As a culture, we take a lot of things for granted. We know that at any moment, we can pop over to the grocery store and find a tomato, a banana, and a bunch of asparagus all on the shelves together. Although this unseasonable mix of vegetables and fruits is a staple in any grocery store across the US, this false sense of (petroleum-based) security has only recently become the case.
If families thought they’d want tomato-based meals in winter, a time when growing tomatoes requires a hothouse or a passport to warmer climates, they needed to think about six months ahead, during the height of tomato season. Tomatoes were picked when ripe and prepared in the family kitchen, popping those ripe juicy tomatoes into jars. There were no subpar, mealy tomatoes at the grocery store, so you had to make due with what you could can, or put up, yourself.
For some reason, the process of canning has been one that we have slowly become terrified by. We think of it as more of a science experiment than as a centuries-old process to preserve a season’s bounty. And oh, in case you had been able to put it out of your mind, did you know that botulism was lurking around every home-processed Ball jar? Gasp!
But the truth is, it’s not rocket science, and it’s not something your great-granny did that doesn’t apply to you anymore either. These ideas are still relevant now, despite any perceptions that organic nourishment is readily and infinitely available, and you can even up the foody-ante, using combinations of ingredients you’d never find on supermarket shelves. You don’t need a huge kitchen, or even particularly special equipment. And you won’t kill yourself doing it. You just won’t.
Canning high acid fruits and vegetables really isn’t all that hard. You want the freshest, least pesticide dusted produce you can find. Grow it? Awesome. Grab it from a farmer’s market? Equally awesome. You can make foody quality delights that you’d never find in a grocery store as well as pantry staples.
What you’ll need:
- A metric ton of dishtowels – just kidding, a few will do you, but I do go through quite a lot of them
- Ball, Kerr, or Mason jars (for this recipe you’ll want 4 half pint jars) and the rings and flat tops that come with them
- A pot large enough so that your jars could stand straight up, with one inch of water over top of them
- A second pot to make our jam in
- A jar lifter, only a $5 investment, or a set of silicon covered tongs
- Optional: a funnel or a ladle if you’re not a very good pourer (and I’m not)
- Patience, completely non-optional
- 3 pounds rinsed and hulled strawberries, diced
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried lavender blossoms
- Fill the large pot with water and let it come to a boil. Fold two dishtowels and push them to the bottom of the pot with your tongs or a spoon. Nestle your unlidded jars into the boiling water and on top of the folded towels to sterilize. There needs to be that layer of separation between the pot and the jars so that the jars don’t superheat and shatter. A layer of dishtowels will do it!
- Place the flat tops to your jars in a little bowl, and put a small plate in the freezer.
- Put the strawberries and sugar in the second pan. Bring the heat up, stirring frequently to avoid scorching the bottom, and let simmer for about five minutes. Pour this mix into a colander set over a bowl, and let the juice drip through, stirring the strawberries to get the most juice-bang for your buck. Do not discard the strawberries.
- Put the juice back in the pan, and bring the juice up to a boil, stirring occasionally until it becomes about 1 ½ cups of syrup, or about 20 minutes.
- Return the strawberries and any additional juice they’ve produced to the pan, adding in the lemon juice and lavender and raising the temperature to a simmer.
- After about 15 minutes, pull the small plate out of the freezer and bring to your side to test the jam’s consistency. Spoon a little bit of the jam onto the plate, and return the plate to the freezer for a minute. If the liquid has become somewhat firm, then you’re getting close! If it hasn’t firmed up, cook five minutes longer and try this test again.
- Skim off as much foam off of the top of the liquid in the pan as possible, stir to get an even distribution of fruit in the jam, and then turn off the heat. Jam can be discarded or sopped up with bread and eaten warm while watching your boiling pot.
- Ladle a little boiling water over top the flat lids in your bowl to sterilize and return the dishtowels to the bottom of your pot of boiling water. Remove the sterilized jars from the pot of boiling water with your jar lifter or your tongs, and drain both the jars and the lids of water, returning that water back to the boiling pot.
- Ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving ¼ inch of space between the top of the jar and the top of your jam. Wipe the top of the jars off with a damp kitchen towel, then put a flat lid and a ring on each jar. Tighten the ring just so it’s tight for you – you don’t need to have vice-like super human strength here.
- Tuck the filled jars back into the boiling pot of water, making sure they’re sitting on top of the folded kitchen towels. Let the pot boil for five minutes.
- While you’re waiting for those five minutes to pass, lay another kitchen towel on your cutting board, and put it close to your boiling pot of water. When the time has elapsed, remove the jars from the boiling water and place on top of this kitchen towel.
- You will start to hear the happiest canning sounds of all – little plink plink plinks. It’s the sound of all the air leaving your jars, forming a vacuum seal to protect the gem colored ambrosia you’ve just spent the last hour working on.
- If any haven’t sealed after 12 hours, stick them in the fridge and use before 6 months elapse. Otherwise, label and store and room temperature for use in the next 12 months.
In the dead of winter, when you can barely remember what a real strawberry tastes like, whip out one of these jars and know that spring is only one afternoon’s worth of work away.
Recipe from Canning for a New Generation