We spoke to a canning, pickling and preserving expert and compiled all her tried and true methods of getting the best final product – even if you’re a beginner.
If you’ve ever doubted your ability to pickle, preserve or can produce Jessica Matthies of [pre]serve foodskills has a message for you: Yes you can, can!
Matthies is owner and chief preserver at [pre]serve a business that teaches people food-related skills – everything from canning and fermenting to curing and drying meat.
According to her, if you haven’t started to stock your shelves, it is still not too late, “This is peak season for everything. If you go to a farmer’s market, everything is in season right now.”
She shares her best tips and resources for canning and preserving.
“I think when people get this idea of canning and preserving and putting up food they’re picturing counters full of like 100 pounds of something and all night projects and sweating over the stove and a lot of work.
Don’t be afraid to do a jar or two of something. Go to the market and buy your favourite fruit, find a recipe from a good reputable source and just a small batch. Get used to the process and have fun with it. It’s not a complex thing but there are small things to get used to. You don’t want to spend all this time and money and slave over a stove to get 40 jars of something and crack one open and go, oh I don’t like this, now what?”
Work with friends
“Canning is an ideal social activity so have a few friends over and make one or two batches and then split everything.”
Use prime produce
“The general rule of thumb is something is not going to taste better after you’ve sealed it up in a jar, so don’t buy flavourless things and hope that the process of pickling or jamming is going to improve the flavour.
There is a small exception: ugly fruit (it tastes wonderful but it’s not the picture perfect). It might have a single small bruise on one side, slice off and the rest of the fruit is beautiful. Those are the kind of things that you can put into jam and it’s going to be wonderful.”
Trust the experts
“The National Center For Home Food Preservation is the golden standard online as far as canning safety.
It’s hard when you start going to magazine articles and blogs that’s where the information starts to breakdown. I’ve seen a lot of really questionable things.”
Matthies also recommends the Well Preserved blog curated by Canadians Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison.
Acid is your friend
“There are a couple of main points that ensure a canning recipe is safe. One is acidity of your recipe. For the majority of fruits, you’ll find that they are all acid enough that they’re going to be OK.
Tomatoes sometimes aren’t though so that’s where a recipe will have you add lemon juice or something like that. There’s a reason we pickle beans or cucumbers (unless you have a pressure canner). They are not acidic enough and that’s when botulism grows, and botulism is the deadly one.”
Add a lil’ vinger
“A splash of vinegar in the canning water will help avoid a foggy film on the jars that is left by Calgary’s hard water. ”
Adjust for the altitude
“Altitude affects canning time because water boils at different temperatures at different heights. Calgary is at least 3,438 feet above sea level. Therefore, add four minutes to your processing time.”
Matthies’ Canning and Preserving Book List:
Batch by Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison
Food in Jars or Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McLellan
We Sure Can! by Sarah B. Hood
Preserving by Pat Crocker
The Ball Blue Book of Preserving
Now that you have all the information you need, go ahead and try one of Mathies’ favourite fall recipes:
Rosemary Pear Preserves
A note from Matthies: “This pairs excellently with an aged gouda or cheddar for fall cheese plates. I also quite like it as a glaze over roasted pork or chicken.”
4 to 6 pounds firm, ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears (about 10 medium)
2.5 cups sugar
1 cup honey
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1. Core and peel pears. Chop enough pears to measure 8 cups – finely if you will more likely use this as a glaze for meats, or in 2 to 3 centimetre cubes if using for cheese plates. In a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot, combine pears, sugar, honey, lemon peel, lemon juice, and nutmeg. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in rosemary. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture sheets off a metal spoon, stirring often. Remove from heat. Quickly skim off foam with a metal spoon.
2. Ladle hot preserves into hot, clean half-pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; place lids on jar, and fasten rings to 1/4 turn past just tight (you’re not trying to really cram these rings down – just not loose).
3. Process filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 14 minutes* (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks for a minimum of 12 hours. Remove jar rings, check lids for seal (there should be no flexibility to the lids and they should remain firmly on the jar). Wipe down jars and store in a cool, dry location ideally out of direct sunlight. Store washed rings separately in a cool, dry place to avoid rust. Preserves are best before one year.
*10 minutes at sea level 14 minutes for Calgary’s altitude.