Seriously? You can?

Yes, I can. Jams, salsa, spaghetti sauce, they all can beautifully. And it’s super easy. It seems intimidating because of  all the equipment and boiling and cooking, but it is seriously easy, if hot, work.

I decided to start canning my own jam two years ago. I figured the cost savings would be great and I would know what’s going into my kids’ mouths. Since I don’t grow my own strawberries (I don’t have enough room to grow the sheer volume I’d need to make all the jam), and instead pick them at a certified organic farm, the cost savings isn’t that great. Those suckers are expensive but worth it to me. It still ends up being about a dollar cheaper per quart though. And I make a dozen quarts at a time. That will last us a year. We eat a lot of jam.

I bought the case of quart sized jars with a coupon – watch for them every year in the Spring – and a jar lifter (basically tongs with a rubber coating so the jar doesn’t slip when you’re lowering it into the pot or taking it out). I got the boxes of pre-measured pectin, and followed the directions in the box. I already had a large stock pot with a rack so I didn’t need to buy one of those, but you can use any deep pot and put kitchen towels in the bottom just to keep the bottom of the jars from scorching against the direct heat. The pot needs to be deep enough so that the tops of the jars are covered by about an inch of water (it’s going to be at a rolling boil so you need room for it to bubble and still be covered). I flubbed my first batch of jam – I followed the wrong set of directions on the sheet that came with the pectin. It tasted good but didn’t gel quite enough. I called it strawberry soup and we poured it from the jar onto the bread for sandwiches. Drippy but yummy. I got it figured out by the third batch and that one came out perfectly. Basically you grind up the strawberries some, boil them together with the sugar, add the pectin and pour it into a funnel, into the jars. Mine gets processed for 10 minutes (but follow whatever your directions say!) And then you just set them out to cool. There is nothing better than the sound of the vacuum seal popping closed on a batch of homemade something. It can get messy (I dropped an almost empty pot of hot strawberry jam all over the floor because I wasn’t paying attention), but it’s easy as can be.

Here’s all that’s left from last year’s batch (one strawberry soup and one regular):

image

Salsa and spaghetti sauce are just as easy, maybe easier. You make the spaghetti sauce as usual and pour it hot into the jars. Process it (boil it) and you have spaghetti sauce, the way you like it, whenever you want, with only the ingredients you want in it. Same for salsa. It needs to be cooked for a few minutes to get it hot, but once it’s hot, pour, process and cool. Your favorite salsa whenever you want it. I got half pint jars for the salsa – it makes a serving for one or two people – and pint jars for the spaghetti sauce.

Jars aren’t expensive and Wally World (Wal-Mart) and many grocery stores carry them. You can reuse the jars and bands every year but you need to get new flat lids. So, every year you make homemade things, you spread the price of those jars out until, after many years, it has only cost you pennies a year to use them. They are an investment.

Tons of things can be canned, not just jams and salsas and such. The Ball Canning Book (the blue book) is considered one of the bibles of the genre. It has recipes, processing times, and guidelines from the makers of some of the most popular canning jars out there. This year I’m going to try growing my own cucumbers for bread and butter pickles.

If you don’t use the full dozen jars – you don’t use as much jam as we do, or there are only one or two of you to can for, or whatever – the jars are dead useful for other things. People decorate with them. I tend to use them to give food mixes in a jar to family and friends. The dry ingredients for muffins or cookies or soups can be layered in a jar to nice effect. Attatch a card or sticker with directions on what to add and how long to cook, and you have a nice housewarming or holiday gift. They can be used as pencil holders, candle holders, or a place to store screws (nail or screw the lid with band onto the bottom of a cabinet and screw and unscrew the jar to get to the contents). There are endless uses for a spare see-through jar.

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