#998 Pickles and Jams: Can And Preserve Nature’s Bounty

24 Oct

So you’ve foraged or picked a huge mess of fruits or vegetables and can’t possibly eat them all before they go bad. What to do? It’s easier than you think to throw fresh produce into jars or in the freezer to enjoy all year long. Canning and preserving your own food will knock frozen berries, jam, applesauce, pickles or anything that comes in a can, bag or jar off your grocery list.

Not only will you be saving money, but canning and preserving your food will ensure that it will all be more fresh and healthy than what you get in the store. First off, you can control the amount of sodium and sugar in the fruits and vegetables you preserve. Second, you most likely will not be using additives, dyes or corn syrup, three things that are pervasive in store-bought, pre-prepared food, which lower the quality and freshness of the food. I personally hate the gooey, fakeness of corn syrup. Dyes make all sorts of foods unnatural colors that we now think of as natural. And additives make canned good last longer but not taste any better.

Best applesauce device ever – put whole cooked apples in the top, crank handle, applesauce comes down chute and peel/seeds comes out the side. Sing the Sweeney Todd meat pies song as you crank.

It might seem oh-so-1950s, but putting up your own food by canning and preserving is the old standby of self-sustaining farmers and generations past that couldn’t just run to the grocery store for every little item. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to reach into your freezer or cupboard and pop open a jar or bag of your own preserved produce.

First things first, it’s not hard to can or preserve produce, and you don’t need special equipment to can most produce. When reading up on canning, I’m sure you’ll come across a lot of stuff to buy or suggestions for products, but don’t be daunted or worry about running out to buy special equipment. Canning is a simple process that should result in beautifully impressive jars of strawberry jam or dill pickles.

I’ve canned for years with little more than some reused glass canning jars and tops (who doesn’t have a grandmother with a basement full of Mason jars) and a large stock pot. For pickles, jams and fruit, a large pot can serve the purpose of a “canner,” really only something that is large enough to hold your jars with at least one inch of water above them. You need a folded towel or rack at the bottom of the pot to keep the jars off the bottom. Grill tongs or any other kitchen tongs that allow you to grab the jars without burning yourself work fine, or I just dump the water out and grab the jars with an oven mitt if I only have one batch. Remember, being thrifty means use what you have.

Unless you’re giving the end result as gifts, you really don’t need new jars or screw rings. If you don’t have a grandma with a basement full of jars, any yard sale usually has a good collection. Once you have your stock of canning jars, you can reuse them for a lifetime. Lids are recommended to be one use, although admittedly I am not much of a stickler on that one, but use your own judgment.

Freezing your berries is another option that is even quicker than canning, it usually involves putting the fruit into a solution to prevent browning or just throwing them in a zip lock bag and freezing.

The same site I use for pick your own has tons of information on freezing and canning to get you started. You’re mostly paying with your time here if you’re using items you already have on hand for canning and freezing. I estimate a good morning or afternoon’s worth of time depending on the amount of produce you have – very little cost for a well-stocked pantry.

P.S. I was doing things like canning and pick your own well before the “mom” stage of my life, so it’s not a strictly domestic, married life activity as often portrayed in popular media and television. I just like to do things myself – it’s so much better that way.

Here are some suggestions for canning and preserving that always come out tasting better than anything you buy in a store. So next time you see a jar of all-natural pickles for $9 at the farmer’s market, you can rest assured that the ones you made cost far less.

Great items to can or preserve with fresh fruits or vegetables:

  • Pumpkin puree. For pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffin or pumpkin soup lovers, making your own pumpkin puree is quick and easy. It’s even cheaper if you wait until after Halloween for discount pumpkins. Homemade pumpkin puree freezes well and is nothing like what you get in a can – so much more delicious and flavorful!
  • Strawberry jam. Jam like strawberry jam is ridiculously easy to make. And ridiculously tasty. Throw in rhubarb for strawberry-rhubarb jam. Or go straight rhubarb to get the awesomest, tartest jam you’ll never find in a store.
  • Apple sauce. Fresh apple sauce never stays in the house long enough to warrant canning. Even huge vats of it disappear in no time at all. The best thing is that no sugar is needed. And I hate that I can’t find cinnamon apple sauce in the store that doesn’t have corn syrup or Splenda in it. You don’t need either. Apples cooked up with a few cinnamon sticks and made into sauce is divine with nothing else. Plus it’s kick-ass warm… as an ice cream topping.
  • Pickles. I like to make dill pickles. My mom used to make great bread and butter pickles. The hardest part is finding good, pickling cucumbers.

Here’s a recipe for pickled beets, something you would have a hard time finding in the store.

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