The Main Menu: Some tips for first-timers and pros on preserving summer in a jar

Jan Main provides some tips for preserving summer in this edition of The Main Menu.


When I think of preserves, images of my Grandmother and Mother come to mind. In my Grandmother’s case, it was being sent downstairs to her preserve storage, rows of neat shelves beneath the basement stairs, lined with jars of chili sauce, jams and jellies mustard pickles but my favourite, her peach almond conserve. Only for special occasions and oh, soooo delicious!

When I think of my Mother’s preserving escapades, (always the hottest day of the year), visions of her big blue preserving kettle filled with boiling water come to mind, steam rising and jars of pickled beets, zucchini relish, autumn relish and her specialty – red currant jelly.

Now that was a labour of love! Preserving was easily several day’s work but worthwhile for that special taste with winter meals-yum!

As a result of this COVID-19 virus, there are more people cooking, gardening and wanting to preserve, perhaps for the first time.

Here are some tips to make the job fool proof. Of course, there are some tried and true recipes included to take us down memory lane.

Step by Step Home Canning Tips For: Jam, Jellies, Marmalades, Conserves, Fruit Butters, Pickles, Relishes, Chutneys, Condiments, Fruit Preserves and Tomatoes with added acid.

  1. Always preserve the best quality fruit or vegetable, as close as “just picked” as possible, free of blemishes or bruises. Canning does not improve quality!
  2. Prepare the canner– this refers to the large saucepan/ kettle required to boil the preserves. I highly recommend the smaller canners now available often complete with all the necessary tools from Bernardin often found in Canadian Tire and Home Hardware. The smaller quantity simplifies the job.

Fill the kettle (canner) with enough hot water to cover jars by an inch (2.5 cm) set it on the stove and bring to boil (this will take some time) and you will be assured it will be ready when needed.

  1. Wash and Sterilize Jars – Always use proper preserving jars which can withstand the heat necessary to process. Check the jars for cracks or nicks around the edge. If damaged, discard. Wash jars in hot sudsy water or dishwasher and rinse well. If processing time is 10 minutes or more, sterilizing jars in boiling water is unnecessary.
  2. Soften the sealing compound of new lids (always use new lids) in saucepan of boiling water 5 minutes.
  3. Fill the jars to the required headspace, this is the space between the substance being processed and the edge of the jar. It allows for expansion while processing in a water bath. Headspace varies: 1/4 inch(.5 cm) jams, jellies, marmalades and conserves; ½ inch (1 cm)-fruits, relishes, pickles and chutneys.
  4. Remove air bubbles. Once jar is filled to the required headspace, run a spatula along the inside of the jar, gently shifting the food to release air bubbles then readjust the headspace if necessary.
  5. Wipe Jar Rims with a clean cloth to remove any food particles or stickiness which can interfere with an airtight seal.
  6. Apply lids fingertip tight which provides some “give” between lid and screw band so that rising steam and air created inside the jar during heat processing can be exhausted. Once the lids have cooled there can be a “snap down” of the lid which indicates an airtight vacuum seal.
  7. Process the jars in a boiling water bath the required time according to the recipe once the water has come back to a full rolling boil. The time for many recipes is 10 minutes. Do not re-tighten the screw bans as this can damage the seal.
  8. Check for Seal– Once jars are removed from the boiling water bath and allowed to cool on a rack, you will hear and see a snap down of the center of the. lid which indicates a good seal. A final check should be done after 24 hours. Once there is a seal, screw bands can be removed. (If there is no seal, refrigerate the jar and use up contents within a few days.)
  9. Label, date and store preserves in a cool dark place for up to a year.

Zucchini Relish

A tasty companion to barbecued meats: sausages, burgers, chicken and pork; zucchini relish is equally good served with cheese. In this recipe, a food processor will make an easy job of chopping zucchini, onions and peppers.

4 cups (1 L) chopped zucchini (about 4-5).

2 cups (500 mL) chopped onions (about 2 large).

1  each, red and green pepper chopped.

1 tbsp (15 mL) pickling salt.

1 cup (250 mL) cold water.

1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar.

1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch.

1 tbsp (15 mL) dry mustard.

½ tsp (2 mL) each, turmeric, nutmeg and celery seeds.

1 cup (250 mL) white vinegar.

1/3 cup (75 mL)  cold water.

In mixing bowl, combine zucchini, onions, red and green peppers; sprinkle with salt and pour in cold water. Stir well. Let stand for 1 hour or overnight. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain and press out excess moisture.

In heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, mustard, turmeric, nutmeg, celery seeds, vinegar and water; stir to combine well. Bring to boil; add drained vegetables and return to boil; stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 20 -25 minutes stirring occasionally or until thickened.

Fill jars to within ½ inch (1 cm) of rim; apply lids and screw band; process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Remove to cooling rack; check for seal; label, date and store in cool dark place up to 1 year. Makes about 5 (1 cup/ 250 mL jars).

Herb Jelly

This jelly can be made with almost any herb: mint, basil, thyme, tarragon or sage. It is a perfect companion to roast meats including the Thanksgiving turkey.

1 ½ cups (375 ml) fresh, packed herb leaves, washed and coarsely chopped.

2 ¾ cup (675 mL) boiling water.

½ cup (125 mL) cider vinegar.

Few drops green food colouring.

1 pkg (57 g) Fruit Pectin.

4 cups (1 L) granulated sugar.

In a saucepan combine herbs, water and vinegar. Simmer together 15 minutes. Strain through sieve and colour delicately with food colouring. (A little bit goes a long way!).

Return to saucepan; stir in pectin and bring to a full rolling boil. Stir in measured amount of sugar all at once and bring to a full boil for 1 minute stirring constantly.

Immediately remove from heat; skim off foam. Spoon mixture into prepared jars to within 1/4 inch(.5cm) of rim; place lids on and screw band; process in boiling water bath 5 minutes. Remove jars; cool; check for seal; remove screw bands, label, date and store in cool dry place. Makes about 5 cups (1.25L).

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