Everything you need to know to preserve perfectly

Can tomatoes while they are in season to preserve their peak freshness. PHOTO: Commons

Preserving is part of our Canadian heritage. Of course, during our bicentennial year the topic has more impact as we understand how and why the early settlers preserved to survive the harsh Canadian winters. As a result, Canada became foremost in canning techniques.

Preserving or canning, as it is also called, is one way of saving food for future use. Other older methods are salting and drying foods. Whenever you “preserve” you are making the food unfriendly for bacteria to grow. Bacteria does not like salt, acid (such as vinegar), sugar or drying (lack of moisture). Thus, when you remove food, water and air, bacteria cannot live. This means the food can be kept for long periods, an essential culinary skill for the Canadian kitchen. As a result, my Grandmother’s fruit cellar sparkled with the colourful jars of pickled beets, peach conserve, cucumber relish, mustard pickles, dill pickles – an endless array or tastes to add zest to winter dishes. Today, enjoy this old-fashioned technique with new fashioned recipes as a reminder of our glorious summer abundance and of our heritage.

Techniques for success

  • Always use the best quality fruit and vegetables for success. Discard any poor quality produce as they could contaminate the rest of the preserves.
  • Use the proper preserving jars, new lids and rings. (Available in hardware stores, kitchenware stores and supermarkets.)
  • Follow the instructions for the method carefully. Bernardin, one expert in this area, prints instruction manuals with well-tested recipes
  • Only preserve items you love and give to people you love. Canning is hard work. Choose recipes that are expensive or difficult to buy but easy to prepare such as chutneys and relishes.
  • Assemble all your equipment and ingredients ahead so that you can be efficient with your time.
  • Do not batch up recipes; smaller batches are easier to handle.
  • If using an old recipe such as one from your grandmother, put it up against a modern version to check quantities, as ingredients change over time.
  • Do not alter the amount of sugar or vinegar in a recipe as these are necessary ingredients to make a safe preserve and need to be in the recipe.

How to Preserve Safely:

  • Wash jars in hot soapy water; rinse. A dishwasher works well for this chore.
  • Place washed jars in a pot of boiling water; leave them there until ready to use. Remove jars carefully one at a time with tongs as needed for filling with the preserve.
  • Lids and rings should be washed and kept in a saucepan of boiling water until needed. Use sterilized tongs to remove them from this boiling bath.
  • New lids and rings should be used each time your preserve. Jars can be reused providing they are free of cracks or nicks in the glass which can prevent a good seal.
  • For a jar to have a good seal, look at the lid once the contents have cooled. If the lid goes down in the center, there is a good seal. If the lid seems bouncy, refrigerate the jar immediately and use the contents within the week. A bouncy lid indicates there is air trapped in the jar; thus, not a safe seal and bacteria can grow. Therefore, the contents need to be refrigerated and used quickly.

Blueberry Chutney

Enjoy this delicately flavoured chutney with cheese and French bread as an appetizer or as a condiment to grilled chicken, pork or fish.

2 lbs (1 Kg) blueberries, fresh or frozen

3 cups (750 mL) granulated sugar

2 cups (500 mL) currants, washed and dried with a tea towel

1/2 cup (125 mL) white wine vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp (2 mL) each, ground cloves and ground ginger

1/2 tsp (2 mL) pickling salt

1/2 cup (125 mL) pecans or walnut halves (optional)

Wash and prepare all necessary equipment: preserving jars, lids, rings, tongs, cooling racks, preserving kettle with boiling water trivet and ingredients.

In a large stainless steel saucepan combine blueberries, sugar, currants, vinegar, cinnamon stick, ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger and salt.

Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until thickened slightly about 15-20 minutes. Stir in nuts, if using, and simmer another 5 minutes.

Spoon preserve into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch (1/2 cm) headspace; screw on lid and place each jar in preserving kettle. Bring to boil and boil 10 minutes. Remove jar to cooling rack; cool. Check for seal; (lid is inverted in the center.) Date and label jar. Store in cool, dark, place for up to 1 year. Makes about 4 cups/1 L.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer. Reach her at janmainskitchen@gmail.com.

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