Here are a few tips & tricks for making jam, jelly, marmalade, conserves, pickles, vegetables or anything else you want to “put up”. This is by no means a complete volume but questions that I get asked all the time when a friend is trying to can. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I promise to answer as soon as I see it!
- High Altitudes – If you live 1,001 to 3,000 feet above sea level you should increase processing time by 5 minutes. If you live from 3,001 to 6,000 feet above sea level you should increase processing time by 10 minutes. If you live 6,001 to 8,000 feet above sea level you should increase processing time by 15 minutes. If you live 8,001 to 10,000 feet above sea level you should increase your processing time by 20 minutes.
- Lid Flower – see picture. Take fine wire or bread wrapper ties and fashion the screw-top lids that come with mason jars and fashion them in such a design that they will fit into the bottom of your hot-bath water canner. This will keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot which is very bad for the jars. If you use a Dutch oven instead of a canner, then make the lid flower fit the bottom of your pot.
- Do not set a fan facing the hot jars of any canning project to cool the jars more quickly. You run the risk of cracking the jar and having to throw away the product.
- Do not skimp on hand and eye protection when working with peppers. If you do not have any glasses to wear, what about swim goggles, woodworking safety glasses, tanning goggles. Use something to protect your eyes and never forget to wear your gloves.
- If your jelly or jam does not set up in the first 24 hours, do not give up. Sometimes, especially when it is very hot and humid outside, it takes extra time for the product to set up. Give it up to two weeks as long as the lid is sealed.
- When taking out stored product to use or give as a gift, it is best to check that lid one last time to make sure it is sealed. In the 17 years that I have been canning exactly like I have laid out in the book, I have only had one jar come out of storage and have lost its seal. I threw it away immediately. The processes I use have always worked for me and my family, but you must use common sense. If you see that 10 minutes of processing is not sealing your jars even though the book said so, then process longer. Maybe your stove does not get as hot as all the ones I have used. Maybe the rims are not cleaned properly before you put on the lids. It could be any number of things. Safety first.
- Do not save back food for a holocaust or nuclear winter. Good money spent on good canning should be enjoyed and you should never can more than you may eat and give away in one year. There is always next year to can some more.
- If you or someone you love is diabetic, then use the pectin for diabetics. At the end of dad’s life, he had Type II diabetes. We used the pectin specifically for diabetics. He loved being able to enjoy his own favorite jams and jellies and not risk increased blood sugar. Making homemade items for an older person is a priceless gift. Do not refrain from doing so just because the person has special dietary issues. There is always a work-around or fix.
- If you think that one of these recipes will taste better to your family if you add in cinnamon or lemon peel or nutmeg or anything just add it in. The worst thing that could happen would be that it tastes awful and you have to throw out the product and wash the jar. It is not a big deal and might just be a fantastic new creation!
- Do not try to use flat lids a second time. You risk bacteria and botulism. if you find some great jars with lids at a flea market, yard sale, or in grandma’s attic, take the jars and if the screw-on portion of the lid is not rusty, use it, but you can buy a box of just flat parts of the lid. Do it. Your body will thank you!
- When growing plants that will bear fruit or vegetables, you must check them over every day for bugs or blight or fungus or blooms. You have the check the dirt to see if it needs water, especially if you are container gardening. If you cannot devote some time each day during gardening season to your garden, do not garden. Just buy the product at the farmer’s market or grocery store.
- In the beginning, ask your friends and co-workers about canning supplies they or their family members might have and would like to get rid of. You would be surprised how many people have great-aunt Bessie’s canner, funnel, and 2 cases of jars and would like to get rid of them. Ask around, it could save you a great deal of money!
- If you buy or gather product but for some reason cannot work it up that day, it can wait a day or two but do not let it go too long. It will lose some of its flavor. If you have the room, put it in a cool dry place that is not your refrigerator because they tend to dry fruits and vegetables out.
- Make friends with your grocery produce man. You have no idea how much usable fruits and vegetables they either throw out or give to the hog farmers. Once I was at the local grocery store during the month of May. It was about 9:00 AM on a weekday morning and I was attempting to purchase some strawberries to make jam. The produce man was loading up full flats of strawberries onto a cart and taking them away. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was taking them to the back to give to the hog farmers. I asked if I could come to the back and get them. He agreed. We had to throw out some of the strawberries that were over-ripe but that year we canned 24 quarts of strawberry jam just from one visit to the store. It only cost us in pectin, sugar, and lids as we already had the jars. Our extended family each got a quart that year for Christmas and they still talk about it to this day.
- If you have the room, try one year to grow plants from seeds and use your vegetables to can. It will not make you Ma Walton, but it will give you the experience and the cost is so minimal when you plant from seeds. For $20 in seeds plus about $50 in soil, pots, and other items, you can grow hundreds of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables. It is a pretty good feeling when there is a shortage of tomatoes or a bacteria scare or the price just skyrockets to $2 per pound and you have them all over the place in your back yard containers. Try it just one year and see what happens.
- Keep your knives sharp. If you do not have sharp knives and you cannot sharpen them, buy some new ones. You cannot do a good job in canning or planting without them.
Just a few questions that came to mind when I first started canning and I thought I would share them with you!