Do you remember way back in May (3 whole weeks ago) when I said that the time to prepare for preserving was now, because once the season hits, you’ll be overwhelmed? I was right. The fridge is full to overflowing with the first CSA of the season (greens, greens and more greens!), I still have Grandma’s rhubarb to work through, the European Championships and World Cup qualifying have started, and somehow, people still want me to work for a living. Sheesh.
At the time, we had a lively discussion on the Facebook page started by a request from Beginning Farmer Coordinator to crowd-source ideas for canning in a small kitchen, setting up dedicated canning spaces, and in general, making the preserving process non-stressful. I had a few ideas of my own on the topic, but I thought it would be fun to extend the crowd-sourcing idea. So I asked some of my preservy peeps to chime in: for tips, advice, tweaks, kitchen hacks, storage ideas and any sort of preserving advice that they may want to pass along.
Below you’ll find strategy, advice, tools, and tricks & hacks from various bloggers (that I’m sure you know and love) all about preserving the season with minimal fuss and maximum enjoyment. I hope you find something useful in the list: I know I have. I hope also that you’ll share your own tips, tricks and must-haves for preserving: let’s work together to make this the most productive and enjoyable season yet!
Shae from Hitchhiking to Heaven
Shae’s blog, Hitchhiking to Heaven, is a delight: contemplative, relaxed, with poetry and inspirational quotes and a friendly attitude that says, “Hey, why don’t we put up some jam? Then we’ll kick back, put on some tunes, and sip a homemade soda.” Living in sunny Cali as she does, there is lots of scope for marmalade-making and random boxes of neighborhood fruit seem to be forever finding their way to her door. (Not that I’m envious of that: not. at. ALL.) She even makes preserving in a backwoods cabin in Alaska seem like no big thing; surely we can all take a page from Shae’s preserving book.
Shae says, “I can’t believe I put up with grocery bags and boxes full of loose bands for as long as I did, even after I’d seen several other people hanging them on belts and cords. Something so simple – having them within easy reach on an extra-long bungie cord – revolutionized my canning life.
I love all three of my pots. The big, red Le Creuset stock pot is my canner. I drop a cake cooling rack into the bottom of it or, if I need to process two layers of jars, I put a dishrag on the bottom and the cake rack in between the layers – Marisa taught me that! I use the copper pan (for the safety of using unlined copper for jam-making, see Shae’s post on the subject) for most preserves, but sometimes the stainless steel Maslin pan is just the thing.
I never use a funnel and ladle anymore, unless I’m making pickles. I scoop the jam mixture into the big Pyrex measuring cup and pour it into the jars. Also, instead of setting up my “canning station” with a plate on top of a spread-out dishtowel like I used to, I now like to do all of the work on a big baking tray. It’s a lot easier to clean up.”
Marisa from Food in Jars
If you’ve ever filled a jar, or thought about doing so, you probably already know Marisa McClellan and her fabulous & helpful blog Food in Jars. With a cookbook of the same name just released, Marisa has obviously put up a lot of preserves in the last year. You might think, with a preserving cookbook to her credit, that Marisa does all of her preserving in a Martha-esque kitchen, Mauviel jam pot gleaming on the Wolf range, jewel-like jars winking from the stocked pantry. But the reverse is true: all the magic happens in her 80-square-foot apartment kitchen in Philly, jam-packed (heh!) with tools & gadgets, and complete with electric range, chalkboard wall (love!) and turquoise Formica countertops.
While Marisa dose have one of those gorgeous, giant copper jam pots, it lives in the top of her coat closet, and only gets pulled out for the biggest batches. Marisa says, “When it comes to preserving pans, these (pictured on the left below) are my favorites: the blue Le Creuset is the 9-quart round and offers fantastic width for evaporation; the 12-inch stainless steel skillet is great for small batches, because it offers a whole lot of surface area and the sloped walls help with evaporation. I have one of those beautiful copper preserving pans and I do pull it out when I’m working on a ton of jam. However, it takes up a ton of space and only has one application. These other pans can do just about anything making them far more convenient.”
As for actual boiling-water canners, Marisa uses three (pictured above right). As she explains, “For canning, I use a few pots: a 12 quart stock pot that holds 4 quart jars, 7 pint jars or 9 half pint jars. The yellow Dansk pot is great for slightly smaller batches. I can fit four pint jars easily in it. I use my silicone trivet canning rack (middle picture) with both of those pots. The final pot is my beloved 4thburner pot. It can hold two wide mouth half pints or three Elite half pint jars.”
As you can see, no special equipment is required: everything that Marisa uses routinely to preserve can be found in many standard kitchens. I especially love that silicone trivet as canning rack and that Dansk pot: so pretty, it’s decorative in your kitchen, but it is your water-bath canner! Brilliant.
Tigress from Hungry Tigress
You all know Tigress, right? (Or Tigz as I like to call her). She’s mainly responsible for bringing so many of us together, back in the heyday of the Can Jam. She roars at Hungry Tigress about her busy life: her dual digz in Long Island City and the Berkshires, her ridiculously orderly garden and massive rhubarb patch and basically all things sustainable and gorgeous (and rocks the Instagram, along with Shae. Again: not jealous.).
Like so many of us, Tigress’ schedule is hectic: between traveling back & forth between NYC and the Berks, tending a large garden, running a business and preserving the harvest, her plate overfloweth. Therefore, it’s important to her to make preserving a joy, and I agree: it’s so much more pleasurable when you make a conscious choice to enjoy it, rather than think, “UGH! I’ve got to make pickles tonight.” In Tigz’ words: “i try to make each canning session a joy and not a chore. i’m very visually inspired so i do take the time to use things that are pleasing to my eye, i.e., towels, pitcher, utensils that i like, etc. it’s important for me to enjoy the process, and sometimes that takes a little bit of effort in a busy schedule.”
Tigress also shares with us a technique for reducing fruit juice to syrup in a Ferber-style preserve: “for many of my jams i macerate the fruit and then cook the syrup first before adding the fruit; a la ms. ferber, of course. i’ve gotten in the habit of using my saucier pan rather than trying to cook the syrup down in my large jam pot. i find it much easier in terms of getting an accurate read on the thermometer. i tend to jam in small batches and before i started doing this (thinking it easier just to use/dirty one pot) it was always a pain trying to get the thermometer submerged enough for an accurate read. it would seem fine at the beginning but as it cooked down i would usually have to take the thermometer off the side of the pan and hold it myself, slanting it just so while also trying not to burn my paw. using a saucier pan (or any small pan) is quick and easy. once it reaches the temperature i am looking for (221 degrees F, typically), i transfer it to my copper jam pot (i’ll start to gently heat my jam pot beforehand) along with the fruit and go from there.”
Joel of Well Preserved
Joel and Dana rock the Toronto sustainable food scene, with pimped-up preserves, their Home-Ec food swap/cocktail hour gatherings in the Brooklyn-esque Leslieville neighborhood, and foraging & preserving galore. Like most of us, Joel & Dana are not rocking the preserves in a perfect kitchen: they rent a loft-style apartment in Toronto that, like most apartments, has its good points (beautiful, lofty ceilings and exposed-brick walls) and its bad points (very limited storage and almost no counter space).
Joel’s main problems were functional space (i.e., counter space) on which to perform preserving tasks, and storage space, not only for the preserves themselves, but for the attendant gear that comes with the territory. He approached these problems in a couple of ways. Firstly, with the addition of a couple of tables to the kitchen, and especially the counter-height “high table” (on the left above) that serves as primary prep surface and also hides their worm composter below. Joel states: “The high table is a fantastic work surface and drastically changed how nice it was to cook in our house. It’s near a power source (one of few) so there’s almost always a computer on here and it’s often home to our gigantor dehydrator (the only food item that has a home in our single closet). One of the key additions to this table has been a cordless speaker that connects to our computer and plays music which has also been an amazing addition to the kitchen.”
Secondly, Joel increased their storage space dramatically by installing the Great Wall of Preserves for jar storage and adding bins to the bottom shelf that contain supplies. As Joel says, “these essential bins store our scale, lids, salt, sugar, vinegar, fermenting airlocks and more. I generally keep at least one extra container of anything that’s needed. I try to avoid running out of anything that would create an emergency trip to the store in the middle of a batch. This is especially important as much of my preserving is done later in the evening and running out may mean stopping half-way.” He also stores the pressure canner, cases of empty jars, and other not-used-every-day items in any nook & cranny he can find, like the “haunted attic” space above the stove (above right). Having everything tucked away in its own, dedicated spot makes life so much easier when it comes time to can: the gathering of tools and essentials becomes its own little dance, especially when you add good tunes to the mix!
Kate at Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking
Miss Kate Payne, author of the popular blog Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, the book of the same name, and rhubarbarita partner in crime, makes her home in Austin, Texas (although we manage to pull her back to New York now & then). When she’s not traveling around the country, spreading the Hip-Homey love through classes, demos & book signings or organizing food swaps across the nation, she’s wandering the streets of her Austin neighborhood, foraging loquats or scavenging vintage finds from the curb (one Hip Girl’s trash is another’s treasure).
Kate has two plate-centric tips to share with us, both of which work to contain the sticky mess often associated with canning. In her words: “I find having a large plate for my funnel, spoons, spatula and ladle keeps my stress level down. There’s always a place for everything. It’s also nice to just pick the whole thing up and clean that as opposed to your stovetop/countertop/ god-knows-where you set stuff in the shuffle.
If you’ve been around here for a while, you probably know that I have a small kitchen (64 square feet) and possibly even less storage than Joel: while we live in a cottage, not a loft, it is one big room, leaving very few walls against which to place furniture, very few nooks & crannies in which to tuck odds & ends, and quite the challenge for an adventurous home cook, her pastry-chef-turned-rock-climber husband, and all of their varied kitchen gear. I’ve come up with a few good solutions that work for my habits and space: the bookshelf-turned-clothes-closet-turned-kitchen-storage tower; the side-of-the-fridge magnetic spice tins; and lastly, the garage pantry. (When Kate was visiting me last week, we came home, top down on the VW and wind in our hair, and pulled into the garage. She turned to me and said, “I love that we just drove into your pantry.”)
Organized storage is vital, I think, to an enjoyable preserving experience: while the garage is hardly convenient, being downstairs and behind a slow-moving electronic door, it’s so much better to have everything neatly organized & labeled than to have it jammed into a dozen different spots throughout the house. In that vein, I believe that organization during the canning process is equally critical. Every time I can, I lay out my tools like a surgeon: cutting board, ladle on the left, tongs on the right, jar-lifter, bands, funnel, spoon. I use the same ladle every time; the same green spoon handle for bubbling jars.
It may sound a little too OCD, but when it comes time to get those jars filled quickly and efficiently, while the jam is still boiling hot, I’ve got it down to a science. And lest you think I’ve sucked the joy out of jam-making: remember, I like science. Knowing which tools are where, without even having to look, is a joy to me: moving between the stove and the filling station is a dance, often done to whatever nostalgic 90’s music is occupying my CD turner at the moment (or my turntable! Yes, I still have one.) And if you look very carefully, you’ll just see the edge of a wine glass in the upper right corner above: I almost always have a glass of wine at hand while canning. Because it really is my relaxation time: good tunes and wine and an ordered canning station makes my time spent preserving a pleasure.
So, there you have it: canning styles of a group of bloggers, all fitting preserving into their everyday lives around work, travel, time with friends & family, growing food, and of course, blogging. I hope you found something useful and that you are inspired to make your own preserving more efficient, less stressful, and most of all, fun.