RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Right now our local farmer’s market is full of glorious peaches, my blackberry patch is bent double with plump ebony gems, and the summer apples are ripening by the day. Wherever you are, you’re probably experiencing a surge in seasonal produce, too, whether in your own backyard garden or at the supermarket produce aisle. With a quick lesson and some simple equipment, you can use that overabundance of fruits and berries to make some sweet treats you can eat later this winter. It’s called canning—though we’re using jars rather than cans in this case—and even though it was a traditional way of preserving food before refrigeration, it remains unmatched by any modern technique. It’s not as hard to do as you may think.
What you need:
Canning jars and lids are designed to withstand temperature and pressure changes, and to make an airtight seal as they cool. Don’t try reusing jars supermarket food came in for canning, no matter what your Aunt Irene tells you. Single-use jars may break (wasting food or possibly hurting someone) or fail to seal. Stick with jars that use modern two-piece canning lids (a flat lid and a separate screw-on band); older jars with glass lids are nifty to look at, but save them for storing dry goods. Quilted Crystal Jelly Jars are readily available at hardware and grocery stores in a variety of sizes. A box of 12 (including lids and bands) costs $8 to $10. Canning jars are a good investment, as they can be reused for decades; but to save money, watch for sales, ask older friends if they have jars they no longer use, or look for jars at yard sales. Look for jars that say Ball, Kerr, Atlas, or Mason in raised glass letters on the side or the bottom. To make a good seal, the top rim must be intact and smooth; there should be no visible scratches in the glass (which can lead to breakage). If you are not sure a jar is a real canning jar, don’t use it for canning.
You will also need a large stockpot or canning pot at least two inches deeper than your tallest jar (or two jars, if you want to stack one on top of another), a rack that fits in the bottom to keep the jars up off the pot bottom (they may break if they sit directly on the pot), and a jar lifter (basically a pair of large-jawed tongs). A jar funnel, which helps get the contents into the jar, is nice but not required.