Think You Can't Can? Think Again...
The craft of canning has undergone a renaissance, attracting celebrity chefs, home cooks, and backyard gardeners alike. Canned and pickled foods have become a cornerstone of the artisanal food movement, providing an opportunity to savor seasonal foods long after harvest and to create bold new flavors.
Tart and Sweet by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler is the essential canning manual for the 21st century, providing a modern tutorial on small-batch canning accompanied by easy-to-follow photos and instructions as well as more than 101 sweet and savory recipes for preserved fruits and pickled vegetables, including jams, chutneys, marmalades, syrups, relishes, sauces, and salsas.
With traditional favorites like canned peaches and bread-and-butter pickles as well as more inventive flavor combinations such as kumquat marmalade and pickled ramps, Tart and Sweet offers endless possibilities for creative preserving. In addition, you'll find recipes and inspiration for using your canned goods in delicious and unique ways, from cocktails to cakes.
Whether you're assembling a plate of pickled hors d'oeuvres, baking with fresh apple butter, or gifting jars of blueberry jam in December, you'll find countless uses for your homemade preserves.
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About the Author
Jessie Knadler is a writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Women's Health, Comsopolitan, Prevention, Redbook, and Glamour, among others. She lives in central Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
1 Canning Isn't Rocket Science
One of the most common misconceptions about canning is that it's hard. The craft still conjures up images of a 1930s-era housewife shucking a mountain of corn at her kitchen table while a pressure canner rattles and hisses nearby like a bomb about to explode. And for many years, this was a fairly accurate portrait. Before the advent of the processed food industry, people had to preserve food--lots of it--if they wanted to eat fruits and vegetables in February. In fact, we came across a home canning guide from 1935 that called for putting up 560 quarts of fruits and vegetables for a family of five every year. No wonder canning went the way of the carpet beater for so long.
Today, of course, people no longer have to preserve seasonal produce. They choose to do it because it's a delicious, homemade way to eat just a little bit closer to the land, whether you're making pickles from green market cucumbers or tomato sauce from your backyard bounty.
Yet anymore, it seems there's an excessively cautious If you're not careful, canning may kill you tone that surrounds the craft. One friend balked before digging into Jessie's homemade peach butter, "Wait, does this have botulism? Is it going to kill me?" Maybe it's because preserving has undergone a resurgence only within the past few years, so it still seems "new" to many, thus scarier than it actually is. Improvements in culinary science and revamped rules and regulations from the US Department of Agriculture have made canning safer than ever, but the flip side is that it now seems more nerve-racking than ever. Headspace, processing times, pH levels, altitude considerations--perusing a modern canning manual can feel like studying for a chemistry exam.
The truth: Canning couldn't be simpler, especially the kind we deal with here--water bath canning. In fact, very little has changed about canning since it was first invented by a French chef and confectioner (not a scientist, notably) more than 200 years ago. Which is to say, if you can boil water and chop produce, you can can like the best of them. Heck, committing to a 48-hour training program (the equivalent of 2 days) is all that's required to call yourself a Master Preserver.
Another fact: Canning won't kill you. We'll get more into the science later, but rest assured, the scary botulism spores you may have read about cannot grow in high-acid food. And the instructions and recipes in this book are written for high-acid canning--fruits, fruit spreads, acidified tomatoes, pickled products, relishes, chutneys, ketchup--products most modern canners are eager to preserve.
How Nutritious Is Canned Food?
A lot of people think canned food isn't nearly as nutritious as fresh, and for the most part, that's true--assuming the "fresh" stuff wasn't picked well before peak ripeness or shipped halfway around the world, lingering for days, even weeks in storage, which is often the case for the fruits and vegetables you'll find at your local grocery store.
The reason canned food is sometimes (and erroneously) thought of as a nutritional black hole is because food scientists have generally looked to vitamin C--which happens to be extrasensitive to heat, light, and oxygen-- as a measure of nutrient degradation. And it's true, vitamin C, along with equally sensitive B vitamins, degrades rapidly during canning. But they degrade just as rapidly during cooking. In fact, they degrade rapidly just after harvest. Studies have found that vitamin C loss during canning ranged from 10 to 90 percent. Losses during cooking ranged from 15 to 55 percent, while losses during refrigeration for 7 days ranged from 15 to 77 percent. Vitamin C just doesn't like to stick around for very long.
But fruits and vegetables are more than repositories for vitamin C and B vitamins. Studies have shown that fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A and E remain more or less constant during heat processing (and levels of disease-preventing carotenoids such as lycopene actually increase). Fiber, minerals, calcium, and potassium remain stable as well.
So to get the most nutritional bang for your preserving buck, try to can local, perfectly ripe, organic fruits and vegetables as soon as possible after harvest to preserve these valuable nutrients. During processing, remaining vitamin C and B vitamins, which are water soluble, may leach into the canning liquid, which can be added to other recipes and consumed.
All that aside, a lot of home canned food falls into the condiment/snack category (dilly beans, fruit spreads, salsas) anyway, which most people don't eat for nutritional purposes. They eat preserved goodies because they taste good and the ingredients are of the highest quality (close to home!), and making jams and pickles is rewarding and fun.
So . . . canning is easy. It's safe. You could even call it modern. We don't feel that canning is a throwback to another era, an attempt to recapture the halcyon days of Grandma's dilly beans or a romantic nod to a more rustic way of life when smocks and sunbonnets were at the height of fashion. Instead, we believe canning's resurgence can be attributed to the natural outgrowth of the locavore movement. Canning is an extension of the way people think about food and the environment today, whether you live in the city, like Kelly, or in the country, like Jessie.
That said, like all DIY hobbies, canning is not without its minor challenges. We've compiled a list of our top seven canning rules-- guidelines that will keep the craft fun, easy, and delicious, whether you're a new or longtime preserver.
1. THINK PINTS, NOT PECKS
There's no getting around it: Canning requires food prep--chopping, coring, seeding, and slicing. If you come across a recipe that calls for £ds of fruits and vegetables in multiples of 10 (you'll find only one in this book), you may want to step away from the stove top or call some friends for reinforcement (see rule 7). You'll be spending a long time in the kitchen, veering into "'30s housewife chore" territory.
Kelly speaks from experience on this one. How about the day she thought she'd have a swell time making strawberry jam from four cases of strawberries? By midafternoon she was sweating profusely, her fingertips were stained pink, and she'd scorched 3 gallons of the stuff. And she was still only half done!
Such experiences have made her a fan of small-batch canning--small yields of up to 6 pints or maybe 6 quarts per batch. Anything more than that and canning fatigue sets in. Of course, if you want to preserve an entire plum tree, by all means go for it, but the recipes in this book are scaled for those who don't have time or necessarily space to put up such a large haul. Kelly's recipes can be completed in 2 to 4 hours, tops, so you can get on with the rest of your day.
2. MAKE ONLY STUFF YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO EAT
Sounds obvious, right? Yet sometimes canners end up preserving stuff simply because they can't bear to waste any fresh fruits and vegetables. Many times Jessie has made exotic-sounding recipes with names like Tropical Island Thunder simply because the main ingredient, the humble green bell pepper, was one that her backyard garden produced in spades--only to discover she had no interest in eating the stuff 6 months later. She couldn't pawn it off on friends, thus risk tarnishing her "canner's cred," and she couldn't bring herself to throw it out because of the work involved, so . . . she was stuck with it. To this day, at least eight jars of Tropical Island Thunder haunt her pantry.
In such predicaments, sometimes it makes more sense not to can and instead just to eat the excess produce, freeze it, or, as Jessie has done, shove it in a plastic bag and drop it on your neighbor's doorstep accompanied by a note from the "bell pepper fairy."
The recipes in Tart and Sweet focus first and foremost on selections that taste best when canned--you won't find any strange green bell pepper repositories here.
3. INVEST IN THE RIGHT GEAR
Trying to fish a flat metal lid from a pot of boiling water with a pair of tongs requires the dexterity of your grandma. And you're not your grandma. You're a postmillennial canner who in all likelihood can benefit from using the right tools for the job. But think of it this way--having the right tools makes the job not only more efficient but safer. See page 9 for what gear is a must-have and what you don't need.
4. KNOW WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN'T TWEAK IN A RECIPE
Although the USDA recommends never altering a canning recipe--which could create an environment for bacteria to grow--let's be honest, some cooks do it anyway.
Exhibit A: When Jessie first started canning years ago, she made quarts and quarts of salsa of her own creation that, in hindsight, didn't contain nearly enough acid to ensure that microorganisms were destroyed. Luckily, the salsa turned out fine. But playing fast and loose with acidity levels could have resulted in food poisoning. So while we don't suggest altering any of the canning recipes here, if you must tweak, see page 21 for what you can and absolutely cannot alter.
5. DON'T SWEAT IT IF A JAR FAILS TO SEAL
Chances are, it's not your fault. A faulty lid was probably to blame. Just process it again (see page 20 for instructions). Or simply refrigerate it and consume the contents within a year.
6. YIELDS AREN'T SET IN STONE
The age, size, and water content of your produce may differ substantially from what we used during the testing phase of each recipe, so your yield may turn out to be more or less than what's given. As a general rule, prepare more canning jars and lids than a recipe calls for, since it's better to be overprepared than to come up short.
7. YOU COULD CAN ALONE--BUT WHY?
Canning with friends is the best part of preserving. You get to hang out, laugh, share canning tips and tricks, and eat garden fresh food. And since everyone shares in the food prep and the packing and boiling of jars, the workload is spread around equally. So you can preserve larger volumes quicker . . . and break for cocktails earlier. Is there a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon? Jessie and Kelly submit no. In fact, cocktails and canning are wonderful in combination, since pickles and preserved fruits make the best drink garnishes. In Chapter 9, we show you how to host a killer canning party and offer a selection of yummy cocktail recipes to serve your guests.
Now, let's get canning!
What Is Canning? (Prepare Yourself for a Little Canning Science)
At its essence, home canning is about halting the natural process of deterioration in food. This is done by heating the food to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time to destroy the microorganisms that would otherwise turn to enzymes, bacteria, mold, and yeast if left unpreserved. This is why your canning area, canning utensils and equipment, as well as the food itself, should be as clean as possible so you don't inadvertently introduce more germs to what you're trying to de-germ.
There are two types of canning: water bath canning--which means jars are placed in a pot of boiling water (a technique referred to as "processing" from here on out)--and pressure canning. Which method you choose depends on the acidity of the food you are canning. High-acid food may be boiled in a water bath or pressure canned, but low-acid food must, must, must be pressure canned. As previously mentioned, the recipes in this book that require heat processing use the water bath canning method.
What is high- or low-acid food? High-acid food has an acidity level--known as a pH--of 4.6 or lower. The acid it contains is either naturally occurring, like in fruit, or added, like in vinegar. The addition of an acidifying agent such as vinegar provides enough acid to make otherwise low- acid vegetables like asparagus or okra safe for water bath canning--they become pickled. (Plain asparagus and plain okra, on the other hand, must be pressure canned.) For produce such as tomatoes that can straddle the line between high acid and low, lemon (or lime) juice or citric acid is added to ensure there's enough acid present for the food to be processed in a water bath. All fruit (except for figs), fruit spreads, acidified tomatoes (see page 38), pickles, relishes, and chutneys--the mouthwatering deliciousness you'll find within these pages--fall into the high-acid category.
Low-acid food, on the other hand, refers to food that has a pH of 4.6 or higher. (It's confusing--the lower the acid, the higher the pH; the higher the acid, the lower the pH.) All meats, poultry, seafood, dairy, and plain nonpickled vegetables fall into this category. These foods contain insufficient acid to prevent the growth of bacteria, including the potentially fatal Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum (botulism) is a particularly scary form of food poisoning because it often has no taste or smell--you won't even know you're eating it until . . . it's too late. Botulinum spores are found on most fresh foods and are perfectly safe to eat. They can only reproduce--that is, become deadly--in an airless, moist, room-temperature, low-acid environment like that inside a sealed canning jar. This is why all low-acid food must be heated to a much higher temperature--240°F--to ensure the food is safe to eat. This temperature can't be reached under normal boiling conditions, so pressure must be added using a pressure canner, a more complicated process we have opted to save for another cookbook.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great book, it is very helpful and I even let my mom view it and she can't wait to try some of the recipes in it once our gardens get going!!! Woo Hoo!!!