Preparing for Preserving Season

This weekend, in addition to enjoying the glorious weather, getting to the farmer’s market, and finally getting my hands on some rhubarb, I did something strange: I planned ahead.

Planning: it’s not something I do a lot of in my everyday life. Oh, I do it all the time in my work life: plans, and contingency plans, worst-case sceanario and best-case scenario. Every conceivable outcome of a study or analysis has to be considered and planned for in order to move efficiently from point A to point B: such is the puzzle of drug development. But, maybe because of all that planning in my work life, in my personal pursuits I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I don’t make lists, I don’t plan menus: I go to the markets and see what is there. I like spur-of-the-moment projects, and I’ve been guilty, more than once, of diving in without knowing what I’m doing, then doing the research after the fact (hence my first-ever batch of canned tomatoes? No lemon juice, no citric acid. Clueless.) It makes my traveling soccer buddies crazy that I don’t plan in advance for big trips like the World Cup: I don’t book hotel rooms (first & last night only), don’t plan itinearies, often I’m not even sure of what cities I need to go to for games until I’m on the flight, passport & game tickets in hand. And my husband, the consummate planner, has shot me more than one long-suffering look when I reply to his “Do we have any plans on August 17th?” with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a smirk.

True story: In high school, I excelled at computer programming (in BASIC, of all things), but my teacher, Mr. Proposki, used to call my programming style “loosey-goosey.” “You just dive in and start writing code,” he would say. “You’ve got to have a plan.” Well, I can see where planning is handy in computer programming; but planning is all about efficiency, and maybe moving through my life efficiently isn’t my primary goal. However, efficiency has its good points, especially when everyday life threatens to overwhelm. If you want to fit it all in: work, play, hikes in the park and waffles for breakfast, preserving the harvest and visiting friends, rhubarbaritas on the deck and conferences in DC; sometimes, you’ve got to have a plan. Hence, the weekend: my Spring has been really busy and right now Summer looks like more of the same. But as a local eater, I am committed to preserving the harvest, as much as possible, lest I want to survive on nothing but meat & beans all winter long. So, if a little planning now will help me carve out the time to put up one more batch of peaches, or tomatoes, or sweet corn, this summer, so be it: I call it a worthy investment.

So: I took stock. I went down to the garage-cum-pantry and took a peak at the larder shelves. Checked out what was running low (BBQ sauce, salsas, cucumber pickles) and what I still had plenty of (marmalade, chutney, boozy fruit). I scoped out my supply of empty jars (I need quarter-pints and pints), lids (I should probably get a sleeve) and bands (I’ve got a bizillion). I discovered that I need to order gaskets and pickling salt, but I’ve got plenty of ClearJel and citric acid. I rousted the strawberry huller and the cherry pitter from the depths of the utensil drawer; I tested my thermometer and gave the canning pot a good scrub. I boiled my jelly bag and checked the supply of butter muslin; I made a note to stock up on vinegar and sugar. I thought about things I might want to pick up this year, like a lemon squeezer or a soft-skinned peeler.

I felt good when I was done: all of these things will make my life a little easier during the busy, busy growing season. None of this planning is essential, but any of it can contribute to a less frustrating and more enjoyable preserving season. And less frustration + more enjoyment? I can get behind that plan.

What about you? Have a great planning tip to prepare for the season? Please share in comments!

———————————————————–

Below I share a checklist of sorts, things to consider at the beginning of the preserving season. Links are provided simply to illustrate a particular tool or product, or to specify the ones that I use and/or where I source them. I encourage you to seek out tools & supplies at your local markets, hardware, or kitchen stores.

Pantry

You don’t have to do an exhaustive inventory, but it helps to understand broad categories of preserves; what you are eating and what you are not.

  • jams, sweet & spicy
  • chutney, salsa, other savory
  • pickles
  • staples: tomatoes, whole fruit, frozen vegetables
  • condiments: ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, etc.

Jars

Lids, Bands, Gaskets

Canning & Preserving Tools

Food Prep Tools

Vinegar

  • White (for fermented pickles)
  • Cider & wine (for quick pickles, infusing, chutneys)
  • Balsamic, dark & white (for flavoring sweet jams, fruit leathers)

Sweeteners

  • sugar (raw, organic evaporated, white)
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • agave, Lyle’s, or other
  • molasses
  • frozen concentrated orange, white grape, or apple juice

Salt & Spices

I get a lot of my bulk spices from Penzey’s which has much better prices for things like mustard seed and pickling spice than your local grocery store.

  • canning/pickling salt
  • Kosher salt (iodized salt, including sea salt and table salt, can cause browning of preserves over time)
  • citric acid
  • ClearJel (for pie fillings)
  • pickling spice mix, dill seeds
  • mustard seeds
  • cinnamon sticks
  • black peppercorns
  • dried chiles
  • tea ball for infusing

31 comments

  1. Great stuff! My dad brought me some Kilner jars the other day, he had found them at a car boot sale, they are beautiful! You’ll see them soon when I start preserving. Our cherry tree is about to come into fruit as are our strawberries.

  2. Pingback: Gardening Monday « Green(ish) Monkeys

  3. Around April I do a large kitchen inventory. I make a list of everything that we have. Then, I go out of my way to eat up food that needs to go. At the end of April I sit down before canning season begins and make my yearly wish list of things that I would like to can. I keep an open mind about the list in case mother nature has other plans. This year we will not get any stone fruits because of an usually warm March and then freezing temperautres in April, so this has impacted my canning wish list. I need to can more tomatoes, tomatillos, pickles, fruit syrups, jam/jelly, and salsa this year.

  4. Great tips in getting ready for the canning season. I had some great luck finding jars on Freecycle! I use Penzey’s too, I love their spices!

  5. Theresa F.

    Do you can things in those “hermetic storage jars”? I have a few of them, but wasn’t sure how to safely can with them. Thanks!

    • I do, but I feel obligated to tell you that it is not recommended by the USDA. Of course, these types of jars are used routinely all over Europe; the USDA’s main objection appears to be that it is more difficult to judge whether or not you have a good seal without the “ping” of the flexible metal lid that inverts upon sealing. I find that it is easy enough to judge the seal of a Weck, vintage, or other glass-topped jar with a rubber gasket: simply try to pick it up by the lid, only, once sealed. If the lid does not come off: sealed! Marisa of Food in Jars goes into greater detail on canning in vintage jars here: http://www.foodinjars.com/2009/06/canning-in-vintage-jars/ The theory is the same for using new “hermetic” jars, i.e. Fido or Le Parfait.

      As always, you should use your best judgement. If it makes you nervous, stick with a standard 2-piece lid.

  6. I make a short list of how much of a fruit or veg I need for however many batches I am making so I don’t discover I have bought too few of an item. I also do a count of how many cups of sugar I will need so I can buy the sugar in bulk when it goes on sale. I do the same for vinegar, onions and maple syrup. I put the list on a cupboard door in the order of when a fruit or veg will be in the markets to help me remember to take extra money to the market some weekends.

  7. at first, with all of the non-planning you shared, i was like, wait! i thought miss k was a virgo!? how can this possibly be? traveling overseas with no hotel reservations? writing code on the fly! then i read down through the post and of course! it’s clear.

    you do know that posts like this make my little tigress heart go pitter-patter? your thoroughness delights.

  8. Too funny…what is it about us seat-of-our-pants girls that attracts these ultimate-planner guys? ;)
    I saw local strawberries in Central Mass last weekend, so the season is nearly at-hand…thanks for the reminder to inventory!
    (I’ve had great luck with finding old canning jars at thrift stores, like Saver’s or Salvation Army, to add to your sources!)

  9. Claire

    My inner lab rat snuck into my kitchen a three years ago and I now maintain an Excel spreadsheet that tracks what we’ve canned, gifted, and eaten during the last year. I update it at least monthly. We give nearly 20 gift bags at Christmas with homemade & home canned goodies so the spreadsheet helps for planning and distribution. I even added a column for notes like family member’s favorites and who’s good about returning jars. This year I’m adding a supplies section so I can plan bulk buys when I find things at a good deal.

  10. I so dig the jelly bag and stand! I couldn’t find one, so I made my own. I used an old pillow case and I tie it up to a cupboard and let it drip into a bowl underneath. It is strange, but it works. Unless you need in the cupboard, of course – LOL!

  11. tpescdoc

    Thank you for this awesome post. This is my second year canning and I’m anxious to get started. This will help me stay a little organized as organization is not one of my strong points.

    • YAY! Go you! Your first couple of times might be frustrating (mine were) but, trust me: it gets easier. And you’ll be so proud of yourself when you crack that homemade jar of goodness this winter!

  12. EL

    Some people call it efficient, but as someone who likes mathematics, I have always thought of it as elegant. Maybe it would help to think that you are doing elegant canning. . .

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  14. Pingback: Preserves « thatoldschoolgirl's Blog

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