Make Your Own Preserves
How to hold on to summer’s best produce
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
Sanitizing the Jars, Lids, & Bands
Four Different Methods to Pack and Process
Illustrations by Bryan Christie