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For those of us who can and preserve our foods, we certainly know how rewarding it can be. Satisfied family and friends regularly enjoy our goodies, and we love being able to provide them. But, most of us often wonder about the world beyond our grandmother’s strawberry jam or our great aunt Betsy’s grape jelly. Surely in these modern times, we should be able to branch out and explore new creations. What stops us? The answer to that question, most of the time, is fear. Many of us follow recipes and are not brave enough to move beyond what we know. We worry about cooking times and trying to decide between pressure or water bath canners. But there is an exciting new world in canning if we are brave enough to try. Step out of your comfort zone and move beyond basic jams and jellies.
The Basics of Canning
Whether you are following a recipe or creating a new masterpiece all on your own, safety is always important. You want to ensure you are following proper methods throughout the canning process so your food remains clean and safe for storage. When working with acidic foods, such as the fruits you use in jams and jellies, it is imperative a water bath canner is used to properly preserve the food. Recipes that involve tomatoes, fruits, pickles, or lemon juice will be included in this. For those cooks who actually test for the acid levels in their foods, the general guideline for using a water bath canner is any food that has a pH level of 4.6 or below. Pressure canners are used for foods that test higher than 4.6. These will be foods such as meats, vegetables, dairy, and fish. Off the Grid news has an in-depth article that discusses the difference between pressure and water bath canners.
Experiment With Flavors
You know the flavors and foods your family likes to eat. Use this knowledge to mix and create some fantastic canning options. Just remember that a correct ratio of sugar, fruit, pectin, and acid is needed. If your fruit is fully ripe, you will typically need to add pectin. Using fruit that about ¾ fully ripe is usually recommended to avoid adding additional pectin. Canned fruits may be used, but pectin will need to be added. When using fruit that is low in acid, you may need to add more with lemon juice. Sugar is also necessary in recipes as it adds flavor and helps create the gel; it also works as a preservative. In most cases, white granulated sugar is used. The following chart offers guidance on the acid and pectin content of most fruits.
Acid and Pectin Content of Most Commonly Used Fruits in Jams and Jellies (from Portland Preserve)
Group I: As long as it is not overripe, the fruit in this group has sufficient natural acid and pectin to form the proper gel; only sugar needs to be added.
Group II: This group is low in natural pectin or acid, and may need either added.
Group III: This group will always needs acid or pectin added (if not both).
Although experimenting with flavors can be exciting and lots of fun, you should not try to create new recipes until you have a solid understanding of the canning process. The last thing you want to do is make preserves that will make your family sick!
Unusual Canning Recipes
For those of us who want to branch out in our canning repertoire but enjoy the safety recipes provide, this section will be just for you. Below, we have some great concoctions that go beyond the “usual” recipes. When possible, links have been added to the original source.
Apple Pie Filling (from Recipe goldmine)
- Peeled and sliced apples to fill 7 canning jars (quart size)
- 4 1/4 cups granulated white sugar
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. salt
- 10 cups water
- 3 tbsp. lemon juice
Mix cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into saucepan. Add water. Cook until thick, and then add lemon juice. Pour prepared mixture over apples in the jars. Seal jars and process for 20 minutes in hot water bath.
To make apple pie:
Use 1 quart apple pie filling and add 1/2 cup sugar. Add to pie crust of your choice and then add top crust. Bake according to apple pie directions.
Brandied Bing Cherries
- 2 cups granulated white sugar
- 3 1/2 lbs. cherries (preferably Bing)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 1/4 cups brandy
Stem, pit, and rinse cherries. Combine water, lemon juice and sugar in saucepan. Heat to a boil, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour 1/4 cup mixture into each clean, hot jar. Add cherries to the jars. Measure brandy (1/4 cup) and add to each jar. If necessary, add additional mixture of syrup to fill each jar, making sure to leave at least ½ inch open at the top and then seal the jar. Place for 20 minutes in a water bath canner and process.
Canned Sweet Pickle Relish (from cooks.com)
- 4 cup diced cucumbers (about 4 medium cukes)
- 2 cup diced onions
- 1 diced green pepper
- 1 3/4 cup cider vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1 diced red pepper
- 3 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp. celery seed
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tbsp. mustard seed
Combine onions, cucumbers, red and green peppers in a large bowl; mix with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand 2 hours. Drain thoroughly, pressing out any excess liquid. Combine vinegar, sugar, and spices in a saucepan and heat to a boil. Add vegetables and simmer 10 minutes. Pack hot into hot half pint jars, leaving at least ¼ free space. Process 10 minutes in hot water bath.
Canning Whole Plums (from Canning Food Recipes)
To prevent splitting, prick skins on at least two sides with fork. Pack uncooked plums into hot jars, leaving at least ½ inch of free space. Fill jars with light syrup or hot water, again leaving ½ inch of space. Shake to remove any air bubbles. If necessary, add more liquid. Wipe the rim and seal the jars. Process using a boiling water bath canner (20 minutes if using pint-sized jars and 25 minutes if using quart-sized). When time is finished, immediately remove jars and place on a cooling rack.
Watermelon Pickles (from Paula Deen)
- 4 qt. white part of watermelon rind, cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes
- 2 gallons water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 3 cups vinegar (white)
- 1/2 tsp. mustard seed
- 1 tsp. whole peppercorns (assorted variety)
- 7 cup sugar
- 3 canning jars with lids (quart size)
Measure out one gallon of water and add salt, stirring until it is dissolved. Put watermelon rinds into the salt-water mixture and let stand overnight. Drain all water and rinse rinds to remove excess. Cook rinds over medium heat in one gallon of clean water. Cook them until tender— this usually takes approximately 5 minutes. Drain the rinds and set to the side to use later. Reheat saucepan and add sugar, vinegar and other spices. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat simmering for 10 minutes. Add rinsed watermelon rinds; cook 10 minutes or until transparent, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon and add cooked watermelon rinds to hot, sterilized jars. Add vinegar solution to each jar, leaving ¼ inch free space at the top of the jars. Clean rims with a wet cloth and seal jars. Process 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Remove from water bath and place on cooling rack.