Preserving today’s fruits for tomorrow’s use
May 20, 2013
Canning one’s own food used to be seen as quaint. Okay in a nostalgic “It reminds me of my Grandma” sort of way, but nearly obsolete in a practical sense. However, as people are becoming more conscious of what goes into their bodies—and as home gardens gain popularity—canning is making a comeback.
What used to be essential for survival—think the Great Depression—has now become a healthy lifestyle choice. After all, when you can your own fruits, you know exactly what goes into the jars. Many store-bought jams and preserves are made with additives and chemicals to extend their shelf lives—and make them sweeter. But, there’s a growing awareness that these things are not good for our bodies and many are returning to the way people used to eat: simple, fresh, whole foods.
Home canning is not only healthier, but it is also frugal. Making your own spreads and preserves—or canning your own applesauce or peaches—is a great way to save money. And, it’s not complicated. There ar
e two methods for this process - you can either use a water bath canner or a pressure canner.
Water bath canner
This method uses boiling water to seal your jars shut. Any metal container that is large enough and has a tight-fitting lid can serve as a water bath canner. You will also need a wire rack to sit inside the canner and hold the jars in place so you can remove them without scalding your hands.
For pint-sized jars you will want a container that is 10 inches deep, and for quart-sized jars, look for one that is 12 inches deep. Fill the canner so that the water is four to five inches deeper than the height of the jars. The temperature of the water and the length of time the jars are in the canner will depend on the recipe you’re following and whether you are raw-packing or hot-packing the jars.
The second method does not fully submerge the jars, but instead uses heat to press the air out. The rising heat of the water increases the temperature in the jars until all the air has escaped and any bacteria have been killed. At this point, the jars will have sealed themselves shut.
A pressure canner typically takes 10 to 15 minutes to seal jars. Depending on its size, the canner will need to cool for 30 to 60 minutes before you slowly open it. Speeding up the cooling process or opening the lid too hastily can be dangerous if the pressure hasn’t been able to dissipate.
When canning fruit, it is important to use standard canning jars with two-piece lids. Never reuse jars from the grocery store, such as mayonnaise or pickle jars, because they may crack from the heat or seal incorrectly.
How to can fruit
- Choose wisely: Select fruit that is not overripe and wash it thoroughly to remove any dirt—but don’t soak the fruit or you’ll deplete the flavor and nutrients.
- Act quickly: The sooner you can your fruit after harvesting, the more flavor and nutrients you’ll capture.
- Add liquid: Whether it’s a sugar syrup, juice extracted from fresh fruit, or plain boiling water, liquid is essential to the process. If you choose to make a sugar syrup, up to half of the sugar in a recipe can be substituted for brown sugar or mild-tasting honey. Sugar is not necessary for canning, but can help fruits retain their shapes, colors, and flavors. The fruit can then either be packed into jars raw along with the boiling liquid, or boiled in the liquid before being portioned into jars. Before you close your lids and place the jars into the cooker, be sure there are no air bubbles. Either method can be used with a pressure canner, but hot packing is typically preferred when using a water bath canner.
Preserves, jellies, and jams—oh marmalade!
If spreadable fruits are your thing, consider the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker. This ultra-easy new product will have you canning jam in just three steps and 30 minutes. Whether you’re craving good old-fashioned strawberry jam to make the perfect PB&J sandwich or tangy pepper jelly to dress up your cream cheese and cracker appetizer, this tool is for you.
Many use these terms interchangeably, but if you want to be a canner-in-the-know, here are the differences:
- Preserves are similar to jam, except the fruit is not mashed. It is often cut into chunks before canning or is even canned whole in some cases.
- Jelly takes a little more work than preserves or jam because it is made only from the juices of the fruit. The easiest way to extract the juice is by using a juicer or a blender.
- Jam is made with the whole fruit so it will contain chunks of different sizes. Mash the fruits in a bowl, but don’t crush them so much that they become mushy.
- Marmalade is made specifically with citrus fruits and includes both the inner flesh and the peel, making it bitterer than the others.
Preserving Jam Maker Jams and Jellies
Once you’ve created your first jars of jam or jelly, you'll want to enjoy them now—and in the future. You can preserve your jam or jelly immediately, using any of the three ways listed below. (This information comes from our friends at Ball.)
Spread it on thick, then save the rest for up to three weeks in your refrigerator. Easy-peasy.
- Ladle hot jam or jelly into hot jars. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Place lids and bands on jars. Label.
- Refrigerate jam or jelly for up to three weeks or serve immediately to enjoy now.
Note: Always heat jars before adding hot jam or jelly to prevent jar breakage. Jars can be heated various ways. Wash and heat in the dishwasher, just ensure they are still hot by the time you fill them. Or, you can heat them in a slow cooker.
Freeze for later
Freeze jam for up to one year, right in your canning jars.
- Ladle hot jam or jelly into hot jars leaving ½-inch headspace. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Place lids and bands on jars. Label.
- Freeze jam or jelly for up to 1 year.
Headspace is the space between the food and the top of the jar. When freezing, food expands. By leaving ½-inch headspace, you will allow for this expansion. Glass jars with straight sides work best for freezing as they allow for food expansion that occurs during the freezing process.
Preserve for later
With the proper gear, jams can be stored for up to one year.
Prepare your canning gear
While jam or jelly is being made in your Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker.
- Fill canner or stockpot half full with water. Place lid on canner. Heat to a simmer. Keep canning rack with lifter to the side until ready to use.
- Wash jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well.
- Keep jars warm until ready to use in order to minimize risk of breakage when filling with hot jam or jelly. You can heat them in your canner or stockpot of simmering water, or in a heated dishwasher. Set lids and bands aside in your work area.
Fill your jars
- Ladle hot jam into hot jars, one at a time, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe any jam or jelly from the rims of the jars. Center lids on jars. Twist on the bands until fingertip tight.
- Place filled jars in the canning rack inside the canner, ensuring jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Place lid on canner. Bring water to gentle, steady boil.
- Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat, remove lid, and let jars stand for five minutes.
- Remove jars from water and cool. Check lids for seal after 12 to 24 hours.
Check the seal
- Press on center of cooled lid. If jar is sealed, the lid will not flex up or down. If it is not sealed, refrigerate immediately or re-process.
- Store sealed jars in pantry for up to one year. Jars may be stored without bands, or you may clean the underside of bands to ensure no moisture is trapped during storage.
- Enjoy your homemade jam or jelly or give as a gift.
Canning your own fruits and vegetables—and more—is healthier and saves you money. Check out our other blogs on the subject here at CHEFS Mix:
Your turn: What is your favorite fruit? Will you try canning it or making a jam out of it?