Thursday, September 24, 2009

I can ... can/You can ... can, too

Like most of the growing/harvesting season, the apples are late this year. We went to the apple orchard the other day and the only two varieties that are "ready" are Macs and Cortlands ... which is usual for our first day of picking, but we usually go picking closer to the beginning of September.

It still surprises me every time I realize that it's the END of September.

We only picked a 1/2 bushel - which is about twenty pounds of apples (our bag weighed 18.71 lbs), because I hadn't really planned to pick that day, and so I didn't have much cash with me.

Last night, I made my first batch of applesauce, and from the 18+ lbs, we have four quarts of thick, chunky, slightly-sweetened-with-real-cane-sugar applesauce.

And, unfortunately, no, I don't have a recipe. After twelve years of canning applesauce, I kind of just wing it.

But I do have some standard procedures I follow.

1. We always peel, core and chop all of the apples. We have a fancy-smancy apple peeler-corer thingy we bought YEARS ago, after several years of hand peeling two or three bushels of apples at a time. It saves some time. I still prefer to use a knife ;).

2. The apples are cooked down until they are all soft, and we add sugar and a dash of cinnamon - to taste. While the apples are cooking, we add a bit of water to help keep things from sticking, but there is no measured amount.

3. The fill-the-hot-jars-with-hot-applesauce-and-flip-upside-down-to-seal method does not work for me (which I discovered at the loss of half our stored sauce one year). Our sauce is way too thick and chunky. I don't add enough water or I don't cook it down enough, but we like it thick, and so I have to use the boiling water bath. But for safety's sake, my recommendation is to always use the boiling water bath. It's not that much extra work, and after all the work of making the sauce, saving a few minutes with the canner is not worth the loss of all of that food.

The one thing that I've learned over the years, however, that I don't think most canning novices realize is that it doesn't take a lot of special equipment to can things like jams, pickles, and applesauce. When we first started I bought a bunch of jars with two-piece lids. I didn't have a fancy canner or lifter thingies. I had a big, deep stainless steel kettle and a pair of tongs - and we bought a funnel to keep everything a bit cleaner. It wasn't until about two years ago that I finally got a pair of fancy lifting tongs when my neighbors decided their canning days were over and gave me their equipment.

My grandmother used a wash tub that she set over a big fire in the backyard. By comparison my equipment is ultra modern.

The key (at least for things that only need a boiling water bath) is that the pan needs to be deep enough that the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars. My big kettle works just fine.

The other thing I do that I didn't do before is that I'll fill the canner with jars. That is, my pan will hold seven jars, and if I only have five jars of food, I'll leave the other two jars in the canner, filled with water. This keeps the jars from moving around in the pan. And, yes, in my experience, they do move around, and clink against each other ... which makes me nervous. There's nothing I hate more than having one of my jars break in the water.

I've also learned to start getting the canner ready while I'm preparing the food that will go in the jars. So, I fill the pan with water, and then I take the clean jars and put them in the pan sans the lids, and I turn up the heat. This way, I'm sterilizing the jars while the food is cooking, and then I don't take the jars out of the water until I'm ready to fill them.

All of this may seem very elementary to people who learned to can early in life or who have been canning for a long time, but I was in my thirties before I started learning to preserve my own food. I talk about my grandma, the master canner, all of the time, but like a lot of people I know, my grandmother was busy in the kitchen canning tomato sauce while I was outside running the hills. I never learned, and it was never expected that I would need or want that skill.

Today, while I was drafting this post, I canned seven quarts of the cucumber dill pickles my girls really like (and I do use a recipe for those :). The store bought ones can't begin to compare, and the store bought applesauce is a watery, tasteless mess by comparison to mine.

When I was fifteen, I was too busy to think about making stuff in the kitchen, but now that I'm a bit older and wiser, it pleases me that I can ... can :).


  1. This is the sort of post that showcases the virtues of the Internet -- passing along bits of wisdom on how to do this basic-yet-mysterious-to-the-uninitiated task, and doing so in a venue that allows others to comment and question.

    I'll admit I've never canned, although I've made plenty of applesauce. Sometimes I freeze the applesauce (or stock or whatever) but I'm always a bit uneasy about power outages. Maybe this will be the year I give it a whirl.

  2. Wendy, thanks for the info! I was never really taught how to can, either, so I am also learning as an adult. I really want to make some applesauce after we go apple picking this weekend, so I think I'll use your "recipe" :) I also like mine a bit on the chunky side, too. Thanks again!

  3. Yeah I guess technically I learned in my 30s as well. Hee hee. I gotta say though not using the jar lifter things last year vs. using them this year--WONDERFUL! That is the one piece of equipment I would recommend. But then again, I'm kinda clumsy with tongs and yes, I did burn myself using them.
    I do wish I had a larger stew pot to cook my applesauce in, doing up a 1/2 bushel I have to break it up into two batches of sauce. Which works out well I suppose, while the first batch is sealing in the water bath, I've got the second batch on the stove reducing down.

  4. I love it too. I've not done applesauce, but I do soups, jams, and veggies all the time. It's a dying skill, I'm afraid, but there are a few of us trying to keep it alive...

    Enjoy those goodies!

  5. Oh, I agree, Bezzie! I love my jar lifter, and if I had to recommend one piece of "canning equipment" it would be those fancy lifters for getting the jars out of the hot water. I used a pair of tongs for years, but it was very difficult, and I burned myself, too, but more importantly, I was always terrified that I would drop the hot jars and break them. I know I can ... can (*grin*) without them, but it's much more comfortable with them ;).

    Gail and Witchy Mom - I HIGHLY recommend canning the applesauce. It's wicked easy, and so worth it ... if only for the space it saves in the freezer ;). I mean, most of the work is already done by the time the sauce goes into the jar. Once you put the jars in the hot water, it's just a matter of waiting (pints need to boil about 10 minutes, and I boil the quarts for twenty - which is probably overkill, but since mine's so chunky to begin with, I don't think I can overcook it - it's not like it'll get mushier ;).

    Heather - I'm so impressed that you do soup and other veggies. I've branched out to soups and things like corn and potatoes, but those things are much more involved, because they require pressure canning, and frankly, I'm still a little afraid of my pressure canner (although I'm getting better, and I actually used it the other day without Deus Ex Machina's assistance :).

  6. Yeah, the first time I used my pressure canner, I was convinced I'd blow up the house :)

    Turns out it's super easy and safe. Definitely worth giving it a try for the versatility it gives you in preserving.

  7. I learned in my 20s and out of necessity! I was growing my first garden and over estimated how many tomato plants and cukes I'd need for the two of us-- 20 tomato plants for 2 people?!?! What was I thinking?? All I knew was, we loved tomatoes, and I wanted to make fresh salsa and sauces so I thought 20 would be just right. Good grief! I gave away so many tomatoes, and at work we had tomato sandwich parties! We told people the day before we were going to bring in tomatoes, and co-workers would bring the mayo and the bread. Yum!

    But yeah, I learned to can my own salsa and pickles that year, and then every year after that I learned something else-- rhubarb strawberry jam was next.. Now I need to branch out to the pressure cooker. *gulp!*

  8. Seriously guys, the pressure canner is no big deal. I was nervous too, but afterwards, you'll feel silly about being so worried. You'll see...

  9. Yum. Now I'm craving applesauce.