|Image by Carter Housh|
It's that time of year, when all the bounty of summer fruits are starting to roll in. Strawberries are in, rhubarb is in, the raspberries have just sprung to fruition, and cherries are hitting full force. Blueberries are just around the corner, and then it's time for plums. Yummm!
For me, that means it's time to start canning in order to preserve all these delicious fruits so I can enjoy them next winter too.
This is not something I grew up doing or learned from my mother; I had to learn it on my own. I came to it only in middle age, but it's a skill I'm determined to teach all my children because I think it's something everyone should know how to do.
If for no other reason, people should know how to preserve food so they have some emergency food on hand that doesn't depend on a refrigerator or freezer to keep it safe. And of course it's great to have these summer foods available to eat out of season, and they make great homemade gifts. But the best reason is because these foods just taste delicious!
So let's talk about the very easiest foods to can, jams and preserves, and the best books for learning how to prepare these.
Canning Books for Jams
When I was first learning how to can, I looked for a book that was quick and easy to understand, had great diagrams and instructions, and which had a lot of interesting recipes.
I found quite a number of good canning books and resources out there. Each one had something different to recommend it. Here are the best ones for beginners.
Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton is my favorite canning book and the one I recommend to beginners. I find the explanations very clear and concise, with some of the most clear illustrations of the process I've seen. When I was a beginner, this was the book that was most helpful to me.
I also liked that she organized the book by types of produce, so if cherries are in season and you are looking for something new to do with your overload of fresh cherries, you just turn to the "cherry" section of the book (which is clearly labeled and easy to find). That is really helpful. Many canning books are not organized like this.
The author has a great sequel too, just for fruits, with further recipes and hints on how to use them. And she now has a Preserving Answer Book, to answer common questions about canning, drying, freezing, etc. for those fairly new to food preservation.
Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Its companion website is www.freshpreserving.com, and it has a great guide to getting started with canning if you want to learn about canning without having to spend the money to buy a book.
This book is the classic canning book, and all its recipes have been extensively tested for safety. It's been around forever so it's got lots of time-tested recipes that have been favorites for generations. It goes far beyond the basic jam recipes included in most books and has recipes for many other types of foods besides jams.
One interesting thing about Food In Jars recipes is that they often have unusual flavor combinations that go beyond the usual basic recipes found in most books. She typically does not use pectin in her recipes, but teaches the old-fashioned cook-em-till-they-set method. She has a great Canning 101 section on her blog where she answers a lot of questions about canning technique and safety.
The author has also written Preserving By The Pint, which specializes in canning recipes for very small batches, which can seem more do-able to the beginning canner since no special equipment and no huge pots of water are needed. You don't need to buy big batches of fruit and you end up with only a few jars to store, which is important if you have only limited storage. Most canning recipes were written for women with large families to feed; this is the scaled-down version for folks with very small families, not much time, or limited storage.
Another bonus is that the author does a lot of touring and offers classes all over the country teaching many of the recipes used in her book. That's good marketing and it helps a lot of people who feel insecure with canning to get past the fear and start doing it.
Preserving with Pomona's Pectin by Allison Carroll Duffy. This book specializes in recipes using Pomona's Pectin, which is a somewhat harder-to-find pectin but which offers the distinct advantage of being able to adjust the sugar content in a recipe.
With most other pectins, you have very little flexibility about how much sugar to use in a recipe. The full-sugar pectins use insane amounts of sugar in their recipes; usually far more sugar than fruit. Even the "reduced sugar" pectins (like Sure-Jell in the pink box) still use quite a bit of sugar.
But Pomona's Pectin works differently than other pectins. It doesn't need sugar to help "gel" the jam; it uses calcium water instead to get the gel. This means that the sugar content of these jams can be adjusted to your heart's content. You can use as much or as little as you prefer, and you can use honey, agave syrup, fruit juice, or artificial sweeteners to sweeten your jam instead of sugar. If you are one of the many people trying to reduce the sugar content in your diet for health reasons, this is a great option to have.
Pomona's Pectin offers a lot more flexibility than other pectins, but it has a little steeper learning curve than the full-sugar pectins. Having a book that discusses the process of using this pectin in minute detail can be useful for those new to canning with Pomona's Pectin.
There are many, many great canning books available out there, but these are some of the best canning books for beginners. Youtube also has many video tutorials available on canning, and you can find many canning instructional DVDs as well.
Once you get good at the basics, then you can start adding wet and dry "zing" (spices and liqueurs) to your fruit ingredients and creating your own custom recipes. Or you can learn how to make pectin-free jams. But first, it's helpful to get comfortable with the fundamentals.
There are so many great resources on learning to can out there; get started on learning this important skill this summer! Or take your basic knowledge of canning to a whole new level of experimentation instead by playing around with the more advanced recipes in these books and blogs.
Remember, it's perfectly okay not to be a Canning Diva; you're not a canning failure if you don't spend all your time in the kitchen or put up great quantities of food. Do as much or as little canning as you have time for, but do learn to can so we keep this important skill alive and so that you have shelf-stable food put aside for emergencies.