Food & Entertaining - In Season

Confessions of a canner

Shel Zolkewich
Photography by
Shel Zolkewich

10 helpful tips from a newbie who has embraced the joy of making preserves

For 47 years, I’ve been terrified by the thought of lowering glass jars into a vat of boiling water. But this fall, I summoned all my courage, dug that garage sale canner out of the basement and made a commitment. This is the year I can.

It’s been a month since I made that promise. Today, my kitchen floor is littered  with boxes of mason jars of various sizes. My cookbook shelf has been repurposed as a depository for jams, jellies and all things pickled. If there’s a vegetable, fruit or berry in the house, it’s getting canned. Be warned. There is no gateway into canning. Once you start, you can’t stop. Here’s a list of tips from someone who’s 99 jars into the game and counting.

1. Tool time
You’ll be dealing with glass, metal, boiling water and hot stuff in general. This is no time to improvise when it comes to tools. Look for an enamel water-bath canning kit with an interior rack and basic tool set. You’ll spend less than $50 for a new set. If you can wait until yard sale season, canners can be had for five dollars.

2. Start fresh
The better your ingredients are when you put them in a jar, the better they’ll taste when you crack open that jar in January. Don’t use overripe fruit or vegetables with bruises or blemishes just to get rid of them. You won’t be happy with the results. There’s a reason most canning is done in the fall; to preserve those fabulous flavours from our gardens and fruit trees.

3. Time on your side
Canning takes time. It’s not a whip-up-a-batch-of-cookies kind of project. I suggest you start early in the day, especially if you’re a novice. There are several steps to the process and some of them involve standing around waiting for water to boil. Chill out. Start imagining how you’ll decorate your jars.

4. Make what you like
Just because everyone else makes pickled beets and crabapple jelly, you don’t need to follow suit. Look for recipes that suit your taste. I’m a huge fan of corn relish, so that was one of my first projects. I also love anything with oranges, so about half of my jars have a decidedly orange glow to them.

5. Stick with a water bath
You’ll find lots of online chatter about using the oven method for canning. This involves setting your jars into an oven and bringing up the heat to a recommended temperature. All the home economists I know nearly had a fit when I considered using this method. They started talking about food safety, or more precisely, the lack of it. That quickly made me decide to use a water bath. Play it safe and do the same.


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