Sunday, June 17, 2007

Home canning

YAY!!! I'm an avid canner and love to hear about others getting into canning. I'm going to do a "brain dump" on canning, even though itsounds like you've canned before, for the benefit of anyone just thinking about taking it up. Here's my 2 cents on the matter: Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor has lots of unique stuff, but their prices are pretty high. To go through the effort of canning, to me it's all about the value proposition, i.e. can I make this for cheaper and better than I can buy it? In that regard, strawberry jam can meet my "cheaper and better" test only if I can get cheap jelly jars (or have them left over from other canning efforts -canning is a "sustainable" hobby) and only if the strawberries are good in a given year. Meijer has the best prices for canning jars and lids around here, but garage sales are by far the best place to get canning jars. But if you were planning on making jam today, that might be a difficult task. For jam, you'll need a water bath canner (just a bigpot with a jar rack in it - again, Meijer will be the cheapest.) Look at the jar rack because the cheap one I bought many moons when I was just getting into canning doesn't hold pint jars and it rusted, so I can't use it to lift the jars out of the water. For the rack, DTH&G might have a better quality one if you want that functionality. If I had to do it all over again, I would opt for a better jar rack than the one I have. I hope to "garage sale" a better one someday.

There's a tool called a jar lifter that you can use to pull your jars out of the hot water - I have one, but don't use it oten. I find that it's easy to drop a jar with one, so I find it kind of a hassle. Instead, I use some really thick rubber gloves I bought at the hardware store - they are thick enough that I can reach into a pot of boiling water for a brief time to pick out a canning jar and put it on the counter to cool.

So, can strawberry jam be made for "cheaper and better" than buying it? It really depends...despite it's reputation as something that's easy to can, I think strawberry jam can be iffy. In my estimate, this was a bad year for strawberries. I have sampled everything at the AA Farmer's market and they tasted pretty watery. Only one vendor's tasted good enough for me to consider it. Taste whatever you are going to buy first. Watery berries mean lackluster flavor and low pectin -make sure you add some. Also, in order to can jam cheaper than you can make it, you have to make lots of it. Since my family loves strawberry jam, it makes sense for me to can jam, except I don't have time to do it this weekend, so I probably won't. I don't think there will be berries left next weekend at the farmer's market.

There is nothing to turn off a home canner than a poor outcome. Early in my canning career I bought a bushel of berries and they didn't have enough pectin and I ended up with 12 jars of strawberry syrup. Bummer! It made me give up the idea of canning for a few years, and so I recommend that folks try something different than strawberry jam forthe first time out of the gate.

The Ball Blue Book is a great resource (you can buy it at Meijer by the canning supplies) for a beginner. It will teach you what you need to know. There's a recipe in there for a blueberry lime jam that is a great thing for a first time canner to try.


APT Costume Asst. said...

I would correct that the reuse center on industrial is the best place in Ann Arbor for canning jars. They cost about a tenth the price of jars at the box stores. You need to look for chips or cracks in the glass, but are much more sustainable than buying new. I advise always buying new lids, and used rings and jars.
If Reuse center is out of jars, head down the street to the Ann Arbor PTO shop, they have them too.

canning tomatoes said...

I never reuse my lids and jars when canning. As much as possible, I buy new ones just to avoid bacterial contamination and spoilage.