"Putting Up" Summer's Finest
While I can desperately wish to bottle up summer to save for those cold January days, it’s just not going to happen. I can, however, preserve summer’s finest flavours in jams, jellies, condiments and pickles.
Home preserving is more popular than ever, and with good reason. We are more and more conscious of what we eat, and we can know best what we’re feeding our family by making it ourselves. But for those who missed the tradition of “putting up” summer’s best fruits and vegetables with their mother or grandmother, it is important to have complete and accurate answers to the science and art of home preserving. This knowledge will give you the confidence to share the fruits of your labour with friends and family.
Understanding the principles behind preserving will guide you to safe home preserving. It really comes down to three basic elements: the ingredients, the vessel and the process.
Whether a strawberry jam, a chili sauce or a pickle, every preserve must contain at least one, but often a combination of sugar, salt and/or acid to be safely processed and stored. Each of these elements inhibits bacterial or microbial growth, allowing preserves to be stored in a pantry, versus the fridge.
Some ingredients like strawberries contain natural acidity while others, such as cucumbers, contain none. This is why it is vitally important to follow tested preserving recipes, which DO call for safe amounts of these ingredients. Also, while it might be tempting to reduce the amount of sugar in a jam, the sugar is key to making the jam safe and stable (and also works to set pectin, too). If you wish to make such changes, then a freezer jam might be ideal to suit your needs.
Having the right tools before you go out to pick your own strawberries is also important to safe and happy preserving. While you can re-use glass jars (be sure to check for any chips or cracks), you must always use brand new two-step lids. There are many canning tools available to make the process of safely handling, filling and moving hot jars easier.
Following safe canning procedures is critical, and while you should follow the recipe method closely, it is wise to use current and up-to-date practices. I rely on Bernardin’s website, bernardin.ca, for the most current approved methods. In a nutshell, all preserves, after packed while hot into jars, should be heat processed – the filled jars should be gently set into a pot of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes (with increases at higher altitude), before being removed to cool upright, so that a vacuum is created that seals the jar properly.
So buy those blueberries, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers while they are ripe and delicious! You will certainly appreciate that taste of sunshine in the middle of winter.