Saturday, 14 September 2013

Canning | Thoughts on a Delicious Hobby |

Over the past three years Chris and I have developed a love of canning foods. I think it started out as a sort of compromise of interests; canning combined Chris' love of food and cooking with my love of production, completion and organization. 

I know that might sound a little odd; production? organization? But if you've ever canned before, you understand the serene satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from canning the foods that you have produced. Everything from hearing the tiny 'ping' of your jars sealing shut, to the stacking, shelving and labeling of your food stores is just so thrilling (and gratifying) for those of us that live life for cleaning, doing, and organizing.

Am I making any sense? 

Let me put it this way: if you're a list writer who knows no feeling like the joy you get from completing and crossing tasks off your lists, I suspect you may also like canning. Just sayin'. 

Seeing those jars of summer produce all labeled, stacked, and ready to be enjoyed during the cold winter months (or perhaps even given as lovely little gifts) is a high much like the list writing high, or the cleaning your floors on the first warm day of spring high. Or maybe that's just me.... I'm rambling. 

Oh yeah, and it's also a healthy way to prepare your own foods, spreads, and condiments. Although I must say that after my prose on organization that seems remarkably beside the point. 

Over the next couple weeks, I plan on posting some of my favourite canning recipes and ideas. I want this post to serve as an introduction to all the canning blog posts to follow. So let me just say a few things about canning: 

A large part of canning is preserving fruit, vegetables and other produce at the height of quality. For example, you want to can pickles when you can actually get pickling cucumbers that are LOCAL and fresh from the fields.

Each year, strawberry jam is the first thing that I can, and this is because strawberries are one of the first  plants to be ripe and ready for picking and eating during our Ontario summer. For my jam, I don't want pretty good berries from California that have ripened on a truck. I want AMAZING juicy berries that came right from my province and that taste like warm sweet strawberry summer.

Although I do some canning in early summer (berries, cherries, peaches, figs etc) most of my canning is done in early fall. Autumn brings the ripest and best tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchinis, banana peppers, and lots more!

The first year that Chris and I began canning, we were so enthralled with the process of canning that we didn't pay much attention to what we were actually preserving. Long story short, we ended up with 25 jars of pickled baby carrots and 15 jars of mango chutney. Now, pickled carrots and spicy chutney are both things that we enjoy, but we didn't need that many jars. When you can, think about what you'll actually eat. If you buy approximately 3 jars of banana pepper rings over a one year period of grocery shopping, then only make 3 or 4 jars when you can your own pepper rings.

Since Chris and I don't eat loads of jams and jellies in a year's time, we don't make a lot of preserves when the berries ripen in June and July. What we do eat a lot of is pizza, pasta, sandwiches and other savoury dinners and snacks. So it makes sense that we can large amounts of salsa, tomato sauce, pesto, pizza sauce, and roasted red pepper pasta sauce. All these preserves require end of summer produce, so for us, canning season is here!

That's about all I have to say for now. If you're new to canning, I suggest you get a recipe book on the subject; the internet is full of conflicting information and a good book can help you sort out what you actually need to know. That way, when you do use an online recipe (say, from a blog), you'll know a good recipe from a bad one. Remember, you're going to be opening up your produce after letting it sit on the shelf for months or even a year, so you need to be safe about your procedure and recipes.

I highly recommend the book, The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving, by Ellie Topp. This recipe collection provides you with hundreds of canning recipes, and even more importantly it explains the fundamentals of the canning process, everything from equipment to procedure. It helped me to sort out a lot of the basics of canning. 
Follow the blog this month for lots of canning posts: pickles, jams, and our own Campbell salsa recipe.  

Canning is no more complicated than baking, you just have to become comfortable with the process. So give it try!