Canning season is starting up. If you’re like me, and a passionate (um, other adjectives have been used…) canner, you’re canning all year ’round, sure, but those first local strawberries, the slim young asparagus, ramps, garlic chives, candy onions – they’re just around the corner and that feels like the first day of school for me.
Check Your Gear
Pressure canner gauges should be calibrated once a year. Many hardware stores will do this for you. Give the gasket (the rubber ring around the inside rim) a good going over – has it dried out, is it cracking? If so, order a new one, easily found at the manufacturer’s website or on Amazon.
This is a good time to check carefully and then scour the bottom of all your canning pots and pans to scrub away any hot spots. On a canner, hot spots will get thin, and eventually the aluminum will give way. And in a preserving pan, a hot spot is the first sure place your preserves will burn. This should all be done consistently, but use this time to review and maintain all your equipment.
Change the battery in your scale. What do you mean you don’t have a scale?
Calibrate your candy thermometer by boiling water then measuring the temperature, which should register as 212°F.
Stay Organized and Be Ruthless
Think about your favorite (and least favorite) preserved foods of last year.
If you start with 20 pints of pickled okra, and there are 18 pints left, you shouldn’t do that again. Let’s promise to keep our heads, ok? One batch is usually sufficient, except in the case of tomatoes. It’s impossible to have too many tomatoes. Remember, most canned goods are shelf stable for one year.
Do you keep a record of your projects? Or do you wing it? I used to just wing it, but find that a notebook (my preferred method) or spreadsheet is better, for a couple of reasons. First, if we really like something, we’ve probably consumed it months ago. If I didn’t have it in my notebook, I might have forgotten that particular variation on dried and fresh apricot conserve. Now, it will be the first jam I make when I see apricots.
Next, you’ll get a good sense of what you are using. I try to inventory every quarter and that has informed a lot of my summer production. No one likes to waste.
Make yourself a promise. If you make something and it’s just not good – maybe it’s a rubbery jam, or a too salty pickle, or a thin, watery syrup, don’t bother canning it. If you are unsure, put it in the refrigerator overnight and taste again the next day. It’s not a failure, it’s a learning opportunity.
Don’t give up shelf space to anything unworthy.
Be Prepared (Plan Ahead)
Plan jar purchases, and storage.
Early season, I know I’ll use more half pints and quarter pints. These are the jam and jelly months, with strawberries and rhubarb arriving from the middle of May and blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants until late June. If you are a juice or fruit syrup canner, you might want pints or quarts, but my advice is to stock up on smaller sizes now.
Come mid June to early July, cherries and apricots lead the way for stone fruits like peaches (late July until September) and plums (August to October) so I’ll stock up on more cases of half pints, for jams. Cucumbers are in the market, too, so pick up pints for pickles and don’t forget some quarts for pie fillings.
August … oh, August… I can’t wait. Tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes. That means quarts. Lots and lots of quarts.
Don’t forget plenty of lids, you’ll need new flat lids for all jars on hand.
Do you have all the canning toys? There are a few great accessories.
I love the magnetic lid lifter. LOVE.
A bubbler is useful for removing air from thick textured products. Really useful. Never use a metal knife as it might create tiny chips on the inside of the jar, making it susceptible to cracking in the canner. (A terrible waste of hard work and good jam.)
The jar lifter is such a well constructed tool and so reliable. It is possible to make do, by wrapping tongs with rubber bands, but if you plan to get into some canning, the lifter is fantastic and very safe.
(Added later…. You all are so smart! You reminded me about the canning funnel! I couldn’t can without it. I prefer the stainless steel version.)
And then there are basic supplies. Like white and brown sugars, white and apple cider vinegars, lemons, vanilla beans, pickling spices. Watch for sales and stock up.
Finally, if you have a space outside to plant a little herb garden, put in some thyme, mint, lemon verbena, dill, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, and plenty of basil. Herbs and fruit are best friends.
Wonderful Jarden Home Products is ready, too. And they are offering a case of their brand new Vintage Blue glass jars to one of my lovely readers. (US only, so sorry all my pals overseas!) Leave a comment below with your favorite tool or secret tip for canning up the abundance of the season. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, April 22th at 5pm via a random number generator.
Are you ready? I’m ready. Let’s get canning.
Posts in other years about the start to the canning season:
And a repeat of a favorite preserves recipe.
Strawberry Preserves with Mint and Black Pepper
recipe from Mes Confitures, with slight adaptations
Try to find real peppermint, not spearmint. Most better nurseries will sell peppermint plants at this time of year. It’s a far better behaved plant in the garden, grows happily in a pot, and makes really good minty lemonade.
3 lbs.strawberries, rinsed and hulled (if large, halve or quarter the berries)
2.5 c sugar
Juice of one lemon
10 black peppercorns, crushed
Ten peppermint leaves
In a large glass or ceramic bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover with parchment and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, put the contents of the bowl, including any sugar that has accumulated at the bottom, in a heavy bottomed preserving pot (I like a 5 qt or larger heavy copper, Le Creuset, Staub or Emile Henry pan.)
Heat the berries and preserves for a few minutes, just until it begins to boil and all the sugar is melted. Return the berries to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, strain the liquid from the berries and heat in the large pot, again. Bring this syrup to a boil – a hard, rolling boil. In order to achieve a good set, bring the temperature to 220°. This takes a good long time and gets pretty scary looking.
Once it’s at 220°, remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes to allow the foam to gather on the top of the syrup. Add the butter and stir well. The foam will disperse. Skim remaining foam with a large meticulously clean stainless steel spoon.
Get all the foam, slowly, carefully, so your jam will be county-fair worthy.
Add in the strawberries, pepper and mint leaves. Bring the jam back up to a hard, rolling boil, stirring gently all the while so the fruit doesn’t stick, trying not to break the berries.
Allow it to boil for five minutes.
Funnel into sterilized jars, cover with lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.