My parents grew up on farms in Ontario, where their mothers spent much of the summer canning fruits and vegetables for use in the long, cold winter. The produce came from their garden, which was tended all summer long. My wife grew up on a farm in Michigan, where her mother spent much of the summer canning. She would drive all the way to Traverse City to buy buckets of cherries, one of the few things that she didn’t grow herself, to be preserved and end up in cherry pie. Preserving, a necessity for farm families then, is pretty much a lost art now that we purchase most everything ready to eat. But if you want to experience the fresh, preservative-free taste and aromas from our local tomatoes, peaches and apples, here are some small-quantity, easy-to-make beginner recipes.
Canning equipment: For this small-quantity canning project, I bought 2 dozen pint Ball jars with vacuum-sealed lids. For sterilizing and cooking I used a large pasta pot with a lid. I placed an inverted pie tin in the bottom as a rack for the jars to sit on. You can buy special canning pots with racks if desired. I just used regular kitchen tongs to transfer the hot jars in and out of the pot.
Sterilization: The jars, lids and screw tops need to be sterilized before the jars are filled. Do this close to the time when you fill them so that they are still hot. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil and submerge the jars in the boiling water until they are covered. Let them boil for 10 minutes before removing with tongs. Add the lids and screw tops to the same water and boil for another 10 minutes and remove.
Peaches with Cinnamon
Purchase 6 pounds of fresh peaches (about 15). Make a light syrup by bringing to a boil 8 cups of water and 1/2 cup honey. Keep the syrup hot while prepping the peaches.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and cook the peaches for 2 minutes. Remove and plunge them into an ice bath to cool. Slip the skins off along with the stems. Cut the peaches into wedges with a sharp paring knife and add them to a bowl of cold water with a little lemon juice to prevent browning.
Place 1 cinnamon stick into each of 6 sterilized jars and fill them with sliced peaches. Pour the hot syrup into each jar, leaving a half-inch clearance at the top.
After filling all 6 jars, wipe the edges clean with a paper towel and place the lids on top. Tighten the screw tops to secure the lids.
Place a rack (or inverted pie tin) in the bottom of the large pot of boiling water and stand the filled jars up in the pot. They should be just covered with the boiling water. Cover the pot and let them cook at a low boil for 30 minutes. Then remove and cool at room temperature. Remove a couple of the screw tops to see if the tops formed a tight vacuum seal. They can now be stored in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
Purchase 6 pounds of apples (about 15). Use a mixture of apple varieties that are good for cooking such as Mutsu, Empire or Gala. Peel and core them and slice them into a bowl of water that is acidified with 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
Drain the apple slices and place them in a saucepan along with the juice and zest of 2 navel oranges. Add 1/2 cup honey, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons ground cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in 2 tablespoons triple sec liqueur (or Grand Marnier) and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and mash with a hand-held potato masher, leaving the sauce a little bit chunky.
Fill 6 sterilized pint jars (as above), leaving a half-inch space at the top of the jar. Wipe the rims with a paper towel and place the lids on top, sealing them with the screw tops. Place the sealed jars on a rack in boiling water as above and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove and cool at room temperature.
Tomatoes with Basil
Purchase 8 pounds of plum or Roma tomatoes (about 24) and rinse under cold water. Put a small X in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Cook for 1 minute and remove. Plunge the tomatoes into ice water to cool and slip off the skins, cutting out the stem with a knife.
After sterilizing the jars, set 6 of them on the table and add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each jar. Fill the jars with the peeled tomatoes, packing them in pretty tightly. Add 1 leaf of fresh basil to each jar and pour boiling water in to cover the tomatoes. Be sure to leave a half-inch of space below the lid.
Wipe the edges of the jars clean with a paper towel and place the lids on top, sealing them with the screw tops. Place the sealed jars on a rack in the boiling water, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Remove and cool at room temperature.
Notes: The honey worked very well in place of sugar for the peaches and applesauce. The cinnamon in the peaches was delicious but perhaps a little too pronounced for some tastes. The tomatoes had a delicate taste and texture that would complement a fresh pasta with butter or olive oil. After eating the applesauce you will never want to eat a commercial brand again.