A century ago, every woman in rural America had a hope chest and a Mason jar collection. These coveted jars were brought into use over the August and September harvest season when the farm yielded its bounty. Early on she worked over a wood cook stove, but now a gas or electric range with air conditioning makes this job more fun in these dog days of summer.
This is one home craft that hasn’t changed much in all these years. We still use Mason jars and the process is exactly the same.
For anyone with fruit trees or a vegetable garden, or with access to locally grown produce, it’s easy to get started in the arts of food preservation. All you need is jars, fresh lids and a big kettle for processing.
These black-speckled enamel pots are sold in supermarkets and contain a rack inside that helps you lift hot jars out of the boiling water. Take the plunge and pick up these affordable essentials, so in the future, all you’ll need to buy each year are the lids.
There are many ways to preserve food, some more difficult than others. Choose wide-mouth jars that make it easier to fill than small mouth jars.
For a first-timer, it’s easy to use the simplified method using refrigerator storage. This doesn’t require processing in boiling water, so all you need to focus on the first time around is getting the contents right. Then next year you’ll be ready to tackle processing, which is how to can everything without risk of botulism in pantry or root-cellar storage.
The easiest starter for fruit is making jam, which is so simple anyone can succeed. Simply crush clean fruit by hand, in a food processor or old-fashioned meat grinder, with or without skins. Plum skins are tart, so adding them to jam gives it more flavor punch. Combine this with sugar and fruit pectin, bring to a boil and ladle into your clean, sterile jars.
The easiest way to preserve vegetables is by pickling them in brine with herbs. Those recipes designated as “refrigerator pickles” are meant to be eaten within a week after preparation.
Simply stuff your Mason jars with cukes, peppers, carrots, string beans, cauliflower and garlic. Scatter herbs into each jar, then cover with heated brine mixture. Most Internet recipe sites feature a variety of ways to make quick pickles or more long-lasting ones.
Sherry Brooks Vinton recently released “Put ’Em Up!: Preserving Answer Book” (Storey 2014, $16.95), which is a great way to learn details more quickly through a helpful question-and-answer format.
Above all, putting food in Mason jars requires close attention to cleanliness. Jars must be sterilized before your fill them to prevent bacteria contamination.
Even if you don’t process your finished jars, you’ll need the kettle rack for sterilization. Simply load the rack with empty jars and dip them in the big kettle.
Masons were a treasure to farm women everywhere who refilled the same jars for generations. Just be sure to buy new lids each year. Simply place each lid on the clean mouth of a hot, freshly filled jar, and it should seal tightly as the whole thing cools.
Ball Mason Jars are the most widely available brand. Their website is full of recipes plus helpful details on jar sizes and the lids that help seal them. You’ll also see unique tools that simplify the process. For a quick start, visit www.freshpreserving.com.
Summer canning of the harvest is an age-old tradition that has come back. Even if you’ve never tried it, consider turning a lug of fruit or veggies from your local organic gardener into beautiful finished jars. If you’re a first-timer, start with jam or pickles to share with friends and family just as grandmother did a century ago.