Back in the canning saddle with The Canning Kitchen

This will not be a sentimental story.

There will be no reminiscing of a mother who put up pickles every summer or knocked it out of the park with her raspberry jam while I tugged at her apron strings wanting in on the action.

My mom didn’t can when I was growing up. She did other things like ace a sauerbraten or bake a German plum cake that leaves me feeling just a little nostalgic for my childhood as I type.

I also have no great stories about grandmothers packing the season’s bounty into mason jars to enjoy later. Both my Omas lived in Germany. One was abysmal in the kitchen. The other made the dreamiest mirabelle plum jam but I only ever enjoyed the finished product and not the process. She always had it ready, the jars neatly lined up in her pantry, for whatever family was making the trip to visit her from their scattered locations.

No, my canning story is more pragmatic. It was a bit of a do or die situation — for my career and, I was certain, for me. It was the summer of 2007 when I was trying out the 100-Mile Diet and writing a series of stories about it for work. Seemed a fitting assignment for an agriculture reporter still relatively new to Niagara.

In hindsight, it was an incredible learning experience, but in the moment, it was incredibly hard, even in Niagara. I was hungry all the time. I found myself doing crazy things just to eat, like clocking ridiculous miles in search of my next meal. Or making yogurt and winding up with curdled milk goop that I was certain really would kill me.

If anything good came of this project in the kitchen, it was that my desperation to fill my belly got me over my fear of taking that critical step to becoming the ultimate locavore. One Saturday, with three litres of beans sitting on my counter and threats of botulism in my head, I googled what seemed like sound — and very easy — instructions to can pickled beans. I was destined to succeed if I ignored that foreboding voice in my mind and boiled the heck out of those mason jars before packing them with beans, garlic and dill, and boiling the heck out of them again. When I pulled my shiny jars with their flak-jacket green contents from their hot water bath, I was mostly sure I’d live to tell people about this achievement, let alone eat it.

Two weeks later when I cracked that first jar, I did both. And for seven summers after that, canning became my ritual. Strawberry-red currant jam, more dilly beans, red currant jelly, wild violet jelly, hot sauce, relish, and tomato sauce were my standards. I eventually worked up the courage to really show that botulism bug who was boss and started fermenting vegetables.

Last year, though, with my focus on preserving my genes in a new little human instead, I didn’t think I had time to can anything. Being a new mom trying to cram to-do lists into unpredictable nap times, I made freezing my preserving method of choice. So after a year off, I was grateful to get Amy Bronee’s The Canning Kitchen: 101 Small Batch Recipes (Penguin, $28) in my clutches (thank you, Penguin Random House Canada) for the inspiration to start up again.

photo of the cover of the canning kitchen by amy bronee

The recipes are simple enough to show canning newbies that they really are able do what some, like me in 2007, find daunting. But the book’s real brilliance is in how it reminded this mom that she can whip off a batch of jam in an hour (a fete accompli during a more predictable nap time) and get on with her day.

I was instantly drawn to the recipe for blueberry lime jam. The sweetness combined with that pop of citrus sounded ideal, and now that I’ve made it, I know for sure it is. That recipe with its four simple ingredients of berries, lime, pectin and sugar is a keeper.

That said, I did have to rely on my previous canning experience to work through one part of this recipe: determining whether my berries should be heating up as I was mashing them. It doesn’t say this in the instructions. I figured it out by reading the next paragraph, which talked about adding the rest of the ingredients and bringing them to a full boil. (Indeed, mash while heating.) I pictured canning newbie me eight years ago being very confused — and fearful — by this: should I mash first, heat later, or do both at once? Is this over high heat or medium-high?

I also had to do some serious math when figuring out how many pints equalled three pounds of berries, which the recipe called for. My conversion calculator was no help, and unless you’re going to pick your own berries, which is usually done by weight, a dry pints-to-pound conversion note for those of us buying at the market — I got mine from Pelham’s Bry-Anne Farms — or roadside stand would have been wonderful.

Still, the end result of my efforts was beautiful blueberry lime jam of a lovely consistency. One of my taste-testers described it as loose but it was exactly how I like jam: easily spreadable. I’m no fan of jams so firm I feel like I have to mash it to move it around my toast. I also got a bonus jar out of my batch. No complaints here, so nicely done, Amy.

A spoonful of jam resting on top of a jam jar.

My blueberry lime jam, as per Amy Bronee’s instructions.

Also, bravo to her for clearly and simply explaining all the equipment, steps and tricks for getting perfect and safe-to-eat preserves. That big name big book of preserving that’s a bible for many could take a lesson from this book. She also puts the easiest recipes up front. Jams and jellies, some with as few as three ingredients, are cleverly placed to ease people into preserving. The recipes get more complex and creative the deeper into the book you go, as if progressing with one’s canning career and confidence. The chutneys, sauces, relishes, pickles and mustards made my mouth water. There will be chimchurri and pickled ginger in my future.

This book will be well-used, its pages splattered and stained in no time. And my apologies now to Amy and her gorgeous photographs for that. Oh, and despite her reassurances, I still found myself boiling my jars to sterilize before packing them.

What can I say? Old (irrational) fears die hard.

Thanks again, Penguin Random House Canada, for the book. And thanks for giving me a copy to give away. If you want to add this lovely volume to your collection (you do!), leave a comment telling me your favourite food to preserve or your canning ambitions if you’ve never done it. I’ll draw the winner from a super snazzy hat , or maybe a mason jar, on Aug. 20.

This contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. And congratulations to Matthew! Your name was drawn from the official EN wooden salad bowl.

Want to better your chances of winning? This post is part of a Food Bloggers of Canada blog tour. Check out the wonderful words written by my fellow bloggers as well and enter their draws, too.

Janice at Kitchen Heals Soul made sweet Thai chilli chutney
Bridget made apple butter in her Green Kitchen
Jenny, a.k.a. the Brunette Baker, put up strawberry rhubarb jam
Megan at Food and Whine, packed summer in strawberry jam
Anita experimented with zesty pizza sauce over at The Organic Experiment
Jeanine provides her faithfully gluten free thoughts on pink lemonade jelly
Julie at Try Small Things tried thick cut orange marmalade
Kelly Neil mustered up the nerve to make hot dog relish
Michelle at The Tiffin Box jarred sour cherry jam

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33 responses to “Back in the canning saddle with The Canning Kitchen”

  1. Matthew says:

    my favourite canning adventure so far has been tomatoes. We’ve done so much with our fresh local tomatoes all year it’s been the most satisfying kitchen work I’ve been a part of.

  2. Ginger says:

    Without a doubt, my favourite thing I have ever canned is Damson Plum Jam made with plums I had to scrounge at the end of a driveway from some farm in NOTL. #EatingNiagara #BestBlogEver

  3. Kim says:

    Love to preserve Niagara peaches and blueberries to make a beautiful crisp in the middle of winter…….yum

  4. Amanda says:

    My favourite thing to can is pepper jellies. I make them in all different flavours and am always looking for new inspirations. I discovered canning last year and quickly became addicted.

  5. Wayne says:

    My favorite would be tomato jam/chutney from ‘Food in Jars’ by Marisa McClellan. A great condiment for fish. I do up the heat with a scotch bonnet or two. It’s a great way to convert 5 lb. of
    excess tomatoes into 4x250ml. jars.

  6. Carol M says:

    I remember that my Mom used to make pickled crap apples. I loved them so much and would love to be able to do my own.

  7. Suzanne says:

    I grew up eating canned peaches, pears and strawberry jam. I expanded my horizons a few years ago when I was inspired by an article in the St. Catharines Standard entitled Tomatoes 101. I prepped a bushel of tomatoes and made tomato basil sauce, tomato vegetable sauce and pizza sauce. Recipes were from the Harrow Fair cookbook. All were delicious. Last summer I decided that I was too busy to make tomato sauce! What a mistake! I can’t decide if the tomato basil sauce or the tomato vegetable sauce is my favourite. I will be making both this year. The pizza sauce rocks too!

  8. Laureen Fox says:

    I canned a couple of things last year and loved the results. This book would give me some inspiration for preserving this year’s fresh local fruits and vegetables.

  9. Madeleine says:

    My mom use to make pickled crab apples. I loved those as a kid but haven’t had a chance to make them yet.

  10. Barb says:

    I can can and this book sounds amazing! I would LOVE to try Amy’s recipes.

  11. Monica says:

    My family loves Lady Ashburnham Pickles and I plan to make a big batch this fall!

  12. LJ Stubbs says:

    I’ve made strawberry and tomato jam and they’re tasty and all but I think I need to make some savoury preserves. Some pickles and some chutney maybe.

  13. Teresa says:

    I’ve been canning with my mother for a few years now and before that, I always helped her make strawberry freezer jam. I’ve been happy to branch out from traditional recipes over the last year or two and this book seems like it’s right up my alley. The jalapeno jam I made a few weeks ago is my current favourite.

  14. Francine says:

    I’ve only ever made pickles, but would love to try some relish or jam

  15. patricia says:

    I think my favorite thing to can is raspberry rhubarb jam. It is so easy and so delicious.

  16. Stacey says:

    Love this post- got me a little inspired. My mom cans every year- peaches, pears, chilli sauce, red pepper jelly, strawberry jam. I don’t have the time to do all that canning or the room to store it. However, this year I plan on trying my hand at peach salsa and bread and butter pickles. I also peel Roma tomatoes and freeze them to make sauce in the winter.
    Love the blog!!

  17. Linda says:

    I really want to try canning peaches or making strawberry jam.

  18. I really want to try making shelf stable pickles to last me through the winter. 🙂

  19. Lisa Neutel says:

    i have always wanted to can but just never learned ..this book would be helpful to a newbie like me..mykids LOVE dill pickles always wanted to can my own

  20. I love canning, and I think my favourite thing that I’ve canned this year (so far), has been pickled asparagus. Turned out a lot better than I expected.

  21. Lucie Palka says:

    I tried canning my very own strawberry jam once, according to my mom’s recipe. I didn’t listen to her advice though, to use the biggest pot I could find. The boiling fruit spilled over and caused a huge mess on the stovetop. Although the jam was successful, the cleaning process was gruelling and I haven’t attempted it since. Perhaps this book would reinspire to try?

  22. Nicole Jubleew says:

    Peaches are my favourite food to can!

  23. Amy M says:

    I’ve never canned before but would love to try my hand at some strawberry or peach jam.

  24. Laura says:

    Jams are my fav to make. I end up sharing most of them as I don’t actually eat a lot of jam, but there’s something so satisfying in taking wonderful, fresh, summer fruit and knowing it’s there for you during January’s cold darkness.

    • I’m the same way with my jam. In fact, I gave away most of this batch because I knew I couldn’t eat it all myself. But I get you about a bright spot in January’s darkness. Thanks for reading!

  25. Vicky says:

    I haven’t tried canning anything yet on my own but I have a few favourites from my mum’s kitchen! Being from Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, QC where our main exportation in summer is wild blueberries I’d have to say that they are probably my #1 preserve! 🙂

  26. Tiffany says:

    Dilled beans would have to be one of my favorites, but that blueberry lime sounds amazing! I am currently waiting for cases of peaches to come on sale so I can try peach salsa!

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  27. Donna Blaufuss says:

    My favorite food to preserve was most definitely pears. Might be an old standby, but it brings back great memories of my grandparent’s massive pear tree. We had had dozens of jars to last a whole year! Ah, simpler times, and fond remembrances. Thanks for the post Tiffany!

    • I probably love a canned pear better than the fresh ones. As a kid, I picked out all the peaches and pears in my canned fruit and ate those before anything else. Every yard needs a pear tree. Thanks for reading, Donna.

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