Last summer, I decided I wanted to start canning.
To be honest I can’t remember what sparked the desire in the first place, but I was enamored with the idea of shelves lined with different sizes and colours of jars full of homemade goodness. I was already on a mission to eat almost entirely locally-grown and produced food, and the two ambitions seemed to go hand in hand, as preserving local produce could help me eat local throughout the winter. About this time last year (a year ago tomorrow, actually), my mother-in-law Linda loaded me down with garbage bags full of beautiful herbs and vegetables from her garden, but instead of getting my act together and making pickles and preserves, I ate some of it fresh and most of it went bad. My own tiny, experimental garden sat sad, neglected, and unharvested. I completely and utterly failed at harvest season.
I did, however, do a great deal of research last year before chickening out, and I started researching again a month or so ago, hoping to gain enough confidence to actually go for it. I live in a very small apartment now, instead of the small house I lived in last year, but the kitchen is still respectable enough, and I figured I could make it happen if I really wanted. So last weekend at the farmer’s market, I picked up 4 lbs of bread and butter cukes and a bunch of dill, and decided to finally dive in head first with a small batch of pickles.
I discovered that both of my two large stock pots were up to the job of being boiling-water-bath canners, which cut down the expense of supplies considerably; I just needed inexpensive canning racks and basics like jar-lifting tongs and, of course, jars and lids.
Chopping veggies is my favourite part of any cooking endeavor, so making neat little spears of of the cucumbers and packing them into litre jars was a piece of cake.
The brine was simple: water, vinegar, and the most salt I have ever put into anything, ever. Then the scary part: processing the jars in the boiling water bath.
To be honest, I’m not sure how this went. I think I had the jars in there way too long before the water was at a full boil, and all that sitting around in hot water plus the 25-minute boiling water processing time seems like it could’ve made the texture of the pickles less than ideal. I’m not sure yet, though, as the recipe only made 3 jars and I don’t want to open one right away before the flavours have had a chance to do their thing in there. So the jury’s still out on these bad boys:
In good news, though, they all sealed properly, which is awesome and gave me a boost of confidence to take on another project this weekend: jelly.
I’ve been growing herbs in an Aerogarden on my kitchen counter for a couple months now, and the plants have gotten so large that they need to be picked constantly to keep from hitting the grow lights and igniting. So I figured it was time to really start harvesting them, and the book I’ve been using as a reference for food preservation (which is excellent and I whole-heartedly recommend, btw) mentioned herb jellies as a possible route to take. I decided to try mint jelly, which my Mum uses in her Christmas baking and which is also supposed to be delicious served with lamb.
It was a pretty foolproof jelly, since it relied entirely on store-bought liquid pectin to set. I started by picking all my mint and making an infusion with it in boiling water:
Then I strained it through a jelly bag, and cooked the infusion with sugar, lemon juice, and liquid pectin (and a few drops of food colouring for presentation’s sake)
After a quick and easy 5 minute process (which I nailed this time, lesson learned) I had 4 beautiful jars of mint jelly.
While all this mint craziness was going on, I was also preparing crabapple juice to be made into jelly. A coworker gave me a box of crabapples from his tree on Friday, and I wanted to use them before they got any older, as they were already absolutely perfect.
After cooking for 25 minutes and straining through a jelly bag, I had 4 cups of beautiful pink juice to work with. From there it was pretty much the same as the mint jelly, minus the added pectin and colouring, and the end result was just as gorgeous:
It feels good to finally be on my way to a show-off worthy pantry. And just today I scored about 30 lbs of apples, so I’m taking suggestions for my next project!