Thursday, September 24, 2015

In a Jam

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the September 24, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

It’s that time of year again. The days are warm and the nights are cool and thoughts of a steamy kitchen full of ripe tomatoes, peaches, apples, spices, herbs, and glass canning jars can be comforting. Years ago I bought Gravenstein apples by the bushel to make homemade applesauce and Roma tomatoes by the box to make sauces. I relied on my trusty Ball canning jar insert literature and my Better Homes and Gardens canning and preserving recipe books. I also relied on my time as an at-home mom.

I pressure-canned mushroom marinara with tomatoes and bits of onion and garlic. Sometimes the marinara never made it to its marriage with the pasta it was meant for; instead, my children sometimes ate it straight from the jar with a spoon. The barbecue sauce, spicy and rich, was canned with the hope that it would make it through the winter, but it rarely did. The applesauce was chunky and flavorful and it accompanied pans of homemade macaroni and cheese.

And that’s the way it was when my at-home time was more plentiful.

Of course, life got in the way for several decades and while I still occasionally canned spicy cranberry sauce for the holidays, my water-bath canner and pressure canner collected dust along with the recipe books I had long ago loved and relied on.

This past week, I was inspired to begin canning again so that I could share some of the fruits of summer and fall with my family. I searched high and low for the recipes in the books that I had loved in years past, but to no avail. Although I can’t imagine giving the books away, they seem to have disappeared from my bookshelves.

 Thank goodness for my library and the Minuteman Library Network. Importantly, although my recipes were tried, true, and delicious, time has moved on and I have found some great new recipes.

No one should be intimidated with canning jams, jellies, sauces, and relishes. It isn’t exactly rocket science, but it is very important to follow the rules. A very old technique of covering jellies and jams with paraffin is no longer considered safe. It’s also very important to use the correct method when preserving and canning anything. Boiling water-bath canning requires less science and less expensive equipment. Pressure canning differs in many ways, including using a costly pressure canner and a more organized kitchen. The reasons to use one over another depend greatly on the acidity and pH levels of the food being canned.

Therefore, it’s important to use a reputable cookbook. The Department of Agriculture has specific guidelines and most cookbook authors will rely on those. Choosing the right cookbook is essential for the first-time canner. Reading the introduction and chapters on canning essentials is a must. Following recipes and instructions is essential.

The Ball Company began manufacturing jars in the 19th century and it continues to be an expert in the field nearly 150 years later. The 37th edition of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (2011) is a tremendous book for both beginning and expert cooks. The guides, charts and explanations for the novice and the tried-and-true recipes for long-time cooks will help any level of canner. Another terrific resource (and my second favorite) is any of the Better Homes and Gardens canning cookbooks: BHG Complete Canning Guide (updated in 2015) and BHG You Can Can (2010). Another is Can It! (2012) edited by Jan Miller.

Lauren Devine, co-author of the Complete Book of Home Preserving (2006) was a test kitchen scientist with Jarden Home Brands (now the parent owner of the Ball Co.) Canning and Preserving for Beginners (2007) by Rockridge Press is also a terrific book to get you started; essential recipes and a canning supplies guide is a great resource in this book.

Once you’ve found that canning is not as terrifying as it sounds, and you’ve invested in some equipment, there is a multitude of great books in our own collection in Norwood. Blue Ribbon Canning by Linda Amendt and Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry by Cathy Barrow are two books just published in the last year. There are specialty books for those who want to make small batches of preserves for their own family or for gifts: Southern Living Little Jars, Big Flavors (2013), The Canning Kitchen by Amy Bronee, and Food in Jars (2011) and Preserving by the Pint (2014) both by Marisa McClellan are four of them.

Rachel Saunders, author of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook (2010) followed that book up with The Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade in 2014. She has recipes for adding the contents of your jars to homemade jars to muffins, ice cream, and salads. Another book with plenty of recipes is Eugenia Bone’s Well-Preserved (2009). Pints of her Tomatillo Sauce can be used in Corn and Tomatillo Soup or Chicken and Tomatillo Stew. Gifts of pickled vegetables, savory relishes, and sweet jams and marmalades are sure to be used if they include a yummy recipe suggestion along with the jar.

The best way to put up the summer and fall bounties is to can throughout the year. Fruits can be frozen in the summer and preserved in the winter. Tomatoes can also be frozen by the bushel when Romas are plentiful and ripe and cooked into sauces and catsups in March.

I’m hoping my Strawberry-Margarita,Triple-Berry and Caramelized Onion jams are happily eaten this winter when the fresh berry season is long over. Cranberry season has just now arrived on the South Coast of Massachusetts. Ketchup, Cranberry Barbecue Sauce, and Bourbon Cranberries should be welcome additions to our holiday table and those of friends.

 If you need help searching for any canning books in the Minuteman libraries, please ask at any of the desks in our library. Using the keyword search “canning” or “preserving” will help you find most of the books you will need. A subject search “canning and preserving” will help you find more. If you need help searching for any canning books in the Minuteman libraries, please ask at any of the desks in our library.