When strawberries start popping up at the farmers’ markets, that’s my signal to get jamming. The window for enjoying sun-kissed, sweet berries here in the Northeast is far too short. Learning to preserve is one way to extend the season — and add much-needed variety come January, when we’re knee-deep in apples and pears. Berries are just the beginning of it all, though.
Preserving is a way to stretch the life of your fruits and vegetables. You can choose short-term storage, by making jams that will stay fresh for a few weeks in the fridge, or pickling, which lasts a few months. This is a good way to get your feet wet and master part of the technique needed for long-term storage.
The Long Haul
Stocking your pantry with home-canned goods for long-term use means you have to make items shelf-stable (no refrigeration required). There are a couple of ways to do this: hot water-bath processing and pressure-canning. I prefer the hot water-bath method, as it doesn’t require any expensive special equipment. But you’ll still need a few essential items to get started:
• Glass canning jars with lids and rings
• A large pot for sterilizing the jars and to create a hot water bath for long-term storage
• A wire rack that fits inside the bottom of your pot (the jars can crack if placed directly into the pot)
• Tongs with a rubber coating to remove the jars from the pot safely
The jars and rings can be used over and over, but the lids are one-time-use only for long-term storage (you can continue to use them for short-term storage in the fridge or freezer). The underside of the lid has a special coating that creates an airtight seal when the jars are processed in a hot water bath or a pressure canner. Most dishwashers now come equipped with a “sanitizing” setting. You can run the jars through this cycle to sterilize them. Marisa McClellan’s site, Food in Jars, is an excellent resource on canning, for both beginners and pros (I’m excited to try out her recently posted Grated Fennel Relish). Marisa, who also contributes to FN Dish, takes care to decode all the terms and techniques you need to know how to can safely. Once you’ve made a few batches of jam or pickles, you’ll quickly learn the hardest part is deciding what you want to make — the choices are almost endless.
Here are a few recipes to get you started:
- Refrigerator Pickles (pictured above)