The fine art of American-style canning has clearly been around for many years, yet somehow in the 15 years (yikes!) that I have now lived in the US this concept and knowledge thereof has completely eluded me. Mind you it’s been 15 years on and off that I’ve lived here, so maybe that’s my excuse.
In the past, when someone would mention canning I would conjure up this picture in my mind of a regular tin can and someone at home with a welder, welding the tin can shut after stuffing food into it. While at the time this seemed a bit extravagant to me – just to preserve some food – I would just scratch my head at these crazy Americans with the certain knowledge that surely I would never attempt such a thing myself…
Well, here I am in beautiful, sunny Fairbanks with 5 gallons of wild, freshly picked blueberries and cranberries doing the math that keeping these guys frozen would only work if we didn’t need to put anything else in our freezer – ever again (or at least until it is -20F outside, then we just keep the contents of our freezer outside..eh voila).
The puzzling word “canning” has come up in conversation way more up here then it ever did while I was living the urban lifestyle in DC – it seems people can everything here in summer (while stuff is available and fresh); moose, salmon, cabbage, zucchini, berries, apples..essentially anything that will fit into a “can” will sooner or later end up in one.
So I finally asked the ever important question: Where do you guys get the welder from??
Once it was all explained to me, I first had a good laugh that lasted a full 5 minutes… First of all, why call it canning if in fact it is glass jars NOT cans (and confuse the heck out of people such as myself)? And then boiling jars with food in them seems a bit..I dunno…icky? Then you have double boiled food on your hands which reminds me a bit of old people’s home fare … And not only that but all the special equipment for all of this costs upward from $50 (a bit steep for a student stipend).
Growing up I know that I witnessed (from a safe distance of course lest I be recruited to be domestic) my German grandmother and mom make jams and jellies and none of it ever involved cans (welded or otherwise), special pricey kitchen equipment, or boiling food in jars. The German and Swiss way to preserve food is to cook the food, stick it in jars, turn the jars upside down, let sit on its lid for a few days (this creates the seal), store in dark cellar and give to relatives as Easter gifts. Ta-da!
But alas, I live in America now, so I shall attempt to can blueberry jam (possibly followed by cranberry-ginger chutney, depending on how the blueberry guys turn out). I have successfully acquired a pressure cooker, though not at all sure at this point about pressure-cooking my blueberry jam jars (she says while suspiciously eyeing the pressure cooker sitting on her table) and special glass jar tong thingies. All I need now is a glass, nay a bottle, of wine “und los geht’s.” (German translation: and let’s begin).
For kicks and giggles here’s my recipe – thought you may want to read it for comedic value but also this potential catastrophe didn’t turn out half bad after all:
Gluten-free (duh), Sugar-free, Spiced Blueberry Jam
4ish cups of blueberries
1/3cup + another “schwupps” (German for a splash) Blue Agave Nectar
juice from 1 lemon
handful of cloves
powdered ginger (to taste)
3 tbsp low-sugar pectin
1. Boil your glass jars for cleanliness.
2. Stick blueberries, agave, lemon juice, cloves, ginger and a schwupps of butter in a pot. Awkwardly mash blueberries somehow for a while (I used a spatula).
3. Continue mashing blueberries while bringing the mixture to a boil, once it’s boiling slowly stir in the pectin. Continue boiling blueberry mixture while boiling your glass jars. Stop all the boiling when you suspect your jars to be quite clean.
4. Take jars out, place on a towel. Use special canning tongs for this if you have them. While jars are still hot, fill them up with the blueberry jam leaving 1/4 inch space on top.
5. When the jar water has stopped boiling but isn’t cold yet, stick lids in for a few seconds. This helps soften the plastic to create a better seal, or so I’ve been told. Put lids on jars, after wiping the edge of the jars – for cleanliness and sealing purposes. I am noticing that almost everything with canning either has to do with cleanliness or sealing stuff.
6. Stick closed jam jars back into boiling water, covered with 1-2 inches of water above the lid. Boil the whole thing for another 10 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Take out jars, place on counter and wait for popping noises to know that the jars have officially been sealed. Do not open jars again until you are ready to eat the whole thing, even if you forgot something inside (like to take off the blueberry stems or to pick out the stray spider you know was in your blueberry bucket).
7. Not entirely sure actually what this step is. I don’t think you need to store these guys in the fridge, but it might be a good idea to store them in a cellar or similar dark, spooky place. Oh at some point I was also supposed to remove air bubbles from the jars – but that didn’t happen, there was too much else going on at that time to fuss with air bubbles…
Time to do a happy-dance because no one seemed to have been harmed in the making…
PS: I didn’t end up using the pressure part of the pressure cooker..it honestly scares me a bit, all that pressure. Instead I used it for what it is; a large pot and just used it open-lidded to boil water. Ha!