Friends, we have waited for nine long months. As colleagues take much vaunted vacations and children relish late nights, the first wave of summer’s harvest has crashed on our countertops. While local farmers peddle zucchini the size of baseball bats, I have my eye on more diminutive fair, like berries and pickling cucumbers, as well as my hitherto dwindling supply of canned goodies. Yes! Time to break out your mason jars, it’s canning season.
Now, I know canning seems like a massive undertaking. There’s the canner or pressure cooker, jars, lids, special utensils, special ingredients . . . it all seems like so much. Fortunately, summer is also known for something else: ubiquitous garage sales. You can acquire almost everything you need to start canning next week for less than $20, and the only really hard part is finding produce at a good price for all your projects. Luckily “u-pick” farms may be found in every direction, where you can procure fruits and vegetables at a significant discount compared to retail. Just after the start of blueberry season, I was able to go picking and hauled away ten pounds at $1.85/lb., a steal compared to $4 for a dry pint (10 oz.) at the store!
Maybe you know a little about canning, but you’re scared. You’ve heard about how people can get sick, really sick, from poorly canned foods via botulism, and you don’t want to be the reason someone ends up in the hospital. Well, you can rest easy knowing that people have sleuthed out the safest techniques and recipes to keep you and yours healthy. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, through the University of Georgia, has made their laboratory-tested recipes and techniques available for free via nchfp.uga.edu.
When done correctly, canning is not only a way to reminisce about warmer days, but it’s also a perfect gift. Homemade jams, jellies, sauces, and preserves have taken on an almost mythical status in the information age, while cash and gift cards have become the status quo; the handmade touch can speak volumes. Consider taking up the hobby, it can save you money and be the start of a treasured family tradition.