch long green beans (about 12 ounces)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 large sprig fresh basil, oregano, rosemary, or thyme
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the white wine vinegar, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt.
Pack the beans, garlic and basil in a clean hot 1-quart canning jar, shaking the jar as you pack to settle the beans and create space for more. Leave about 1/2-inch head space. Pour in the hot vinegar mixture. Top off with olive oil, completely covering the beans and leaving 1/2-inch head space. Remove any air bubbles and seal.
Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool undisturbed for 12 hours. Store in a cool, dry place. Do not open for at least 6 weeks to allow the flavor to develop.
-- "Pickled Pantry: From Apples to Zucchini, 150 Recipes for Pickles, Relish, Chutneys & More" by Andrea Chesman (Storey, June 2012, $19.95)
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com or 412-263-1930.