Canning: Pickles, Relish and Jam

By: Liz Gray

I've always been intrigued, if a bit intimidated, by the canning process. My parents stopped canning when I was about waist-high, so while I dreamed of having a root-cellar ( yes, I live in an apartment, but, hey, it's my dream) full of canned goods, I'd never actually canned anything.

So when my friend (and canning aficionado) Margaret came home from a vacation to a two-wheelbarrow crop of cucumber and squash, I was thrilled to help her put it all up (and get half the results).

To put a dent in the hefty pile of cucumbers, we decided on an old standby -- Pickle Relish -- and a new one (to us) -- Cucumber Jam.  We cubed up some squash and turned it into turmeric-tinted Pickled Squash.

We chopped, and chopped and chopped, then got to work on the canning. We simmered the relish. We simmered the squash. We let the cucumbers "pickle" in sugar overnight. Sanitation, I learned, is key in canning ( here are some tips to help you can safely): you have to sanitize the jars in boiling water, fill them and slap on the lids, all without touching the jars with your hands. Unless you can work a Jedi mind trick, a magnetic lid lifter and a set of jar-lifting tongs come in handy here.  Another key: follow the recipe exactly, especially if you're new to canning. The right acid balance helps preserve the produce.

Fit jars with a wide-mouthed funnel while you fill -- this will prevent drips down the sides. Leave about a 1/2 inch of space at the top so the filling has room to expand as the jars boil.

Once you've filled the jars and snapped on the lids, into the boiling water they go. Typically the more acidic your canned good, the less time it needs to boil.

The verdict? It was hot. It was hard work. But the payoff is a shelf full of canned goods that I can pull out throughout the winter. I'm hooked! I'm already thinking about my next batch of canned goods. Here are some recipes I'm excited about:

Homesick Texan has a recipe for ketchup, all dressed up: tomato jam.  It's sweet, spicy and perfect for a fresh-from-the-oven biscuit.

On the sweeter side, I can save in-season apricots for a cold winter day with The Hazel Bloom's vanilla-apricot jam. The recipe uses fresh vanilla beans to give it an extra-special flavor.

And to add to my pickle collection, I'm thinking about this Vietnamese carrot and daikon pickle mix ( do chua in Vietnamese) from Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy.

If you're as jazzed about canning as I am, check out even more canning and pickling ideas:

What summer produce are you canning for the winter?
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