I have been making jam (and other goodies) for few years now. I’ve made more jam than I care to recount (though I can tell you I’ve made about 200 jars in the last 6 weeks alone). I once took a class, the Master Food Preserve’s Certification class to be specific, in which we were told “canning is not creative cooking”. I bristled at that right away, like a porcupine annoyed, my little spikes of defensiveness came popping out. I resigned to doing it their way, for the sake of teaching it to future students the ‘correct’ way, but damn if I’m not going to play around a bit.
While I agree that the act of canning, water bath, pressure, oven, what ever method being employed, is a science that is best followed like a chemical formula and is NOT creative, what goes into the jars in the canning pot can be creative, once you know the rules (and everything has rules). When it comes to canning it’s the rules that people fear, when they are really very simple.
There are so many preserved food books on the market now, some very creative ones with really great tips and pretty pictures. Most of the newer ones I’ve seen and purchased (oh so many!) do not cover pressure canning. PRESSURE canning, I stress the pressure because it’s frequently what we feel when preserving this way. This is where the science is so important and why many people don’t want to touch it. Pressure canning is a vacuum in which the jars are heated to a super high temp of 240 and held there for a certain amount of time, killing all and everything that could possibly grow and live in our low acid food environment. Only low acid foods or mixed acid foods must be pressure canned. That leaves a whole lot of different high acid options. Have I lost you yet?
Tomatoes and figs are in the middle of the field. Surrounding them are all other fruits on the left side (high acid) and vegetables on the right side (low acid). All the fruits on the left can be water bath or oven canned. They may need some sugar and lemon juice and pectin to make jam, or some water and honey to preserve in light syrup, but they are safe foods that will not develop botulism (that’s our major fear). All the vegetables on the right need either vinegar (added acid) or a pressure canner. It depends on what you want to do with your fruits and veggies, that simple.
I’m not going into a whole lesson on water bath, oven or pressure canning here. There are so many great resources for learning, including classes (like mine!) that are popping up all over the country. For the specific science of it I also recommend the National Center for Home Food Preservation they have complete directions on water bath and pressure canning (always follow your pressure canner directions too!) they do not cover oven canning because it’s not USDA approved, though widely used commercially and in Europe. NCHFP also offers recipes, tried and true, dare I say, a little too safe for me (frequently too high in sugar/ acid). USDA and NCHFP warn people against using recipes that haven’t been ‘approved’, that includes most of the creative and wonderful recipes in the new books out, once you learn the basics of acid balance in your fruits/ veggies, you’ll be able to tell quickly which ‘new’ recipes are safe.
LITMUS paper! or a PH meter if you can afford one. Testing recipes for acid level is a terrific way to know if your foods are safe enough for water bath (or oven) canning. Follow recipes from people you trust. Read the books, read the authors blogs, get to know them. Then when you feel confident, go ahead and PLAY!
Here is a list of books and blogs/ facebook pages that cover canning methods and have fantastic recipes (and some great recipes I’ve posted in this blog too). In no particular order, I’m not playing favorites, I like them all and there are more I haven’t listed, no offense meant to them (this is plenty to start you off right!):
Food in Jars blog and book
The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Tart and Sweet Kelly Geary and Jesse Knadler
Put ‘em Up Sherri Brooks Vinton
Punk Domestics website
The Hungry Tigress blog
Well Preserved website
I encourage you all to read and play with your food! Learn the rules and don’t fear. If your jam is soup, rename it SYRUP!
Stay tuned for my NEW class listings! Jam/ Jelly, Pickled and Fermented, and Tomatoes all around.