We are deep in the heart of summer, and my husband’s garden is putting out veggies faster than we can use them…much to the delight of his co-workers. I’ve been using up or canning as fast as I can, and I love seeing the cabinets slowly filling up:
I’m about to embark on a batch of enchilada sauce (because who doesn’t like that idea), and as much as I hate turning my kitchen into a sauna on an already 100-degree day, it’s totally worth it. Our booming tomato crop is one of the best parts of summer, and I’m going to stretch it as far as humanly possible. I also added two new books to my preserving collection to ensure we have as many options as possible:
While I love canning, I have to admit that sometimes, expectations and reality need a little reconciliation, regardless of your level of experience. If you’re ready to hop in the kitchen with a fresh crop, here’s my five basic tips/thoughts to get started:
- If you’re a canning newbie, by all means, buy a book. The Ball Blue Book is a great reference for all things preserving, including what can be water-bathed and what needs a pressure canner. Most of the recipes in this book are basic staples, but it really is a great starting point. Unless you love a good case of life-threatening food poisoning, don’t go surfing Pinterest for canning recipes. You want to start with published, tested recipes that are crafted by people who actually know a little something about food safety.
- Dispel any notions you have about “quick and easy.” Yes, canning is easy. However, if you think you are going to transform those 10 pounds of tomatoes into salsa in under an hour, you’re in for a reality check. While that salsa may only have a 15-minute processing time, the majority of your time will be spent preparing the vegetables and cooking the mixtures. If you have help, it will go faster, but if you’re coring and chopping all that mess yourself, you’re in for a project. It’s no big deal if you know what you’re in for, but when a project takes significantly longer than people expect, they can get discouraged.
- Make sure you have everything you need laid out before you start. Once you get going, you’re usually stuck. So, if you misjudged how much sugar/lemon/pectin you’d need, you may be SOL depending on the recipe. While this is true of all cooking, canning does not allow shortcuts or substitutions so you cannot improvise on the fly.
- Don’t can something just to can it. Use recipes that you will use or your family will actually want to eat. Otherwise you will just end up with a cabinet full of jars you’ll throw out next summer. For example, my family would never use enough tomato juice to justify that effort. I’ve learned to be honest with myself and stick to things that I know I’ll use.
- If you’re working with your own garden, learn to be flexible. My plants’ production varies week to week (including how much damage the birds inflict). So, while I was hoping for 14 pounds for crushed tomatoes this week, I only ended up with 8 pounds. I always have 3-6 recipes on deck that vary in their requirements. By planning for a few contingencies, I can make the most with what I have.
As much as I’m not doing cartwheels at the thought of an steamy afternoon in the kitchen, I’ll keep at it. There really is something nourishing about caring for the harvest that started way back in January.