Food & Entertaining - In Season

Confessions of a canner

Shel Zolkewich
Photography by
Shel Zolkewich

10 helpful tips from a newbie who has embraced the joy of making preserves

6. Tomato talk
There’s really no comparison between a tomato plucked from a garden in August and that wooden, tasteless orb at the grocery store in February. Preserve that flavour, but do it safely. Back in the old day, the tomatoes we grew had a naturally high acid level. It made them safe for canning without having to add anything. Today’s varieties have been bred for a sweeter, low-acid product. You’ll have to add an acid—lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid—to each jar.

7. Check that seal!
As you move along in your canning career, you’ll start to notice some consistencies. My favourite part is listening for the tell-tale pop as the jars seal. This happens after you pull the jars from the water bath and let them sit on the counter for a few minutes. It means you have a good, safe seal. Check all your seals within 24 hours. Simply press down on the metal lid. If it is sealed, it will be sucked down tight. If it hasn’t sealed, it will flex up and down and make a popping sound. Unsealed jars must be resealed using a new lid, or kept in the refrigerator and used within a couple of days.

8. Sharing is good
You’ll quickly start to see that there’s a secret canning community around you and they love to share. Everyone has different tastes, so the things they put in jars are as interesting and varied as they are. Consider a canning swap where everyone brings a box of jars and trades for new treats. Foodies love to receive canning goods as gifts, so dress up those jars with cute labels and start passing them around. Be sure to test a sample from each batch. I tend to like sharp flavours with lots of acid; it’s not to everyone’s taste.

9. Year-round fun
Most canning is done in the fall, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. If you can find quality ingredients, pull out that canner whenever the mood strikes you. Hydroponic operations are making it easier for us to get excellent products year round. Roasted peppers, corn relish (using frozen niblets) and hot pepper jelly are good bets for non-autumn projects.

10. Hoard your jars!
You’ll find that canning jars start getting scarce toward the end of September. They move from centre aisles to clearance racks and then they’re gone. Stock up for your projects or you’ll find yourself begging and borrowing for the next several months.

Shel’s canning projects to date have included corn relish, herbed tomatoes, pickled beets, roasted peppers, spicy marmalade, pickled carrot and daikon, hot pepper jelly and spiced oranges.

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