Summer is the time of the year when garden produce has traditionally been canned or ‘put up’ for the future. For those of us who grew up in the 70’s (or before) and on the farm, this process was a natural part of summer activities. Today, it is a dying art form to most of the population. For me, however, it is still a part of summer and results in a feeling of pride.
You might ask yourself, “Why be proud of something that just sits in the pantry?” The end result may just sit in the pantry, but the process and end result ARE something to be proud of. While it is true that the canning process has become enhanced by various ‘tools’ that can make the process easier, for those of us who are traditionalists, its purpose is still based on love. Love of the garden, love of the process (and the connection to past cooks), love for our family and the knowledge that our efforts will feed them during the upcoming winter months. In addition, there is just something beautiful about the finished jars filled with the colorful vegetables, fruit or herbs sitting on the counter. Even without lace doilies or bonnets tied with ribbons, these jars are a thing of beauty.
PING! For canners and homemakers of the past and present, this sound is the sound of success. If you haven’t ever canned before, this sound occurs when the jar seals while cooling. After the jars have been sterilized and filled with cooked produce, you must ensure they are properly sealed for storage. If they are not sealed properly, they will not keep and must be used immediately (and refrigerated) or thrown out. Lots of work wasted and dollars down the drain. Back in a time when family funds were limited (even today for a lot of us) the family could not afford to throw out any type of food. Especially when the produce was grown out of a garden plot that needed time to produce another crop. Time that was not available. As a result, cooks of the past (and present) listened for the PING! that told them their efforts were successful. In our house, my husband and I will verbalize this success to each other. As the jars seal, one of us will usually exclaim, “There goes one!,” or something similar.
The real satisfaction, however, lies in sharing the finished product with the rest of the family or with friends and neighbors. Sharing a home-canned jar during the dark and cold days of winter is like opening up a jar of sunshine. No kidding! Ask any home canner or gardener about the feeling they get whenever they are able to taste their own summer produce in the winter. Chances are they will tell you it is a fabulous feeling of pride and joy and one that reminds them of the summer garden. Sharing this gift from the garden with loved ones at Christmas time is an added bonus. A properly-sealed jar of goodies will keep for several years on the pantry shelf and is always a welcome gift by others. Either by itself or as a gift basket additive (with baked goods such as bread) it never fails to please.
To get you started on the road to home canning, one tool that is almost mandatory is a canning book such as “Ball Blue Book.” This book is the tried and true manual for canning. In it, you will find step-by-step guidelines for canning (including freezing) as well as tips for success. A must-have for anyone who wants to avoid the pitfalls of being a novice canner!
At The Simple Heart of Life herb shop, we recently held a workshop on herbal jelly and jam. What follows is a simple recipe from Long Creek Herbs that worked perfectly every time it was tested. The original recipe used Lemon Verbena but any herb can be substituted in its place. All fruit pectin boxes also contain easy instructions for successful jelly and jam making.
Lemon Verbena Jelly
3 c. apple juice (water can be substituted)
1 c. fresh Lemon Verbena (or other herb) leaves
2 Tbl. fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 pkg powdered pectin
4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. butter (to minimize foam on top)
1 fresh herb leaf for each jar (optional)
2-3 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
In saucepan make herb infusion with juice and herb by bringing juice to a boil and adding the herb leaves. Boil for about 10 seconds, then let cool completely. Strain and discard leaves. You will need 1 1/2 c. of herb infusion liquid.
Combine the herb infusion with lemon juice or vinegar, food coloring and pectin. Bring to rolling boil. Mix in sugar and bring to a full rolling boil again. Boil hard for one minute. Add butter, stir. If any foam remains, skim off and discard. Pour into hot sterilized jars with optional leaf in each jar. Wipe jar edges with damp cloth, then screw on hot jar lids, tightening moderately. Let cool a minute or two and turn jars upside down to seal, for about 30 seconds. Turn upright and let cool on dish towel. Store in a cool, dark place.
Additional tips: After jars have cooled, remove rings and wipe down top of jar and ring. Replace ring. Check each jar for sealing. If center of flat has sunk in, jar is sealed. Remember to re-check each jar prior to consuming. Sometimes jars will unseal after sitting. Do not consume contents if jars have not remained sealed properly.
Canning and consuming home-grown produce and herbs is is definitely another of life’s simple pleasures! Try it out for yourself.