Archive | March, 2013

Middlest Does It Herself: Food in Jars

5 Mar

Dudes. There is something significantly gratifying when opening a jar of food that you made and preserved yourself. I bet it’s equivalent to cracking an egg from your own chicken; eating meat from something you caught/hunted; perhaps even the same feeling a mother has while holding her infant after delivery. Okay, the last statement may be a bit dramatic, but opening a jar of preserved food feels pretty damn good.

For many summers I have watched my mom sweat over a stove, turning bulk fruits & veggies into goods that my family enjoyed throughout the whole year. The first time I ate a store-bought pickle was in college when my home-supply ran dry. I have yet to this day have needed to purchase store jam. I told myself that when I “grow up” I’m going to start canning my own food. I dabbled some steps with my mother, mostly helping her make raspberry jam, but never tried doing it independently. The idea of giving botulism to a loved one was absolutely terrifying, so the hobby of preserving was put on my “tomorrow” list. That was until this summer when I decided to finally try out canning completely on my own. Luckily my mother had been anticipating the day when I would start my own preserving, so she saved most of the supplies I needed to start canning. What luck! I started to preserve in July and have been able to can throughout the long winter months thanks to [Pete’s Fruit Market] where I get BULK fruits/veggies ridiculously cheap. Such a good store. Anyway, behold my photos of canned goods thus far!


My Canned Goods: Diced Tomatoes, Stewed Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Salsa, Rosy Rhubarb Jam, Pumpkin Spiced Apple Sauce; Bay-leaf Strawberry Jam, Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce.

Let’s get to the good stuff, friends. Now, I am not a canning expert, but I have learned a few things in my experience so far.

  • Follow the recipe exactly, unless if you are tweaking a recipe safely. Recipes are written so that the jars will seal and preserve properly and safely. Having an appropriate acidity for processing is extremely important.
  • Make sure jars and lids are sterile. For extra precautions, I always store my goods without the rings, for my friend CoraL told me that if anything is wrong with the food (like botulism), the lids will pop off.
  • Hot food goes into hot jars. Always have a kennel of boiling water on the stove for a quick water top-off.

  • Sugar — Add more or less. Sugar is added for flavor and for stabilization of shape, set, and color. *Not added as a preservative*
  • Insufficient amts of sugar may result in runny, dribbly spreads which can, but not always, be remedied by increasing cooking times and/or by adding more pectin.
  • Salt — Add more or less except for when making fermented canned goods (eg. sauerkraut). Salt is used as flavor only and doesn’t affect spoilage. Salt affects texture and crunch, as salt pulls moisture from food. Use only salts labeled as Kosher, Canning, or Pickling Salt since regular table salt will make brines cloudy.
  • Salsa — May substitute one type of pepper for another, as long as you don’t increase the total amount of peppers used in recipe.
  • Lemon/Lime Juice — May substitute bottled lemon or bottled lime for vinegar. Unless otherwise noted, always stick to bottled citrus juices, since fresh can vary in acidity.
  • Herbs and spices — Feel free to play with the amounts of herbs/spices in a recipe – it won’t adversely affect the recipe’s pH.
  • Vinegar. — OK to substitute one kind of vinegar for another as long as the vinegar chosen is at least 5% acid.
  • Honey — May be substituted for sugar, but it is not a cup-for-cup ratio since honey is more dense than granulated sugar. 


  • Never increase the amt of vegetables. Could push the pH into dangerously low-acid territory.
  • Never decrease the amt of acid, whether vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice.
  • Never substitute vinegar for bottled lemon or lime juice in a recipe, since vinegar is slightly less acidic than the citruses.
  • Never add more water than a recipe calls for. Could dilute acidity to unsafe levels.
  • Never tweak the amount of salt in a fermented pickle recipe. Too little salt can cause undesirable organisms to grow; too much can kill the beneficial lactic acid bacteria, which is what preserves the food.

Below are the supplies needed for preserving your own food.

Basic canning supplies can be sold as kits at retail stores for approximately $60. 

Canning and Preserving For Dummies

My friend CoraL let me borrow this book, which is a comprehensive resource about canning & preserving. Very nice.

The process, I’ve learned, is quite simple. Take hot food & put it into hot, sterile jars. Wipe each jar clean with a warm cloth and secure the sterile lid with a ring. Each recipe tells you what the headspace (using the “bubble popper and measurer” shown above) should be and how long to put the jars in to boiling water. Take jars out and let them rest for 24 hours before storing. You’ll hear popping lids (the “button” in the middle of the lid will stay flat) as the lids seal. And that’s it! It’s so easy. Any jars that don’t “pop”/seal just needs to be refrigerated and eaten within a few weeks or you can attempt to reprocess the item. I have yet to have that problem, luckily.

I have a variety of recipes for my new-found hobby. My mother was so excited that I started jarring my own food that she gave me total access to recipes from her great grandmother. The recipes are so old that they tell you to “remove the pot from fire”. Yes. Fire, folks. I am just so happy I started canning; I do happy dances after each popping sound. Soups and stews taste better with my diced tomatoes. Oatmeal rocks with my jams and jellies. This summer I’m making everything one needs for a kickass bloody; Sundays will rock more than they do now. I love scouring the internet for quirky recipes like Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce and Bay Leaf Strawberry Jam. If it’s a little weird, I want to try it.

Canning takes a lot of preparation and work, but in the end it’s worth it. I have a new found appreciation for any canned good given to me.

Now all I need is to learn how to build a fire, coop my own chickens, and change my own oil so I can move to the mountains and become a self-sufficient diva. Hey, a girl always needs to dream.

Happy preservation, folks!