Home Canning Made Easy
by Joanne Callahan
The season will soon be upon us when our trees will be heavily laden with fruit. Wondering what to do with all those apples, peaches, pears and plums? Do your friends and neighbors start avoiding you because they remember your bounty from last year? Well, why not give home canning a try! You will need a few basic items to get you on your way:
There are two ways in which to preserve your harvest. One is the hot pack method and the other is the cold pack method. This article will concentrate on the hot pack method of preserving which allows you to safely store your jars of goodies in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
The fruit you choose should be ripe and free of blemishes. Cut off any skin and/or bad spots that you see. Fruits such as peaches, plums and nectarines will need to be dunked briefly (1 minute or less) in boiling water and then transferred to a bowl of icy cold water to allow for easy removal of the skin. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot peel it with a vegetable peeler or knife, it must be peeled using the above method. Remove the pit or seeds after peeling, and if you are making jam, cut into chunks. If you intend to store the fruit in halves or sections, now is the time to start slicing. Peeled and sliced fruit should be sprinkled with lemon juice to keep it from turning brown. Nothing is more unappetizing than a jar of peach jam that is the color of milk chocolate.
This next step is very critical. I cannot stress enough the importance of washing your canning jars in the hottest, soapy water your hands can stand. The screw on caps and rubber rings should be placed in a saucepan on the stove with enough water to cover, and brought to a boil, then turned off and left in the pot until you are ready for them. One bit of soap or bacteria in your jars or on your lids will result in spoilage, which you will not detect until you open the jars to use them. You do not want to find out in December that all the plums you have canned in July are unsafe to eat. This could also prove quite embarrassing if you intend to give some away as gifts.
To make jam or jelly, follow the recipe directions for the proper amounts of sugar, pectin, spices and fruit. Ladle cooked fruit into your jars with the help of your funnel. If you are canning your fruit in juice or syrup, gently pack your jars, then follow your recipe for making the syrup. Canning jars should be packed to a 1/2 inch from the top. Filled to the very top, your jars will bubble over during the hot pack process, which will result in a messy canning pot and an unhappy cook. Insert a non-serrated knife in the jar after they are filled to release any trapped air bubbles, being careful not to slice through the fruit. If you have gotten any juice or syrup on the jars, make sure that it is wiped off before securing the rubber rings and caps in place. Do not screw the caps on too tightly! Process in a boiling water bath according to your recipe directions. The water needs to cover all of the jars in the pot. Keep in mind that the more jars you add, the higher the water level will be. You do not want your pot overflowing as it boils away for the required time.
When processing time is up, carefully remove the jars from the pot using your canning tongs. Place the jars on a wire rack to cool for at least 8 hours, after which you will need to test them to see if they have sealed properly. Press down on the inside of the cap. If it is firm and does not pop back, then proper sealing has taken place. If the cap pops back, then the jar must either be re-processed using the above method, or placed in the refrigerator and used within a month.