Summer is winding down and this is your last chance to preserve some of the season’s flavors for enjoyment during the long winter months. If you’re lucky, you might still be able to hit the farmer’s market to grab some of the last of nature’s summer harvest bounty like strawberries, nectarines, plums, and peaches.
With zero in the way of knowledge about canning, I turned to the most expert canner I know — my 95-year-old grandmother-in-law, Elisabeth Demarest. Having spent some six decades as the wife of a fruit and vegetable farmer, Grandma always made delicious jams. Her pantry in the farmhouse, which predated the 1886 Demarest Farm back to the 1700s, had an entire wall lined with neat rows of jams like peach, blueberry, raspberry, and Damson plum, in addition to canned peaches, cherries, and pears. The farm was famous in its corner of North Jersey for its peach varieties, which, I must say, give famed Georgia peaches a run for their money.
Here, Grandma offers some hints for canning. She makes it sound so simple I might even give it a go!
Canning made easy:
Start with small quantities if you are a novice or the job will seem overwhelming! Make sure jars are in perfect condition, free of chips or small cracks. Metal lids have to be new and discarded after use. Metal screw rings can be reused but should be free of rust. Wash with soapy water and boil for a few minutes to sterilize them or you can run them through the dishwasher, which is way easier. Keep them hot until ready to fill.
Canning fruits in a sugary syrup helps them keep from discoloring. Fruit may be canned without sugar or instead with an artificial sweetener. This won’t affect the quality of the canned fruit; the only difference will be the loss of visual appeal.
Peel/pit fruit as necessary. Put in bowl with water and add 2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons vinegar per gallon to keep from discoloring while you work. Pack jars carefully to avoid bruises. Wide-mouth jars are convenient for peach and pear halves. Fill with syrup to within half an inch of the rim; wipe rim clean. Close jar and place in canner. If using a pressure cooker canner, follow directions carefully for your particular canner. You can use any metal pot for processing, except for non-acidy vegetables (all vegetables except tomatoes and pickled vegetables) which must be processed in a pressure cooker. The container should have a metal or wooden rack and has to be large enough to accommodate jars without crowding and to hold enough water to cover jars by 1 inch; leave space for a brisk boil.
Starting the timer when it comes to a full boil, process jars for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove jars from canner and let stand on countertop, preferably on a rack, leaving space between jars for air to circulate freely; let cool. When jars are cold, check for proper seal by pressing down on center if metal lid. If open, process again after carefully checking the rim of the jar and using a new lid. If lids don’t move when pressed, the jar is sealed. Label to show contents and date; store in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight.
Light syrup — 2 cups sugar to 4 cups water
Medium syrup — 3 cups sugar to 4 cups water
Heavy syrup — 4 1/2 cups sugar to 4 cups water
Prepare syrup by adding sugar and water into a pot and let simmer until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.