Summer is slowly edging into fall (or not so slowly! Is it just me or are the leaves coming off the trees WAY too soon?), and so begins the season for canning. Inspired by my grandmothers, who spent their lives preserving summer produce in heated glass jars, I feel that fall is the season to 'put by' for winter. (Watch for me knitting lopsided gloves!)
In past years I've helped relatives and neighbours combat bumper crops of northern grapes, rhubarb, and raspberries. This year, I'm fortunate enough to know people wanting to get rid of excess apples, grapes, and rhubarb. Already to my credit: jars and jars of rhubarb chutney, applesauce, instant apple pie filling, and clear apple jelly. Up next will be grape jam, once enough grapes have been harvested - and yes, you can grow grapes in this climate!
If you'd like to try your own canning, here are my favourite secrets for making it cheap as well as fun:
1. Don't buy special jars for it. You CAN use old jam/Cheez Whiz/relish jars, however, you must make sure that they are clean and sterilized. To sterilize them, put them in the oven at about 250F. Keep the lids in a bowl of hot water while you boil your jam or chutney, and when you're ready to jar it, wear thick oven mitts, pull out the hot jars, ladle in your preserves, and get that lid on there fast!
2. Don't buy the fruit and/or veggies if you can help it. If you know someone whose garden is out of control, now's the time to offer some of the finished product in exchange for use of the raw goods. In the case of my neighbour with the apples, she just can't make jam fast enough to keep up with the number of apples, and told me that I'm welcome to help myself! If this isn't an option, I would try farmers' markets before visiting a grocery store. Fresh will always give you better flavour than something off the truck from California.
3. Buy bulk. Vinegar is a staple for chutney, and sugar is a must for jelly. Costco is your friend - if you don't have a membership, try Superstore's no-name brands or the Bulk Barn before approaching Safeway and Sobeys. Don't get me wrong, they're all great chains in their own right - but if you're going to make enough chutney to feed all 60 of your cousins, then you're going to need a lot of inexpensive sugar.
4. Share. That neighbour who lent you her soup tureen for you to can all those peaches? The great-uncle who helped you pick enough raspberries for 20 jars of jam (that's a LOT of berries!)? The father-in-law who doesn't need anything and stumps you every Christmas when you wonder what to get him? The answer is here: canned goods. You made them yourself, and everyone knows that handmade tastes better! Place a square of bright fabric over the lid, tie it on with some hemp/ribbon/an elastic, and voila! Instant gift.
The best part, though, is that I know exactly what went into what I'm eating. And tasting the delicious results of one's own hard work is always rewarding.
Canning tips or questions? Let me know here! If I don't have the answer, I bet I know who does. :)