Can It

By Chef Judi Gallagher –

I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day when I noticed that the woman in front of me was carrying a box of Ball jars. Wondering what she was planning to do with them, I was relieved that the cashier satisfied my curiosity by asking the woman.

“I’m canning tomatoes this weekend,” the woman replied, as she slid her credit card through the machine.

A light bulb went off over my head. Honestly, I’m not sure why the second the clock turned from winter to spring I didn’t immediately dust off my own collection of Ball jars and start canning everything in sight. The markets are overflowing with bright, beautiful produce right now — perfect for the home cook to use for canning adventures. Jams? Chutneys? Pickles? The possibilities are endless — all you need is some time, space and patience.

The rewards of preserving and canning your food are great. Aside from having a stock of delicious canned goods in your own home, canned items make fantastic, thoughtful gifts. And thanks to these tips by Ellie Topp, author of The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving, and Bon Appetit magazine, you can soon be on your way to canning heaven. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Don’t get creative and change the recipe. This is incredibly important, as changing the proportions of ingredients can alter the acidity of the final product, which can allow dangerous organisms to creep in. To be safe, canned items must have a pH of 4.5 or lower. And on that note, don’t can sauces or jams that were originally meant for the refrigerator.

2. Don’t change the time it takes to process. Again, doing so might cause harmful organisms to get into your canned goods. Keep in mind that these recipes have been carefully tested to avoid just that, so it’s best not to tinker.

3. Use best-quality produce you’ve picked yourself. This will only pay off in the end, especially if you choose fruit that’s slightly under ripe or just at the peak of ripeness. Why does the level of ripeness matter so much? Pectin, which thickens jams and jellies, decreases as the fruit ages.

4. Make sure your equipment is clean and ready to go. If your work areas is messy canning is not going to be pleasant, because there’s such emphasis on avoiding contamination. Keep your equipment clean and close by, and make sue you have lots of fresh, clean towels, too. And speaking of equipment, you’ll want to have a boiling water canner; jars, lids and screw bands; tongs, a jar lifter and/or lid wand; a ladle and jar funnel; a small rubber spatula and a mesh sieve and cheesecloth on hand. For instructions on how to preserve food with a boiling water canner, click here:

Think you’re ready to go? Here’s a recipe for raspberry jam and one for garlic dill pickles, also from Ellie Topp, to start you off. Please share with me your favorite recipe in the comments. Happy canning!

Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam

Ellie Topp

4 cups granulated sugar

4 cups raspberries

Place sugar in an ovenproof shallow pan and warm in a 250-degree oven for 15 minutes. Place berries in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat, mashing berries with a potato masher as they heat. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add warm sugar, return to a boil, and boil until mixture will form a gel. Ladle into sterilized jars and process as directed here (


Garlic Dill Pickles

Ellie Topp

8-10 small pickling cucumbers

2 cups white vinegar

2 cups water

2 tablespoons pickling salt

4 heads fresh dill or 4 tsp dill seeds

4 small cloves garlic

Cut a thin slice from the ends of each cucumber. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove hot jars from canner. Place 1 head fresh dill or 1 tsp dill seeds and 1 clove garlic in each jar, pack in cucumbers. Pour boiling vinegar mixture over cucumbers with ½ inch of rim space. Process 10 minutes for pint jars and 15 minutes for quart jars as directed here ( Your garlic may turn green or blue in the jar; this is a natural reaction.


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