Is winter over yet?? That seems to be a sentiment I’m hearing from a lot of people, and I’m afraid I have to concur. I know that technically we just had the first day of spring, but in my neck of the woods it feels like the sun will never shine again. Ok, so maybe that’s being a little dramatic, but I can’t help it, I’m ready for some sun! That’s why today I’m going to talk about canning, because those jars up there are like bottled sunshine to me.
Sounds silly I know, but that’s just how much joy this little hobby has brought me over the past year. My first venture into the world of canning and preserving was when I canned some apricot and strawberry jams for a special little party last summer. Unfortunately for the recipients, the jams could have used a little bit of work. Sorry guys! It was only my first attempt! But I at least learned the canning process, and after one time I was hooked. I quickly started getting my hands on as much fresh produce as I could and became a canning fool. Every trip to the farmer’s market was an exciting adventure into what I could can next. What could I put-up with fruits such as these?
And what tasty creations would come from these beautiful veggies?
Just look at how gorgeous all that produce is! What I love about canning, and what makes me think of those little jars as bottled sunshine, is that it’s all about preserving the freshest, most perfect fruits and vegetables. I love searching out a fruit or vegetable at its most absolute peak of ripeness and perfection and finding a recipe that will preserve that glorious moment. So that months later, when that jar is opened up it brings me back to that moment in time. Each time I open a jar of something I canned last summer, I swear I taste the sunshine that made that peach, or green bean or tomato, the most perfect specimen of flavor. That may sound a bit cheesy I know, but I just can’t help it .
How great is it to take something that tastes so good already, and doing something with it to make it even more special? That peach that is dripping with juice when you bite into and tastes so sweet it’s like pure sugar? Put that in some brandied vanilla syrup and save that sweetness for the depths of winter when you really need some perking up.
Or how about those just-picked strawberries that are almost too good to stop eating by hand? Cook them into a jam with some orange juice and zest to really make their flavor sing, and then enjoy that jam on your morning toast months later when fresh strawberries are a distant memory.
Another thing I love about canning is the wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Canning is not difficult, but it can take time and patience, which makes the end result just that much more rewarding. You may have just spent an hour pitting several pounds of cherries and then another hour preserving them, but you just created something that you will get to continue to enjoy over the next year. Each time you open up one of those jars and savor the flavor of that fleeting summer fruit, you will be reminded of the work that went into it, and it will make it that much sweeter.
And there’s something so great about making something without preservatives, without added flavorings and dyes, something that is just pure preserved goodness. Most canning recipes only involve a handful of ingredients. I love knowing exactly what goes into each jar, so that I know exactly what is going into me when I’m eating it.
If it isn’t obvious yet, this whole canning thing has become one of my favorite hobbies, and one that is extremely important to me. I know I’ve already listed some of the reasons that I love it so much, but there’s something else about it that makes it special that I can’t quite put my finger on. All I know is that after I first started this hobby last summer, I couldn’t stop. I canned,
and canned some more.
I couldn’t stop myself! I had no idea where all this food was going, or what I was going to do with it. I mean, there are only so many canned goods that two people can eat over a year. And I didn’t even have a proper place to store all these canned goods. Here’s a reminder of the shack I’m living in. Pretty soon I had over a 100 canned items, sitting in piles on the floor of the bedroom.
Why had I canned so much, and what was driving this obsession? Definitely part of it had to do with how much joy I get out of sharing the creations with others. There’s nothing better than giving away a jar of something you lovingly made with your own two hands. Lucky for me, Christmas was right around the corner, and that huge stash of canned goods became presents and a way to spread holiday cheer. I packed them up in baskets and boxes, shipped them off to relatives and friends, and crossed my fingers that everything tasted ok. Here are some of the baskets getting ready for delivery:And maybe that joy of giving is really what this whole obsession is about. I’ve come to realize that I’m happiest when I’m sharing with others things that I’ve made. Who knows, perhaps someday I’ll get to do that for a living; that would be the ultimate dream. For now I’ll just enjoy getting to do it in my free time.
This canning post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the book that helped teach me how to can, and continues to provide me with amazing recipes for canning, season by season. And that book would be Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. Every single recipe I’ve tried (16 and counting!) out of this cookbook has been a revelation. I love this book so much that I’ve been working an idea around in my head of attempting to make every recipe in the book(!), and chronicling the experience. I told you, I’m obsessed!
What I love about this particular canning cookbook is it’s a fresh new look at the act of canning, that makes it completely accessible to those who have never done it before. I also love that she doesn't use pectin in any of her recipes (a topic which could fill another entire post, so I will spare you with the details on that at the moment). Instructions in the book are not scary, or intimidating, and oh my goodness are there some irresistible recipes in this book.
Take these Dilly Beans for instance. These little beans may not look like much, but they are so incredible that they deserve a post all to themselves. They are so good that everyone I’ve handed them out to has asked for more. My brother has become so obsessed with these little pickled treats that he won’t leave me alone until I provide him with another jar or two. He frequently sends me text messages that simply read: “dilly beans?” As in, “where are my dilly beans?” It's amazing how good the combination of green beans, garlic, dill and peppers can be when pickled in some apple cider vinegar.
Another favorite recipe from the cookbook is the Peach Jam with Lemon Thyme and Almonds. The combination may sound a little odd at first, but the unique flavor of the lemon thyme and the added texture of the almonds makes this something special.
Basically I have yet to find a recipe that didn't impress. For example, these Preserved Grapefruit Segments in Mint Syrup that I canned the night before last. I will be back to talk to you about these in a few days, because they are just too good not to.
I'm still learning when it comes to this whole canning thing, and I hope to continue to share my experiences on this blog. In no way do I claim to be an expert at any of this, and would welcome any comments and suggestions along the way. Especially of things to make! I've already got my sights set on Pickled Asparagus, Strawberry and Lavender Jam, Homemade Ketchup, the list goes on and on...