Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Confessions of a Canner

My version of crack cocaine. 
It is August 12th, and during the past month I have cleared out 87 empty jars from the dark depths of my basement. They were caked with dust and spider webs.  My dishwasher worked overtime on the sterilize cycle.  Those 87 jars--18 quarts, 28 pints, and 41 half pints are now sitting on my breakfast bar ready to make their journey back down the stairs to the same dusty shelves that have been their home since we moved into this house three years ago.

I am addicted to canning.

No, those are not forceps to the left.
Canning is not some integral part of our family's plan for subsistence living. Canning is not necessarily economical.  In fact, it "can" be a damn expensive hobby. Over the years I have the gathered the basic paraphernalia--the blue enamel canner that barely fits on my stove top, the magnetic lid retriever, the jar tongs that saves my fingers from 3rd degree burns, the canning funnel that my grandchildren used as a bathtub toy several years ago, and the jars--oh the many, many dozens of  jars.  

Those who are not canners themselves may not know that those jars are used over and over again.  If a canner presents you with a homemade gift-in-a-jar, you always return the jar and jar ring.  If you do, you will probably be richly gifted again.  If not, next year you will receive something purchased from a big box store aisle.

Alas, many do not return those jars, and they have to be replaced along with the rings.  The jar lids?  You can always toss those out. The canner has no use for them the second time around.  They are a one-time deal. Buying those lidsb (wide and small mouth) in June is always the gamble a true canner takes.  You are putting cold hard cash down in the hope of a good growing season--hope that the berries will ripen, the tomatoes will escape bottom rot, and the beans will be plentiful.  This year Lady Luck was with me.  I have used every lid in my possession and have only two, lonely, empty quart jars that will return to the shelves to gather dust and webs.

And what do I can?  Far less than many who are much more proficient, self-sufficient, and wise.  This year my shelves will hold strawberry, blueberry, and apricot jam.  I pickled and dillied the beans. Tomatoes have been canned plain and also made into spaghetti sauce.  The last thing on my list is bubbling on the stove right now. It is a sweet and spicy concoction called tomato jam.  You chop up tomatoes (skins and all) and mix them with fresh ginger, lime juice, salt, cinnamon, ground cloves, and red chili flakes.  It bubbles away on the stove for 2 to 3 hours and becomes this lovely jammy mess that is divine on a burger (beef, turkey, chicken, or bean), or a grilled cheese, or on a spoon right from the jar. 
This tomato jam is about 30 minutes from the jar.
If you could smell it, you would know Nirvana.

The fruits and veggies that go into those jars come from my own garden and an organic farm 30 miles north of us.  No, I do not have to buy, although many canners do.  They are a part of my daughter's pay.  She works for the farm, and often comes home with flats, baskets, and bags of goodies.

Once those filled jars are back in the basement, I often wonder if we will possibly use the contents before starting over next summer. It never ends up being a problem.  Many are given as gifts.  Some are for friends who, because of busy work schedules, do not have the time to fill their own jars. Someday, I know, if I need them, they will can for me.  Canners always protect their own.

Canning is a passion that needs to be shared with and passed on to others.  My mother taught me, as her mother taught her. I have swapped recipes with my sister and my aunt.  Last year I introduced Prairie Eydie to the art, and she is now hooked.  My friend Kathy and I bonded and became sisters over a simmering canning kettle two years ago when her arm was broken and she couldn't lift the heavy jars on her own. 

"A mere 95 degrees out?  Let's
fire up the stove and clean
our our pores over a boiling
 canner of jars."
Today, as she watched me throw the tomato jam ingredients in a pot, my daughter said, "I think this is something you need to teach me." Any time, dear Jo, but I warn you that canning is as addictive as nicotine. You, too, will find yourself turning over hard-earned cash for packages of lids.  You will scour farmers' markets looking for quarts of perfect strawberries. You will hoard tomatoes until you have enough to put up a mere half dozen pints. You will sweat over a canning pot when temperatures say you should be looking for a cool pool. You will stay up until 2 am just waiting for that last lid to seal with the satisfying "pop."  

That is one of the fond memories I have of my mother.  It was 2 am in August, and we had spent the evening wrestling cukes into jars.  It was still 80 degrees, and our bare feet were sticking to the floor where our pickling brine had splashed.  The last lid popped, and my mother said, "Isn't that one of the most satisfying sounds in the world?"  

I was 20 at the time, and I often didn't "get" many of the things my mother tried to tell me, but I got that.  A dozen pops, a dozen jars of garlicky dills, and I was hooked.  

Imagine the street value.
Prairie Sherry


Not all of my canning has been successful.  I did not delve into The Great Brussels Sprout Pickle Disaster of 2013.  For those who received them, I am deeply sorry.  If you haven't opened your jar of those ghoulish grey-green orbs, toss them in the garbage-- jar, lid, ring, and all.


  1. We always can blueberry pie filling too. It's wonderful to have fresh blueberry pie during any season of the year

  2. Dear Soul-Sister, I have experienced Nirvana in the guise of your tomato jam...so good on portabella mushroom sandwiches or black bean burgers...