Make Your Own Preserves

How to hold on to summer’s best produce


Tip 1: Before you turn on the heat, be sure to do the following:

  • > Read the recipe through.
  • > Gather all necessary equipment.
  • > Check that you have the right amount of each ingredient on hand.

Tip 2: Give all your equipment a once-over:

  • > Examine the canning jars for nicks, cracks, uneven rims, or sharp edges that may prevent sealing or cause breakage.
  • > Check that the lids have no dents and that the sealing compound is even and complete.
  • > Check that the bands fit properly.

Tip 3: Have your jars, lids, and bands already sanitized before you start, and prepare only enough for one canner load at a time.

Tip 4: Finally, you don’t have to can your preserves if you’re going to eat them within a short time. Store them covered in the fridge, and enjoy them within 7 to 10 days.

Canning and preserving seem more appropriate for June Cleaver types than our current 30-minute-meal society. But if everyone’s curing meat and making moonshine, shouldn’t canning also be an urbanite hobby?

Preserving—in jars or cans, but often called simply canning—is a cooking paradox. It’s simultaneously simple (a food’s life span is extended) yet complicated (it requires a precise amount of acid and heat). Get it right, and you’ll have flavorful whole fruit and tasty spreads for a full year; get it wrong, and you’ll have a jar of mold and funk. In fact, that’s all preserving is: just a method to destroy active bacteria and make your canned goods shelf stable.

The USDA advocates two methods to preserve produce: the boiling water method and pressure canning. We used the boiling water method, in which all the food gets packed in jars, then placed in boiling water for a specific amount of time. This method is safe, easy, and doesn’t require that you buy a steamer. For more information, see our section on canning resources.

The boiling water method should only be used for high-acid foods (meaning they have a pH lower than 4.6) such as fruit and tomatoes. (We used low-acid vegetables in our pickle, but the pickling process makes them stable before canning.) If you’re not sure about the pH of your produce, test it with some litmus strips à la high school chemistry. This may seem overcautious, but it will ensure you don’t have unwanted occupants multiplying once the food is processed. If you feel the need to dork out on more canning terms, check out this website.

We chose four recipes that are representative of four common methods of preserving: whole fruit, sweet spreads, condiments, and pickles. Just select your produce and the type of preserves, and go from there.

For additional inspiration, watch preserving authority June Taylor in our Obsessives video.

Before You Start

We’re assuming that you already have basic tools lying around (like cutting boards, bowls, a zester, and measuring cups), so here’s the special equipment you’ll need:

Wide-mouth canning jars (number and size determined in the recipes)

Lids with sealing compound for wide-mouth jars

Bands for wide-mouth jars

Boiling water canner or 15- to 20-quart pot with a tightfitting lid

Canning rack that fits inside the boiling water canner or 15- to 20-quart pot

Thin, flexible rubber spatula

Jar lifter

Deep-frying/candy thermometer

Sanitizing the Jars, Lids, & Bands

Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse them well. Dry the lids and bands, and set them aside.
Place the jars in a boiling water canner or a 15- to 20-quart pot fitted with a canning rack and a lid. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.
Keep the jars in the hot water until you’re ready to use them, removing one at a time as needed.

Four Different Methods to Pack and Process

Illustrations by Bryan Christie

See more articles