Any recipe that starts with “Peal and chop two bushels of tomatoes” is not going to be high on my to-try list. Neither is anything that has warnings about botulism and other nasties at the end. I don’t have a garden that produces more food than I can eat, I don’t have a larder the size of Fort Knox, yet my fascination with canning and preserving wouldn’t go away.
So, I decided to just try it.
Euginia Bone, author of Well Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, told me that was just the spirit I needed. When she wrote her book, there seemed to be a general fear in the minds of preserving experts that one couldn’t do small batches, but she wanted to write a book that would appeal to the urban, sophisticated home chef “who couldn’t see how a case of dillybeans would work for them.” Her theory bore out, as her book hit the shelves at around the same time that home canning hit the social zeitgeist.
“I think the trend is fabulous,” she said. “It reminds me of civil rights; a demand for independence, standing up to the man.”
For those new to the science of canning, she created recipes that call for eight cups of strawberries, instead of eight pounds; six pounds of apples instead of six bushels; and she explained the science “in a way that appeals to grown-ups.” Then she created recipes for meals to incorporate her canning recipes.
“When you use your preserved foods, you’re halfway done to a meal from scratch,” she told me. Hers are recipes one can make in small batches, folded neatly into a cooking routine rather than lumped into days of processing and preserving. And they’re for things you’ll actually want to eat.
So, one summer Saturday, with two pounds of peaches sitting on my counter, I decided to go for it. I shocked, peeled and sliced the peaches, boiled the jars, made a simple syrup and then, the moment of truth. Both of the jars sealed perfectly in their water bath. Success on my first try! Now, each succulent slice shines like a slice of summer encased in glass, a taste of the warm days and cool nights that formed it. Canning those peaches was nothing less than preserving a memory in a jar.
“We’ve allowed ourselves the passivity to think that corporate entities can take care of us,” Bone said. “But there’s no way any commercial product can be as good.”
It’s official: I’m hooked. So far, I have put up six pints of pickled green beans, a pint of gooseberry jam, a pint of chokecherry jam and two pints of peaches. Not exactly enough to carry us through doomsday, but when I see them, glittering like jewels in the sun, I feel a sense of deep pride, of accomplishment and of self-sufficiency. I have conquered the mystery of canning and will continue to do so, one jar at a time.
5 Tips from Eugenia Bone
1. Eat what you put up
Can something you want to eat. Don’t make pickled beets if no one in your family will eat them.
2. Think small
Can small amounts. You might find that you’re tired of peaches—no matter how much you love them—after your fiftieth jar.
3. Fresh is best
Never use canning as a way to avoid throwing something out. Only use the most pristine foods for preserving, because what goes in, comes out.
4. Buy the book
Get your recipes from a reputable source. Recipes on the Internet might be safe, but how do you know?
5. Eat it up
Don’t save things forever. Eat it when you want it, and enjoy preserved foods when they’re off-season.