Today's Homesteading: Making Preserves

Our homesteading series continues this Monday with a look at canning preserves.  Of all the things canned in our home when I was a kid, this was truly my favorite.  The smell is intoxicating... and I knew tasting was always likely.

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Canning is very easy and economical.  You can purchase specialized tools, but if you will be doing it on a very small scale I would not bother.  You probably have most if not all of the necessary tools right now.  The ingredients are up to you, but can also be economical if you purchase things when in season and on sale.  Strawberries are often a very good bargain at the peak of their season.  In this way, you can "preserve" the best of the season for a time later in the year when the warm days of summer are long gone.

savour... summer in a jar

Get the rest after the jump...

Making Preserves

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There are a few simple rules to follow and an incredible amount of information available.  Here are some basics:

Use a wide pot.  This will allow for maximum evaporation.  A copper one is best as it offers the most consistent heat, but another metal will do as long as it is not aluminum.

Hand wash your jars and lids.  You can use the sanitize cycle of your dishwasher if you have one.  Then place jars on a baking sheet and keep in the oven at 180 degrees until ready to use.

Keep the jars sanitized.  Use tongs to handle them.

Sugar is the ingredient that is primarily responsible for thickening.  You need just enough to sweeten yet allow the flavor of the fruit to shine through.

Every jam will need some acid.  This counters some of the sweetness, brings out the flavors, and adds the right amount of texture to the jam.  In most cases, this will come from lemon juice.  Be careful not to add too much.  Start with too little and taste as you build.  Keep in mind that things often taste sweeter when hot than at room temperature.

Pectin is a naturally occurring complex carb in fruit.  It requires sugar and acid to activate.  When activated it allows the jam to thicken as it cools.  At its ripest, most fruit will need very little pectin. Add sparingly.

A great way to test for readiness is the cold spoon test.  Place a few spoons on a small plate in the freezer before you start.  When you think you are ready to can your preserves fill one of the spoons about half full and place in the freezer for 3 minutes.  Take the spoon out and turn it vertically.  If the jam runs slowly, it is ready to be canned.  If not, return the pot to the stove for a couple of minutes and retest.

Be sure to leave 1/4 to 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar to allow for expansion during the canning process.

After you have filled jars clean the rim carefully.  Nothing should interfere with a good seal.

Only secure as tight as you can with your fingers.  The seal should be loose enough to allow air to escape the jars.

The water should be at least 1 inch over the top of your jars when you start the canning process.

Allow the jars to rest for at least 12 hours.  Do not tighten them.  The lid should seal on its own first.

Before you start:

Jams are great because they can be used in a variety of ways.  You can spread them on toast or a sandwich, top your ice cream with them or even add a dollop to some cream cheese and use as a dip for crackers.

White Currant Fig Jam

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The ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups fig - chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups white currants
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 oz. fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon liquid fruit pectin

The method:

  1. Place chopped figs in pot with 1/2 cup sugar.  Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.  Sugar should be completely moistened and mostly dissolved.
  2. Bring to a boil over med/high heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.
  3. Add white currants and remaining 1/2 cup sugar.
  4. Continue to boil over med/high heat for additional 5 minutes.
  5. Add pectin. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until mixture passes the frozen spoon test.
  6. Remove from heat and fill jars.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

The ingredients:

  • 5 cups strawberries - hulled
  • 2 cups rhubarb - chopped
  • 3 cups sugar
  • juice of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoon liquid fruit pectin

The method:

  1. Place chopped rhubarb in pot with 1 1/2 cup sugar.  Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.  Sugar should be completely moistened and mostly dissolved.
  2. Bring to a boil over med/high heat and continue to boil for 7 minutes.  Stir frequently.
  3. Add strawberries and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar.
  4. Continue to boil over med/high heat for additional 10 minutes.
  5. Add pectin. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until mixture passes the frozen spoon test.
  6. Remove from heat and fill jars.