Though preserves need no further arguments to recommend them, there is still one more: they can be a real pleasure to make. Of course, if you're in a hurry or you have to be somewhere (in other words, if you're thinking about something else), the process of getting food into jars will seem tedious. But I look at the process as something to enjoy. I suppose there is probably some human instinct that takes pleasure from knowing that the harvest has been tucked away and the larder is full. In any case, taking the time to wash and prepare whole bushels of fruit and vegetables that you'll eat much later, sterilizing the jars, watching over bubbling pots in a steamy kitchen—it all adds up to an afternoon to look forward to, particularly if, like me, you keep a bottle of wine open as you go about the work. And there is a unique pleasure that comes from gazing at the brightly colored jars before you (perhaps reluctantly) store them away.
Tips for safe canning and preserving
Canning and preserving is an art, and there is no way I can make you an expert in a few paragraphs (I'm always learning myself). You'll pick up tricks and recipes as you go along. Nothing can replace experience, and the only way to get that is to start. But before you begin, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- There are many books on preserving—look for recipes that produce small batches, ones you are likely to use.
- Always use the proper method, and follow the recipe. Canning is an age-old technique, so look for canning books in their fifth or sixth printing—they have stood the test of time.
- Choose fresh produce. We are preserving life here, not trying to bring it back.
- Work with sterile equipment. Wash all equipment with soap and water. Sterilize all jars and lids, and don't forget the tongs, spoons and utensils you will be using.
- Store your jars in a cool, dark place—not in your kitchen, where you can look admiringly at them and show them off, but in the basement or a closet. (Again, not unlike wine.)
- Use common sense. If the preserved food doesn't look or smell quite right, don't taste it. Throw it out.