In looking back over the last 3 years of Twice as Tasty recipes, I realized there’s a gap in my story of home canning and other adventures in the kitchen. A lot of people have been asking for this story lately, usually phrased as “How did you get started making all of this?” I respond with my childhood food memories: gardening with my dad, canning with my mom, baking with my grandma, berry picking with my sister.
I’ve shared a few family recipes on the blog, but with canning in particular I’ve skipped over the recipes that got me hooked on home-canned food, jumping straight to those I love today. These newer recipes tend to be more complex in flavor and sometimes technique than the jars that filled my childhood and first adult canning cupboards. They’re worth every minute of extra effort. But this month I’ll turn back the clock to some classic flavors and my first steps in improving upon them.
A Family History
I won my first canning book in 1990, along with blue ribbons, at the county fair for home-canned applesauce and raspberry jam. The 32nd edition of Ball’s Blue Book was a slim volume packed with basic recipes for preserving everything my dad grew in the garden or my mom bought by the lug from local orchards. By then, I’d spent plenty of time thumbing through—and dribbling hot jelly on—my mom’s older edition. It was the backbone of my family’s canning projects, supplemented by handwritten recipes from other family members and friends: my great-great grandmother’s apricot–pineapple jam, my great-aunt’s zucchini relish, my cousin’s sweet pickles.
Active canners today have probably been warned not to follow some of their old family recipes. It’s with good reason; we’ve learned a lot about the microbiology of food even in my lifetime and have improved on some of the processes and ingredients used by our parents and grandparents. We’ve also altered our world so that we’re trying to keep food safe from many new and mutated bacteria.
Along with these changes, we’ve lost some of the memories and experiences held by former generations. A classic example is a handwritten recipe pasted in the back of my grandmother’s 1930 Fruit and Flower Mission Cookbook. The final line for “Dotty’s Sweet Dill Pickles” simply reads, “Bring to boil and pour into jars.” Did my grandmother simply pour hot brine over cold cucumbers and let the jars sit open on the counter? Not likely; she probably knew exactly how to fill, cap, and process the jars. She just didn’t write it down. So when I turn back to family canning recipes, I always set them side by side with a modern tested recipe to see what I need to alter to ensure the classic flavors are safe to eat and to fill in any gaps left by the passing of time.
Relishing the Classics
Even when I was a kid, canning at home was less of the foodie craft it has become today and more about saving money by preserving homegrown fruits and vegetables. Ingredient lists were short, the process was done in a couple of steps, and those steps were repeated all day until 40-plus jars of peach halves, dill pickles, or berry jam lined the counter.
Some of my longest-running canning projects—recipes I learned as a kid and still make today—fit that format, including Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce and Rhubarb–Orange–Ginger Marmalade. I’ve tweaked those originals to fit modern food-safety guidelines, but the flavors still take me back to childhood.
Version 2.0 and Beyond
In some cases, I’ve made some significant changes to the way I process jars I loved as a kid even when I try to hold onto the original flavors. When I was growing up, there was only one brand of pectin on the shelves, with a reduced-sugar version if we were lucky, so my mom had little choice in how she made and sweetened her jams and jellies. Today, Pomona’s Universal Pectin is my go-to for any jam with added pectin, and my mom marvels at its flexibility. She also enjoys my updates to her bread-and-butter pickles, which I’ve altered to follow guidelines from the National Center for Home Food Preservation that give crisper pickles through low-temperature pasteurization treatment.
In other cases, I’ve moved so far from the original family recipes that my grandmother and her forebearers would never recognize what we’re eating. But I’ve made serious canning converts with the current and upcoming canning generations. My sister not only cans her own produce but also requests flats of Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa and Roasted Raspberry Syrup every Christmas, and my 5-year-old niece has become the biggest fan of Grilled Tomatillo Salsa, built on a vegetable I didn’t even know existed as a kid. Every time I pop open a jar, I’m not just remembering family classics but also dreaming of new twists today’s eaters will love.
Twice as Tasty
This month, I’m returning to some classic family recipes in their modern form. Next week, I’ll share the mixed-berry jam recipe that made me fall in love with Pomona’s pectin, along with one for my favorite sour cherries. Later this month, I’ll share methods for processing classic pickles and relishes using both cucumbers and zucchini. If you’re eager for more hands-on learning, I’m teaching a public workshop this month on quick and refrigerator pickles. Or we’ll can together in your home in a private workshop with you and your friends. Let’s make the most of summer’s bounty!
Like what you’ve learned? To learn more in a Twice as Tasty workshop—in your own kitchen, among friends, and with my personal help—click here. If you’re not yet a Twice as Tasty subscriber, get this newsletter and weekly post notifications delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.
One thought on “Canning Classics”
I don’t think my mother was as careful as she should have been with her canning, but luckily it turned out all right. The Blue Book, updated version of course, is the one I recommend to people just starting out, and I usually advise they start with something simple like pickles.
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