Some of the most accomplished cooks around ó the ones willing to scout the best ingredients and splurge on the really good pots ó have never put up food in jars.
Itís not all that difficult to identify stumbling blocks. No family role models. Memories of seasonal family servitude. Misperception or laziness. Fear.
The fact that canning and preserving in America has been trending for a decade is both a blessing and a curse. For every enthusiast with a blog and a jar lifter, thereís an essayist bent on exposing the posers among a genuinely interested, growing population.
Yet the activity continues to empower home cooks. Talk about rewarding: You can sail past the produce departmentís rock-hard tomatoes, extend the shelf life of your farmers market favorites and reduce your householdís food costs and waste; and when was the last time you turned down a gift of DIY dilly green beans? Jarden Home Brands, which manufactures Ball products in Indiana, has enlisted an army of can-do types at state fairs and through its online newsletter. Classes fill quickly and cyberspace facilitates bonds from coast to coast.
Is the person who makes freezer jams in July less committed than the cook who wields a pressure canner and pickles through the seasons? Itís not a contest. After spending lots of time with the recent crop of canning and preserving cookbooks, though, I can say that jammers and picklers can both come out ahead.
There is a higher level of engagement in these guides. They provide technical information packaged with meaningful bells and whistles: bright images of every step or relatable stories or unexpected flavor combinations or recipes that incorporate whatís gone into the jar ó and, in some cases, all that and a bag of tips.
Cinnamon Vanilla Sunflower Butter
Makes 1 1/2 cups
People who make their own nut butters already know: They're a cinch to make, they can be customized to your taste and they're less expensive than many brands you can buy.
MAKE AHEAD: The butter can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
2 cups (about 10 ounces) raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sunflower oil, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons vanilla paste, plus more as needed
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more as needed
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Have a rimmed baking sheet at hand.
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Spread the sunflower seeds on the baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring the seeds at least twice to ensure even doneness. The seeds should be fragrant and lightly browned. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Transfer the cooled seeds to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and begin to puree. With the motor running, gradually drizzle in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Puree in 10- to 20-second intervals, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl and break up any clumps. The mixture may form a ball; drizzle in a little more oil as needed and keep processing until the mixture relaxes.
As the puree begins to look like a smooth butter, add the vanilla paste and cinnamon. After they are fully incorporated, taste, and adjust the salt, vanilla paste and/or cinnamon as needed.
Transfer the butter to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
NUTRITION: Per tablespoon: 90 calories, 3 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Adapted from "Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round," by Marisa McClellan (Running Press, 2011).
Thai Me Up Jam
Makes about 4 half-pints
Kaffir lime leaves add an exotic citrus note to the sweet and mellow nectarines. Use fresh or frozen leaves (available in some Indian markets) but not dried leaves, because most of the flavor will be lost. Note: This recipe produces a firm set.
You will need one small piece of cheesecloth and kitchen twine. For easy lifting, use a jar lifter or tongs with rubberized/silicone ends to transfer the jars into and out of the hot-water bath.
MAKE AHEAD: The fruit mixture needs to macerate for a few hours at room temperature. The jarred jam needs to cool for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight before serving or storing. Store the jam in a cool, dark place for up to a year; once opened, it can be refrigerated for 2 to 4 months. Adapted from "Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit," by Laena McCarthy (Viking Studio, 2012).
2 pounds white nectarines
4 kaffir lime leaves (see headnote)
Freshly squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) peeled, finely chopped ginger root
2 cups (1 pound) sugar
1 tablespoon calcium water (see NOTE)
2 teaspoons pectin (see NOTE)
Fill a stockpot with water and bring a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water and ice cubes.
Add the nectarines to the pot; blanch them for about 1 minute, then transfer them to the ice-water bath for at least 30 seconds; this will help loosen the skins. You should be able to easily pull the skin off with your hands. Coarsely chop the nectarines and remove their pits. You should have about 5 cups; place in a nonreactive (glass or plastic) bowl or container.
Bruise the kaffir lime leaves by pounding them with the flat side of a paring knife for a few seconds each; tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth.
Add the lemon juice, ginger, 1 cup of the sugar and the kaffir lime leaves in the cheesecloth to the chopped nectarines. Stir well. Let them macerate at room temperature for a few hours, until the fruit releases its juices. Stir every once in a while to dissolve the sugar.
Transfer the macerated fruit to a 6-to-8-quart nonreactive pot and add the calcium water; stir well and let it sit just until you are ready to cook.
Wash and rinse 4 half-pint jars and put them in a stockpot; cover the jars with water (by an inch or so) and bring to a boil; turn off the heat. Let them stand in hot water until you are ready to fill them.
Place new lids and rings in a small saucepan and cover with several inches of water. Heat over medium heat but do not let the water come to a boil; turn off the heat. Let stand in hot water until you are ready to fill the jars.
Place a few metal spoons in the freezer for testing the consistency and gel of your jam later. Or place them in a cup of ice water, if you prefer.
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Combine the remaining cup of sugar and the pectin powder in a bowl or measuring cup, using a fork to incorporate them evenly.
Place the pot of macerated fruit over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface. Remove and discard the kaffir lime leaves in cheesecloth.
Gradually, carefully stir the pectin-sugar mixture into the boiling jam. Stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin. Return the fruit to a boil, then remove it from the heat. Skim off any foam that has formed on the surface. Pectin gels completely when it's thoroughly cool, so don't worry if your jam looks loose while still hot.
To test, place a teaspoon of the hot jam onto one of the frozen spoons; let it cool to room temperature (about 30 seconds) on the spoon. If it thickens to the consistency desired, the jam is ready. If not, mix in a little more pectin (1/2 teaspoon into 1/4 cup sugar) and bring it to a boil again for 1 minute. Let the jam rest for 2 minutes.
Drain the jars, lids and rings. Fill the jars, leaving 1/4-inch of headspace at the top. Use a clean chopstick to gently stir the contents of each jar, releasing any air bubbles. (Air bubbles can cause seal failure or discoloration.) Wipe the rims of the jars so they are free of any food particles. Place the lids and gently tighten the rings.
Place a rack or towel at the bottom of the (same) stockpot; bring to a boil over high heat. Use a jar lifter or tongs to place the filled jars upright in the boiling-water bath, making sure there is at least 2 inches of water above the jars (add water as needed). Process for 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars rest in the water for 2 minutes, then transfer to the counter to cool completely for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight before serving or storing. The lids should be slightly depressed at the center; that is a sign of a successful seal.
NOTE: Calcium water activates powdered citrus pectin, which makes the jam set. Use Pomona's Universal Pectin (available online at PomonaPectin.com and at some natural foods stores), which comes with packets of citrus pectin and calcium phosphate. The latter is mixed with 1/2 cup water to produce the calcium water used in this recipe. You'll have plenty left over; it can be refrigerated.
NUTRITION: Per tablespoon: 35 calories, 0 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar
Sweet Honey Corn Relish
This is a sweet one. Add the honey to taste, but donít adjust the vinegar: Thatís the preservative.
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ClearJel is called for here. Itís a modified food starch used by home canners. As the name suggests, it thickens without clouding (or clumping), and it doesnít break down when exposed to high temperatures. It is available through online food/spice purveyors. Cornstarch may be substituted, but it makes the mixture somewhat cloudy and the shelf life may be reduced to 9 months instead of 1 year.
Makes 5 pints
Raw kernels from 10 to 12 ears fresh corn (8 cups)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups honey
3 1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon pickling or fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ClearJel (may substitute 2 tablespoons cornstarch; see above note)
Place rack or towel inside a deep pot. Fill with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 5 pint jars (upright), making sure there is at least an inch of water over them, and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, leaving the jars in the water until you are ready to use them.
Soak the jar lids and rings in a medium saucepan of hot, but not boiling, water, leaving them in the water until you are ready to use them.
Combine the corn, onions, green and red bell peppers, 1 cup of the honey, 3 cups of the cider vinegar, the celery seed, salt and cayenne pepper in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.
Stir together ClearJel and remaining 1/4 cup cider vinegar in a liquid measuring cup until well incorporated. Stir into the corn mixture; reduce the heat to medium and boil gently until thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and add up to 1/2 cup honey as needed. Turn off heat.
Drain jars, lids and rings, placing jars on countertop.
Ladle hot relish into the hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Wipe rims to clear away any food particles or brine. Use a clean chopstick to stir/remove any air bubbles between the food and the sides of the glass. Seal with lids and rings, making sure ring is gently tightened.
You can use the same pot used to sterilize the jars (with rack or towel). Bring water to a boil over high heat. Use jar lifter or tongs to transfer jar to water bath, making sure there is enough water to cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Process in boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.
Use jar lifter or tongs to transfer jars to a countertop to cool. Let cool undisturbed for 12 hours. Check seals; lids should be slightly depressed at the center; this is a sign of a successful seal. For best flavor, do not open for at least 6 weeks. Store in cool, dry place for up to 1 year.
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NUTRITION: per 1/4-cup serving: 60 calories, 1 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugarAdapted from ďThe Pickled Pantry: From Apples to Zucchini, 150 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, Chutneys and More,Ē by Andrea Chesman (Storey, 2012).