As I have mentioned in other blog posts recently, my husband and I are trying to live a little more mindfully. This means we are trying to pay closer attention to what we eat and from where comes. We have always enjoyed going to our local farmers' markets, but sometimes its hard to know what to do with so much fresh produce and only so much time to eat it. The natural progression seems to be canning (and freezing).
I will admit, nothing about this journey has been cheaper than just going to the grocery store and buying a jar of jam, but it certainly has been very satisfying. It also has been a way to use up some of the things we don't eat fast enough. The picture of my Dutch apple preserves is certainly smiling about it. (Granted, I should have cut those apples a little smaller- I really thought they'd cook down a little more than they did.) Especially with my kids' ever-shifting tastes in food, one week green apples are all the rage, the next week nobody wants to touch them. It's hard to keep up.
I think maybe the better I get at canning and the more confidence I gain, the more I will start to see the benefits financially. If nothing else, it will be fun to eat some strawberry jam in the middle of winter that the kids and I picked the strawberries for in the spring. So far, I have only ventured into the acidic canning territories so that I could use a boiling water bath for my jars. I am looking at a pressure canner, though, so that at the end of the summer I can do fun things like salsa and things that are not acidic but can be preserved. Important discovery: A pressure canner is different than a pressure cooker. You can use a pressure canner to do pressure cooking, but you cannot use a pressure cooker to can. My adventures to date include strawberry jam (there was more sugar in that jam than I'd like to admit and I feel a little guilty eating it), spicy chai jelly (looks a little weird but tastes great), dijon mustard, pickles, and my latest Dutch apple preserves.
Canning was a little scary for me. Nobody in my family canned while growing up. I have no memories of a grandmother dutifully storing food away in jars. My husband comes from canning, but he himself had never done it. I feel like if it is not something that has been part of your life, you feel it is not safe. What about bacteria? Botulism sounds very scary. What if it doesn't keep? How will you know if something is bad? There are a million thoughts like these that held me back for a long time. But really, there are enough resources out there that if you are careful, read all directions and follow them, and exercise common-sense cleanliness while canning, you will be fine. I think the most important thing, especially as a beginner, is to find reputable recipes and follow ALL of the directions, especially the size of the jars and the time you boil them. Don't try scaling recipes up and don't use larger jars- the recipes are written to help prevent unwanted visitors such as botulism, if you use larger jars, you might not be heating the contents all the way through to the proper temperature. Also, if you try scaling recipes up, you might not get the results you want. Simply doubling ingredients won't get your strawberry jam to set.
I have found a few invaluable resources for my canning. One is the book Not Your Mama's Canning Book by Rebecca Lindamood. She has great recipes, clear instructions, and answers to a lot of canning questions. And as the book states, the recipes are a little more modern. That means there are lower sugar recipes, fun things like masala, and a whole sections of recipes to use your canned goods with. Nothing you make from this book has to sit on a shelf unused. There is a lot of shared wisdom in these pages. Better Homes and Gardens has also been a great resource. The have multiple books and magazine in print that contain tried and true canning recipes and tips. And the National Center for Home Food Preservation (yeah, that's a thing, who knew?) has a great website that is worth reading before you get started.
Really, it has been a fun spring/summer of learning to can. I feel good about it, it helps my family with our quest for mindful living, and it's a lot of fun. My kids are too young to be part of the canning process, but they have already really enjoyed being part of the "collection" process. Picking strawberries in a field and then seeing them on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich is pretty neat. Growing cucumbers in our small garden keeps the kids checking daily because we are going to make pickles. It's very rewarding. I think a lot of things will have to fall into place, and perhaps Mars will have to be lined up with some other planet on the night of a full moon, for this to be a money saving venture, but it might get there and in the meantime it is a life-learning, appreciation inducing, joy bringing endeavor. That might be priceless.
This is still a Rachel Simmons page, it just has more of my world outside of knitting. I hope you enjoy!