Friday, June 19, 2009

Canning for those who don't think they can

(lame pun intended)

...and a giveaway.

Some people love canning, and others don't see any point in it. To each his own, but this post is not intended for either of those types. This is for people who have never given canning a spin, are interested in it, but feel daunted for reasons such as cost, know-how, and time constraints.

In my opinion, canning should not be more expensive than store-bought, including ingredients, equipment and jars. If I had to can for 10 years before I started "getting in the black" after buying a ridiculously overpriced canner, I just couldn't get excited about all the work involved. So this is my low-budget, non-glamorous method, using things that you most likely already have in your kitchen.

Say it with me: Sí, se puede! We can do it, yes we can!

Step #1: Start small, and start with something easy such as jelly/jam. This is NOT what you want to buy:

That's 20 lbs of apricots and 16 lbs of cherries. And it's the reason why I have been MIA in the blogosphere. I am getting 16 more lbs of cherries this Saturday, too. I think my fingers may be permanently stained from pitting so many cherries.

I bought these from Bountiful Baskets for ridiculously cheap. I think the apricots were $16 and the cherries $13.

Step 2: Read the instructions and buy the ingredients

Pretty much, all you need is fruit, pectin, and sugar. The only equipment you need is jars with lids and bands, two large pots, a funnel, and tongs or a jar grabber. Also have lots of clean dish cloths on hand to keep your work surface clean.

The instructions inside the box of pectin will tell you how much fruit you need to make one batch of jam/jelly. It will also telly you of any other ingredients necessary, and about how many jars one batch will make. Go ahead and open the box of pectin at the store (yes, you are going to buy this, so please no outraged comments).

Get the necessary amount of fruit, and (if you don't have them) sugar, canning jars, and any other possible ingredients. And, don't forget to use the coupon that usually comes with the instructions when you pay for the pectin. The store I bought mine at doubles coupons up to $1.

Speaking of bulk purchases, if you are going to can a lot such as I did, buying a 25 or 50 lb bag of sugar is much more economical. I bought a 50 lb bag at Smart & Final for $18.

Step 3: Prepare the fruit

For the novice, the easiest would be to start with berry jam, because you simply wash the berries, throw them in a large pot, and mash them with a potato masher. If the berries are larger, such as strawberries, you may want to cut them into halves first.

The prep for the apricots was a little different, but I will explain it here because that's what I made, and I don't want to talk about making strawberry jam and show pictures of apricot jelly. First, I halved and pitted the apricots, and boiled them briefly in a large pot with water. Then, I strained off the apricots and put them through a food mill (this gets rid of the skins and fibery parts).

I was left with this:

Step 4: Sterilize your canning jars

Bring fresh, cold water to a boil in a very large stock pot. You can experiment which of your pots fits jelly jars the best, or can hold the most.

Do not use hot tap water because it could be contaminated with buildup from your water heater.

Your canning jars should be freshly washed in a dishwasher, or in hot, soapy water BEFORE you sterilize them in the pot of boiling water. You can reuse the glass jars again and again, but always get new lids and rings, which are sold separately. When the water is boiling, put the canning jars, lids, and bands into the boiling water to sterilize.

Some people leave the jars in the hot water until they are ready to fill them. I prefer to pull them out a few minutes earlier and set them upside down on a fresh, clean dish towel that has been washed and dried on the hottest setting.

Step 5: Cooking the jam

Look at the instructions in the pectin again. Usually, you add the pectin and other ingredients to the fruit puree and bring it to a boil. When you reach a point where the boiling can no longer be stirred down, you add all the sugar the recipe calls for at once, and boil for one minute sharp while stirring constantly.

Your stove should look something like this: Pot with jam cooking in the front, large pot with boiling water in the back. Do not dump out the hot water after sterilizing the jars, as you will need it to process the jam.

Step 6: Filling the jars

As soon as the jam has been at a rolling boil for one minute, pull the pot to a cold stove plate (if you don't have gas), and start filling the jars one by one. To do so, simply turn one jar over, fill with a funnel, wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth, set a lid on top, and screw the band on "finger tight" - no need to over-tighten.

Canning funnels are handy, but absolutely not necessary.

Most likely, the last jar will not be full enough to seal and process. Leave this one out until it's cooled, and then put it in the fridge for eating, just as you would with an open jar of jelly. No need to process.

Step 7: Processing the jars

After all jars have been filled and fitted with a lid and band, bring the water in the large stock pot back to a boil. Then gently lower the jars into the pot one by one, and process by boiling for 8-10 minutes (depending on altitude, check the instructions for this, too).

A jar grabber is a handy tool for easily lifting jars in and out of the boiling water. For years, I have made do with a large pair of tongs that came with our barbecue, and it worked pretty well. Because I was canning so much last week, I did decide to buy a "real" jar lifter after I made this first batch of jelly, but for years, I didn't have one and fared just fine.

If you had a "real" canner, it would also come with a fitting metal rack in the bottom of the pot. Again, no need for this, you can put the jars straight into the pot.

After processing for the appropriate time, pull the jars out of the water and turn upside down until cooled. This will force the remaining air in the jars to go through the boiling liquid one more time. Also, if your jelly had foam on top, this will help get rid of it.

And, voilà! This is the first of five batches of apricot jelly I made last week. Yes, we love apricot jelly - it's a Hungarian thing. It tastes great on white French bread, or on palacsinta (our version of crêpes). Our family goes through one of these jars at breakfast.

It's easy, really. I made this batch on a Sunday morning in less than one hour while also getting the two girls ready for church and making the church bulletin. I made the other four batches in one night after the kids were in bed in about two hours. But, like I said, start small.

Finally, if you have read to the end of this long (and, if you're not into canning, boring) post, I think you deserve a treat. To enter, simply leave a comment (anyonymous or otherwise) that has in some way to do with jelly or canning. If you hate both, you could just say that, but then again why would you want to enter a jelly giveaway?

I will randomly pick two winners and send them a jar of my apricot jelly. This would be one of the big jars I made, which are twice the size of the ones in the pictures above. It would be enough to go around generoulsy even in a large family. In the unlikely event that a whole bunch of people leave a comment, I will give away more jars than just two, we'll have to see about that. If less than two people comment, it means that at least I will get to eat more jelly.

Deadline is midnight one week from today, June 26th. Thanks for reading my boring drivel. Recent photos of our many summer activities coming just as soon as I can get more caught up with housework. Hahahahahahahahaha..... [insert crazy laugh here].


  1. I want to can. I really do. I have a kitchen that doesn't even have enough space to cook a thing, but I manage somehow. Maybe I could do all the chopping etc at the dining room table, which is where I make bread.

    Apricot jelly sounds delicious. My mum makes Cumquat Marmelade a lot.

    Do you use a pressure canner or just a big stock pot for processing? I saw a pressure canner at Wal-Mart yesterday for about $70, but don't know if that's a good price or not.

    Everyone is telling me canning is a waste of time, but I'm interested in it it not only because our family LOVES preserves of all kinds, but I think that home made preserves would make GREAT gifts.

    Oh and do you use white sugar, or can you use raw sugar? (Trying to think of health here haha).

    Anyway, enter me for the apricot jelly for sure. I think everyone here would like it.

  2. By the way, (and this is totally unrelated to canning lol), in August I will have three babies 2 and under. I cloth diaper, and I'm trying to slowly potty train the oldest.

    Do you use two diaper bags and just split the stuff up, or do you use a diaper bag for each kid? Or, did you never have this problem? Lol. Trying to figure out what would work the best.

  3. We just tried canning last year for the first time! I say 'we' because my hubby is such a big help during those times! He loves to cook and prepare food, so that is a bonus for me :)

    We used our friends canning supplies, we just used our own jars/lids/rings etc. Actually my dh comes from a big family of 9 children. All of them are now grown and out of the house, and hubby's parents had some jars just collecting dust in the garage so we asked them if we could have 'some' and they gave us all!!

    We made lots of applesauce from free apples off of 4 apple trees my hubby's parents have. Thankfully our friends had a saucer thing to help make the applesauce, but it was still a ton of work!

    We also made some freezer jam last year. I think it was strawberry and apricot, but it's hard to use jam that is frozen at the spur of the moment! I always forget to take some out in advance :P

    If I happen to be chosen to recieve a jar of your delicious jam, I would be grinning from ear to ear!


  4. I've been reluctant of leaving comments lately due to much of the "other" drama going on:) but really enjoyed this post so here I am commentint that you just inspired me to try it!! I've never canned before...I make jam like one jar at a time sometimes and store in the fridge until consumed which of course is not long. that's more for just the novelty rather than the savings aspect of it:)

  5. Could you please make a post on how to can tomatoes/tomato sauce?

  6. This post was not for me!


  7. We love to make applesauce every year. It tastes so much better than the store bought stuff. I was lucky though and I was able to get all of the stuff to can from my in-laws because they no longer can anything!. Jelly making just seems to be a little overwhelming to me at this point maybe next year!
    However, I love to eat jelly on toast.

  8. I love home made canned jam. MMMMMMMMM


  9. I don't think I have ever had home made jelly. This post makes it sound easy, however I am not so sure LOL

  10. I love to can! When we lived in the mountains, we had a 1/4 acre section jam-packed with blackberries. I bought one of those seed strainers and made batches and batches of seedless blackberry jam. That was in 2005 and 2006 and we are still eating from that.

    Where we live now, we have a couple of pick your own strawberry farms nearby that we like to go to in early June. I think strawberry jam is my favorite...but then again, I've never tasted apricot jelly before. :)

    BTW and totally mother's family is from Hungary. My Grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s. Have you ever read any of the children's books by Kate Seredy? She was a Hungarian author and several of her books are set in Hungary. If your local library carries them, look for these in particular:

    The Good Master
    The Singing Tree
    The Chestry Oak

    She has written several other books but those are my favorites. They are excellent children's literature.

  11. Ah this post reminds me of my grandfather. I don't recall him making jams but I think he canned just about everything else from his garden. (My grandparents had 9 kids to feed.) He used to make Piccalilli and if anyone knows what that is I'd be suprised lol. If you knew how to make that I would be interested since I don't think he ever wrote down what was in it or how he made it.

  12. Yummy. Homemade jams and jellies are the best. I like plum the best. I've never tried apricot jelly.

  13. I would love to try your jam. I have canned strawberry freezer jam twice (I really need to learn to properly can lots of produce!) One batch was great - the last batch did not set properly, but it was geat as a sauce on ice cream - so none was wasted.

  14. I am planning to do my first ever canning this summer - and I am scared! Your post helps tremendously.

    Thanks so much!

  15. We have a kind of fruit called a "Loquat" that grows wild (or is planted ornamentally) here in Texas and every once in a while we'll go out and pick a couple shopping bags full and make jelly. The process looks very similar to your apricot jelly. (By the way that jelly is a gorgeous color!) Hoping I get to taste some!

  16. THANK YOU! It is funny you posted this cause I have been talking to Chad about getting a canner thing(obviously I do not can) I cant wait to try now- wish me luck...

  17. I enjoy canning tomatoes; they're so much better than the store-bought kind and it's very easy to do. The process is similar to what Zsuzsanna described. Blanche them so the peels come of easily, then just cut them (we like them chunky, so I usually only quarter them), add a little lemon juice, and boil them. When you take them out, the buttons on the lid pop in, making them air tight. You can can salsa the same way.

    I once tried my hand at making ketchup just to say I did it. It was fun, but NEVER AGAIN! It tastes different than what you're used to, and since (at the time) a bottle of ketchup was 79 cents, it made no sense for something THAT labor-intensive. But it made me feel like a pioneer woman. It worked well in our favorite cheeseburger pie recipe, though!


  18. I am looking forward to making ligonberry jam this year - I need to stock up as it goes like wild fire here! Also want to try my hand at canning blueberries, we'll have to see how much picking we get done in the mountains this summer.

  19. I have some really wonderful memories about canning. My maternal grandma canned EVERYTHING! I think she had enough food in her "root cellar" to feed a small town for a year! I really hated being sent to the root cellar because it was SCARY down little hanging light bulb overhead, spooky wooden steps, always expecting (but never seeing) critters running around. Grandma and Grandpa had an acre garden, and I often hoed corn that was taller than I was. But there is NOTHING like grabbing an ear of corn and running for the house where a pan of water was waiting to boil it for us....corn right out of a garden is the most heavenly food in the world! Followed closely by green beans right out of the garden. As a young teenager, I got pretty tired of getting bushels and bushels of various produce ready for the canning process, but I did enjoy the results later! I remember once, though, when Grandma was in a teasing mood and I asked why we had a container of alum, that she told me to taste it and I'd know why. I still to this day remember that HORRIBLE taste in my mouth. I wonder now if it affected my brain! But overall, I loved working with Grandma to can things and I miss those very very much simpler days.

  20. You make canning sound easy, not daunting! Maybe I will try to can some things later this summer.

    And my whole family likes apricot jelly! None of us are *huge* jelly eaters, but apricot anything is liked by everyone! Yum! =)

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge AND your jam!

  21. Mmmmm I can't wait to try this out. Looks yummy! You make it seem so easy. Hopefully I can do it. Idk though, i turned a frozen pizza black last night lol.

  22. I love homemade jams and kellies, but I think my favorite one was from when I was a kid and my mothe's grape jelly failed. We called it grape slime (because of the texture) and it was *so* delicious!

  23. Zsuzsanna-
    You may not think I have ever done any canning but I will let you know I have!!! I have canned green beans, multiple types of jams and even homemade honey. So enter me in the drawing please, cause i'm sure it is delicious. BTW this is Brett.

    P.S. How do I get my future wife to make delicious stuff like this??? :)

  24. I really want to try canning sometime. I just haven't been daring enough to do it!

    I remember when I was little and we lived in Oregon, the church we went to had blackberry bushes growing along the fence. All of us kids would go out there and pick blackberries and the asst. pastor's wife would make yummy jam out of it for everyone! It was delicious!

    I'd love a jar of your homemade apricot jam! I know my husband would love it even more (I'm not a huge fan of sweets right now for some reason... probably this pregnancy).

  25. Your canning process is just like mine. :) The amount of fruit is the same too, lol! My Father in law is a farm labor contractor and will bring us CASES of fruit at least once every two weeks this time of year. I made the best cherry freezer jam the other day, oh my it was good! (And dont you love those funnels? makes everything easier!) I have some apricots left now that I'm thinking about it...hmm..

  26. I have always wanted to can my own food. I just have not taken the time to learn how. I bet the fruit is very yummy. I have never had homemade jelly.

  27. Hello Zsuzsanna!
    First time blooger here on your website, although I must admit I check your website out weekly :) Your practical joke blogs have me rolling on the floor by the time I have finished reading them :)
    BTW--Our prayers here at Faithful Word Baptist Church Indiana have been with your family since the incident with Border Patrol.
    Now, a response to the canning posting... I thought it very strange that you posted everything about how to can, when my husband just mentioned to me the other day that he wants me to learn how to can(specifically tom). :0 Of course it is not strange, it is just God's way of kicking me into gear to do what my husband asked me to ;) Anyway, I have many concerns about canning, of which you addressed in your blog. Things like cost involved to start, and of course, the time it takes to actually can. I must admit I do not like to spend much time in the kitchen, especially in the Summer months. I also have a part-time job from home-working on the phones, so time to cook all day is a little hard to come by (I homeschool as well). But, I will have to consider all the information that you have posted, and get working on doing this canning thing. You know the funniest thing for me is that I always considered myself a country girl, but I don't much like doing country girl things -- like canning. Oh well, I just wanted to let you know you are an inspiration for all of us Christian moms trying to have a Biblically correct home. Thank you.

  28. This is a great post, thank you! As of June 30th, I will begin my new career (ecstatic to be leaving the current one outside my home) to be a stay at home mom to my 3 foster children (all under the age of 5) that we will be adopting within a few months. Because I'm quitting to stay home and raise my kids, I have to find every way possible to make ends meet. Saving on groceries is definitely one of them. I already planned on learning this summer is how to can what we have growing in our garden. So this is a great informational post!! Thanks!

    Many blessings!

  29. Hi! If I say "I am going to give it" Would you let me be one of the winners?! :) LOL.... Now don't let the fact that your future son-in-law.... happens to be my beloved nephew affect your decision! :) HA HA HA HA Smiles,


    P.S. I am kidding BTW. :)

  30. this is my 1st time on your blog and WOW what a way to keep me comin' back to let me win!! lol Ü Tracy Cain

  31. This post is such a great help! I've definitely been wanting to start canning and my MIL gave me a great book, I've just never gotten around to it...

    I'm gonna copy and print this out! :)

  32. Wow! I've never canned but I've always wanted to! I just had no idea where to start. Your page has instructions and everything. So cool! We have five kids, going on six, and I think it's just so neat how to learn and be self sufficiant sometimes. No matter how many kids you have. :) I just told my husband the other day that I've always wanted to learn how to do canning. :D If you decide to pick me, I'd have so much fun learning!

  33. I loved canning as a little girl with my great grandma Emma and my grandma Peggy. We canned everything pretty much... and now I miss it SO much. I am hoping to get started canning when I am able to afford all of my supplies. I think my 4 kids (soon to be 5) will really enjoy it!


  34. I used to can a lot more when I didn't live in the city, but last year I was given a whole boat load of sandhill plums and wrote this post about it: I manage to get a few fruits and veggies canned here and there, but not nearly like I did when I only had 2 or 3 children and lived out where the wild things grow. lol (Great instructions by the way! :) )

  35. Pick me! Pick me!🙋... I've never had apricot jelly before and I've never canned before but you have certainly inspired me.


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