I’ve been getting a lot of hits on my pickled beet page from people googling “how to can beets” or something similar. I think lots of people are afraid of canning. They think it’s hard, takes lots of time, requires lots of equipment, and could potentially make you sick if done wrong. I’m here to tell you canning is super easy. It doesn’t require much time or specialized equipment, and I don’t think you’re going to kill anyone unless maybe you’re canning mushrooms. I decided I needed to write something up about canning, so I began looking for a good example. Remember those 5 lb of apricots what fell off my neighbors tree? Apricot Jam.
First of all, let me say I freaking love apricot jam. For the past few years I have been making strawberry jam out of the seasonal strawberry boom we have in summer. One batch makes eight or nine, 8 oz jars of jam; which is about enough to last us a year. Following the apricot windfall I realized, I miss apricot jam. I love apricot jam on toast; it’s way better than strawberry which is best suited for PB&J sandwiches. Apricot jam is also brilliant in dipping sauces, mixed with soy, chili, and whatever else seems appropriate. It lends a fruity, sweet-tartness that is great with some fish, samosas, and fried spring rolls.
Canning is done in 3 steps: 1) clean and boil the jars, 2) cook the stuff, 3) put the stuff in the jars and boil again for 5 minutes. It’s that easy.
Ok, for the jam you need to buy: For the canning you need:
3.5 lbs of firm-ripe apricots an 8 quart pot
2 lemons a stout pair of tongs
a bag of sugar nine 8 oz jars with screw tops and lids
1 package of Suregel pectin a widemouth funnel and a ladle
If you don’t have a huge pot, you can sterilize in smaller batches; no big deal. In fact 9 jars don’t fit into my 8 quart pot so I usually do 8 then 1, or 7 then 2. The only places I’ve found jars are Walmart and Smart and Final. They sell a 12 pack of 8 oz jars for about $8. The jars come with the screw tops and replaceable lids. The lids are replaceable for a reason, you should only use them once unless you fancy canning lots of mold. Typically these shops sell Suregel, extra lids, widemouth funnels, and special jar shaped tongs right next to the jars.
Step 1, Jars:
Start by removing the lids and screw tops from the jars. Wash everything in hot-soapy water, then boil the jars and screw tops. Do not screw the tops back on the jar when boiling, you want every surface exposed to boiling water. Don’t boil the lids, you don’t want to overheat the rubber seals. When the jars have boiled about 5 minutes you can take them out of the water and set them to drain on a towel or rack. Keep the water hot so you can boil the sealed jars later. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, put two ceramic plates in the freezer right now (or sooner if you’ve read this ahead of time).
Step 2, The Stuff:
I should note this jam recipe is based on the one that comes in the Suregel pack. Halve the apricots and chop them finely in the blender. DO NOT PUREE; jam should be chunky. Juice the lemons. Mix exactly 5 cups of chopped fruit with 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1 packet of pectin. Put on high heat and stir constantly until a you get a full rolling boil (doesn’t stop when you stir it). Then add exactly 7 cups of sugar, and continue stirring until full boil resumes. Stir mixture at full boil for 1 minute, then test for “set”.
There are two ways to test “set”. The easy way is a candy thermometer; 220 F and Bob’s your uncle. If you don’t have a thermometer, grab one of the plates from the freezer. Put 1 tsp on hot jam on the plate and put it back in the freezer for a few minutes, reduce heat while you do this. Now remove the plate and push the jam with your finger, this is approximately the texture the finished jam will have (but it’s still probably a bit hot and runny). You’re looking for the jam to pile up and wrinkle, not flow back down where you swiped your finger.
Step 3, Fill and Re-Sterilize:
When your jam is ready, kill the heat. Using the big funnel and ladle, fill each jar to within 1/4 inch of the top. Put the replaceable lid on, then the screwtop. Tighten the top by just gripping with the tips of your thumb and two fingers. You don’t want to tighten the hell out of it, but you want it secure enough that water won’t flow in. Now put the full jars in the big pot and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the water with tongs. With potholders, now tighten the hell out of the lids. The hot air in the jar will contract and suck the lid down. You should start hearing the jars ‘pop’ within 5-10 minutes; you can test by pressing the button on the lid. If any jars don’t pop store them in the freezer until use.