“My very first memories in the kitchen are of canning and preserving fruits and vegetables alongside my grandmothers. Using the fresh produce we grew and harvested ourselves, we turned it into pickles, jams, jellies, and preserves. It was through my grandmas’ combined years of experience and unique cooking styles that I learned many tips and tricks that make canning an enjoyable process. In the heart of autumn, when the orchard was a tapestry of fiery reds and golden yellows, I would spend my days with my Mawmaw.
The air was cool, but the sun warmed our faces as we set out to gather the fruit of our labor. Our orchard was a treasure trove of apple varieties, each one boasting its own unique flavor and texture. Mawmaw’s experienced hand deftly plucked the ripest apples from the boughs, carefully placing them in her worn wicker basket. Their sweet, crisp scent filled the air around us, promising a rich and flavorful harvest. With baskets brimming, we returned to the kitchen, where the heart of our autumn alchemy would take place.
Mawmaw’s kitchen was a sanctuary, a place where generations of culinary wisdom and love had been passed down. It was a space where magic unfolded with every turn of the season. As the apples were washed and polished to a shine, Mawmaw’s hands moved with purpose. She sliced them with practiced precision, removing cores and seeds with a swift flick of her knife. The apples tumbled into a large stock pot, each one a testament to the bounty of our orchard. A symphony of scents began to swirl around us. The sweet aroma of apples mingled with the warm, comforting notes of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Mawmaw added these spices with a knowing smile, each pinch and dash a gesture of culinary mastery. As the apples began to soften, Mawmaw stirred, her wooden spoon creating a gentle rhythm that seemed to echo the heartbeat of our harvest. The scent grew richer and more enticing with every passing moment, promising a spread of warmth and comfort for the cold months ahead.
We spent the day together, tending to the bubbling apples, sharing stories, and reveling in the simple joy of creation. The kitchen seemed to come alive with the spirit of generations past, as if every stirring of the pot connected us to those who had come before. As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows across the orchard, Mawmaw declared our apple butter ready. The rich, caramel-hued mixture was carefully ladled into jars, sealing in the essence of our labor and love.
In the weeks that followed, our apple butter became a staple of our autumn mornings. Spread on warm toast or stirred into a steaming bowl of oatmeal, it was a taste of our orchard’s bounty, a reminder of the day we spent together, turning apples into gold.”
– Trace Barnett
Step-by-Step Canning Instructions
Canning is the sterilization and sealing of foods in airtight containers such as glass jars or tins for utilization in later seasons. Canning is also very helpful to make use of every morsel of produce that is harvested in the garden. Some common terms to familiarize yourself with are blanching, sterilizing, processing, and pasteurizing. Let’s go through the basics of each:
- Blanching is an essential element in food preservation, whether freezing or canning, and involves plunging
or dipping food into boiling water for a short period. Blanching is especially helpful in removing the skins of some vegetables or fruits and giving food a crisp texture.
- Sterilizing is the process of boiling jars, lids, and rings by submerging them in boiling water for 10–15 minutes. Allow the jars and jar components to remain in the boiling water until ready to fill. Sterilization will aid in killing any number of bacteria, molds, and yeast, as well as remove any other contaminants.
- Processing is merely the task of cooking a specific food for an allotted period of time.
- Pasteurization is the heating of food or a container at 165 degrees for an appropriate length of time.
Approaching the canning process can be simplified by dividing the contents that will be preserved into two groups, determined by the acid content.
Acid and low acid foods require different cooking temperatures to kill bacteria that could be harmful if not properly cooked out. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, fruits, kraut, pickles, relishes, and beets, should be processed at a boiling temperature to kill bacteria.
Low-acid foods, such as corn, beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, squash, and a variety of meats, require a high-steam temperature of 240 degrees to ensure the bacteria is destroyed. Low-acid foods are better preserved by freezing in quart-sized freezer bags versus canning, in my opinion. (This also eliminates the need for a pressure canner.)
There is a misconceived notion that the task of canning is daunting and challenging. Most of this is derived from the belief that complex specialized equipment is required. While that is true if you are using a pressure canner, there are other ways to preserve. In fact, I don’t even use a pressure canner anymore, due to an incident years ago that resulted in the ceiling of my grandmother’s house never being the same again. I prefer the water-bath mode of canning. Water-bath canning is ideal for tomatoes, sauces, relishes, pickles, fruit, jams, jellies, salsas, and preserves. This mode of canning involves bringing water in a large canner (or a large pot) to a rolling boil, with enough water to cover the jars two inches above their tops. A wire rack allows for circulation of water under the jars to ensure an even temperature.
No matter the acid content or style of canning, the necessary steps remain the same:
- Have all needed materials on-hand and readily accessible before beginning the canning process.
- Prepare the jars by sterilizing them to eliminate bacteria or other contaminants.
- Use only the highest-quality produce when canning, and discard any that may be blemished, bruised, or deteriorating. Wash and clean thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris.
- After blanching, pack the jars as quickly as possible to ensure the foods that are to be packed into the jars are still hot.
- Use adequate amounts of liquid to prevent a dense mass within the jar. Work out air pockets when tightly filling jars.
- Always leave headroom within the container. 1/2–1 inch from the top is a good rule of thumb.
- Pay close attention to each jar upon completion to make sure the seal is attached correctly and is airtight.
- Store canned items in a cool, dry place, avoiding contact with direct light.
How to Can Your Apple Butter
Apple Butter (Makes 6 pint jars)
5 pounds apples, cored and thinly sliced, peels on
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
3 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 box fruit pectin
6 pint-sized jars
Jar rings and lids
Dry measuring cup
Liquid measuring cup
- Sterilize jars, rings, and lids by placing them in a large stock pot of water and bringing to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.
- Combine apples and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil 20-25 minutes or until apples are tender.
- Carefully mash apples using a potato masher until all apples have been broken down. Stir in sugars and spices. Return to heat and bring to a boil.
- Add 1 package of fruit pectin to prepared fruit in pot.
- Bring mixture to a roiling boil over high heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. (A roiling boil is one that does not stop bubbling when stirred.)
- Remove mixture from heat, and if necessary, remove any foam with a large spoon.
- Using a ladle, immediately fill the prepared jars, filling each 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe away any excess from the threads. Place top on jar, and firmly screw the jar ring onto the jar.
- Place jars upside down on a towel and allow to sit for 20-25 minutes. Flip over and allow to cool completely. As jars cool, a popping sound will be heard, signaling that the jar lid has properly sealed. Store prepared jams in a cool, dry. If jars do not seal, process in a hot water bath 5-10 minutes. Remove and let cool.