Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On canning

Sorry I've been so absent. Busy, as usual. Instead of a recipe today, here are the top five things I like about canning.

1: You have an abundance of something, and you can TOTALLY keep it. Bought a bunch of stonefruit at the farmer's market and then realized you can't eat it all? My nectarine-plum jam from last year was one of the best I've ever made, and it was completely that kind of situation. I saw blackberries for a ridiculously low price at Costco this weekend, and instead of thinking "Aw, I'll never be able to eat all those before they go bad," I thought "Jam!" And then there was jam, and it was good, and we'll be able to have in when no blackberries are in season.

2: You can make stuff the way you like it. I, for instance, really prefer my jams less sweet, more chunky and seedy, and a little rustic, I guess. I have no love at all for Smuckers. I want my fruit to taste like fruit. And when you can your own, you can make it exactly like you want it. If that is sweet and seedless and sticky, have fun!

3: You're free to experiment. Late summer/early fall this year, I bought 40 pounds of plums. I then proceeded to make black-pepper plum jam, thai chile plum jam, much hotter Thai chile plum jam, cinnamon plum jam, ginger plum jam, star anise plum jam, and plain old plum jam. Because why not? I have also tried strawberry vanilla, blackberry honey, and pear ginger. I've made pickles with far more chiles than the recipe called for, because that's how we like them. As long as you know the basics of how much acid you need, it's really no big deal to mess around a little. If you have a pectin that you can use with no-sugar recipes, experiment with Splenda, with Stevia, with honey, with less sugar. I'm going to make a special batch of something for my diabetic aunt this year. 'Cause I totally can.

4: It's cheaper (sometimes). I think I ended up making eight batches of plum jam. I spent $20 on the plums, and I probably spent $20 on the jars (because I am not very good at keeping track of jars, and I give them away and always need new ones). If you figure about five half-pints per batch, that's a dollar per jar. I also save megabucks on pickles. My husband loves pickles, and we had to buy at least a jar every three weeks, and our favorite ones were about $6 a jar. I bought 10 pounds of cucumbers for $5 and made pickles with them, some sugar, some salt, and some cider vinegar. It was easy and very cheap. I also had big jars already, so my only expense was a pack of lids, which runs a couple bucks. There are exceptions, of course. If you're buying blackberries at $3 a pint and you need six pints to make a small batch, you're not saving any money. On the other hand, if you think of the fancy jams from twee little gift shops, you may still be saving compared to those.

5: It's nostalgic for me. Maybe this isn't true for you, but my grandmother was a canner. I'd go over and there would be jars sitting upside down on towels on the counter and her little kitchen would be filled with steam. In the winter, I would crack open a jar of apricot halves, and their smell, their texture, and their sweet syrup would entice me. I sometimes ate a whole jar in a sitting. She also made jams and jellies, and I've rarely if ever had better. Today I posted on Facebook about making apple butter, and my cousin pleaded with me to tell her it wasn't like Grandma's, because her mouth was watering. But it is. It's deep brown and has more cinnamon that most people probably use, and I used a nice tart apple, and it's divine. And it's like childhood came back for a second.

Bonus: Pickled carrots. These combine numbers 2-5. I'm a recent convert to pickled carrots, and I am insane in the membrane for them. But the ones in the store cost a lot more than my homemade version. Plus, they are often softer than I like. Plus, they sometimes come with other stuff I don't want, like onions or cauliflower. Plus, I like them nice and spicy, with lots of jalapenos! Plus, I'm going to try them with garlic next time. I'm not one to say that you can make absolutely anything you've tried and liked, but frankly, if it's something in a jar, I'm willing to bet you can (ouch, pun attack!).

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