The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
When I first read this challenge, I had very mixed feelings. I have never tried my hand at canning before, and, quite frankly, I have been scared to do so. I have heard scary stories about bacteria and botulism and all kinds of things that could go wrong if the canning process didn't work. On the other hand, it lets you take advantage of seasonal fruits and veggies year round, and have greater control over the foods you eat.
With the detailed instructions from John, as well as great hints and tips from other veteran canners on the Daring Cooks' forum, I decided to push my fears aside and give the challenge a go.
John provided a couple of recipes to get the group started, but did not limit us to those recipes. The primary recipe that he gave was for apple butter, as apples are now coming into season (at least in the U.S.), but he also gave a couple of tomato recipes, as well.
Since I had never done any canning before, I wanted to do a trial run before "committing" to an actual recipe. Not willing to step too far off the path for my trial, I chose John's "Bruschetta in a Jar" recipe, using tomatoes, vinegar and garlic (primarily), as I had all of the ingredients readily available. The preparation process itself was very simple - a sterilized canning jar is filled with diced tomatoes, then topped with a cooked mixture of vinegar, garlic and spices. The lids, which were kept warm in a pot of water, were then carefully centered on the jars, then secured with the jars' sealing rings. So far so good.
Then came the part that made me nervous - boiling the jars to secure the seals. I do not have a formal canning set, with a rack and a jar lifter and all of the other tools that make the canning process easier. Instead, I jerry-rigged a setup using my biggest pot (8 quarts) and crumpled foil under each jar in place of a rack. After boiling the jars for the 20 minutes indicated by the recipe, I carefully lifted them from the boiling water bath using regular kitchen tongs and set them aside to sit for 24 hours to then test the seals.
There are several ways of checking that the jars have fully sealed, from a visual check of the lid, to pressing the lid to make sure that it does not move or pop up at all. The biggest test, though, is the "lift" test. If the jar is sealed properly, you should be able to lift it by the lid, without the sealing ring. As you might imagine, I was very nervous about attempting the lift test, visualizing the mess that would ensue should the jar not actually be sealed. But after looking at and touching the lids, making sure in every other way that the boiling process had worked, I tried it. And guess what? It worked! Both jars lifted beautifully, proving that I had correctly canned my tomatoes! Woo hoo!
With my trial run completed so successfully, I was much more confident about trying my hand at canning something else. Luckily for little miss's adventurous side, our local orchard had several crops in season, just waiting to be picked, so we selected two additional recipes to make and can.
We started with end of season raspberries, with plans of making jam. Of course, in order to make enough jam to justify canning, it takes many, many, many raspberries. It took us quite a while, but we were finally able to pick about three pounds of these beautiful, bright red berries.
Also, in the spirit of the challenge that John originally put forth, we decided to pick apples, too, to make apple butter. We chose to pick Ginger Golds, as the orchard's picking guide indicated that they were good for sauces and for cooking. They were actually very fun to pick, since the trees were very little, meaning that little miss could easily reach the apples herself. We managed to pick eleven pounds of these beautiful apples before deciding that fourteen pounds of fruit in one day was probably good for the "small batches" we'd intended to make.
I chose a very simple jam recipe for the raspberries, using two ingredients - equal parts berries and sugar. Apparently raspberries are high enough in pectin that, given a bit of cooking (with the sugar, of course), no additional pectin is needed for the jam to jell up appropriately. A bit of mashing and a whole bunch of stirring, and I was ready to give the canning a second go. After a brief stint in the boiling water bath, I soon had two beautiful jars of really delicious raspberry jam. At this point, we have actually eaten most of one jar (and these were the big jars!) already, but I have the other jar in the pantry and am look forward to enjoying it in a couple of months, as a reminder of the wonderful summer fruit we were able to pick.
As for the apples? We love our crock pot for making apple sauce and apple butter. Little miss loves to watch me use the apple corer, and had the fun job (I swear, she enjoyed it!) or scooping the chopped apples into the crock pot. A little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon and many hours later, we soon had some super delicious apple sauce (little miss decided she would rather apple sauce to apple butter), of which we actually only made one actual jar. The rest was stored in the refrigerator in regular plastic containers, and was eaten very, very quickly. I don't expect our lone jar to last much longer, either... Lucky for us it is only the beginning of apple season - I plan on enjoying homemade applesauce for as long as possible after this season, now that I am comfortable canning it.
Thank you, John, for this challenge, without which I would never have tried my hand at food preserving. I am excited to be able to make and preserve my own jams and other fruit and veggie products, and to have yet another kitchen skill to add to my arsenal!
To see some of the fun canning projects undertaken by the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.
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