For many of us who have been cooking and baking for years, canning and preserving foods is a whole different matter. Personally, staring down a chicken or breaking down a pig is less terrifying to me than “putting up” (canning lingo for preserving food).
I live for market days, a habit I developed living in Paris and Provence, where I would follow my favorite farmers to different village locations depending on the day of the week, and taste my way through their wares—white asparagus in spring, fall squashes of all kinds, Vacherin cheese in winter, and the first wild strawberries of summer. Everything was fresh and in season and abundant; I never thought to “preserve” any of it. And frankly, canning and jarring scare me. How do I properly sterilize the jars? What if when sealing I don’t hear that “pop” of approval? Worst of all, what if I accidentally poison a friend?
Luckily, we now have Tart and Sweet, by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler (and beautifully photographed by Ellen Silverman), a true visual feast that also delivers beyond the eye candy. With a voice of authority and playfulness, Geary and Knadler take the fear factor out of canning and are expert guides on how to best preserve all the goodness from your garden or local farmers’ market.
Recipes include everything from carrot-habanero hot sauce and tomato ketchup to pickled eggplant; compotes, butters, and jams to accompany buttermilk biscuits; and pan-roasted chicken with salsa verde. A section called “Ideas and Solutions” offers tips on hosting a canning party (hair ties for everyone!), what to do with leftover pickle brine (kick up a Bloody Mary), and how to navigate a pickle plate, which Geary declares is “Only the best thing ever! A pickle plate is usually a variety of seasonal pickles served as an appetizer, sometimes with some delicious cured meats and cheeses. I order a pickle plate if it’s on the menu anywhere. The flavors can be particularly interesting at Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese restaurants.”
From her Brooklyn-based Sweet Deliverance Kitchen, Geary offers a variety of popular canning workshops. On why home preserving has become so popular, she writes: “For me, there’s the rustic appeal of wanting to know where your food comes from and the allure of saving the seasonal bounty for later, for sure, but I think this canning resurgence taps into something deeper: People want to know how to make things with their hands that are more tangible, more meaningful... ‘Putting up’ even a small amount of food is a reminder that we can take care of ourselves, feed ourselves and our families, without always relying on food manufacturers to do it for us. Canning is self-sufficiency in a jar.”
So be a smart, self-sufficient cook. Take a deep breath, choose your favorite fruits and vegetables, get in the kitchen with friends (the authors remind us that no one should have to can alone), and get preserving.
Check out these great recipes adapted from the book:
Canning Dos & Don’ts
1. Do make sure the recipe allows enough acid. Whether that means adding lemon juice or vinegar, the pH should be 4.6 or lower.
2. Do allow for proper headspace (distance between the top of the jar and its contents): half an inch for pickles and a quarter-inch for jams, butters, etc.
3. Do take care to be clean. Jars must be sterile, the workspace must be scrupulously clean, and the lip of the jar where the lid sits must also be immaculate. Any food caught between the jar and the lid will prevent a good seal.
4. Do allow the right amount of time for processing according to the size of the jar and the altitude. If using the “hot fill method,” make sure what goes into the jars is between 180° and 190°F.
1. Don’t be intimidated. Just follow the few safety guidelines and you’ll do fine. If the first result is not perfect, just pop it in the fridge and eat it up.
2. Don’t pour hot liquid into a cold jar or place a jar that has cooled too much into a water bath. It will break, and that’s no fun.
3. Don’t forget to check the seal. The lid should be taut once the jar has cooled. I usually allow mine to sit overnight to cool completely before storing.
4. Don’t forget what Mom said when you were young: People like something you made for them more than something you bought. So give your canned goods to friends and loved ones. —K.S.
More from Kelly Geary
Hints for gardeners: Make sure to select varieties that are suited to the pickling project. For example, to make whole cucumber pickles, plant a small, bumpy-skinned pickling variety; for an interesting sliced pickle round, plant ‘Lemon’ cucumbers. For a more flavorful sauce, use plum tomatoes, not beefsteaks.
Another great trick I have started using in the commercial small-batch production of my jams is sterilizing the jars in the oven instead of hot water. I wash the jars with hot soapy water, put them on a sheet pan, and place them in an oven set to 250°F. They stay in the hot oven for 20 or so minutes after it has come to temperature. This frees up a burner on the stove and eliminates some hassle because you’re not pulling jars out of hot water.
On fruit butters: Fruit butters are fruit cooked down to a thick, spreadable, buttery or pastelike consistency. They are usually made with stone fruits, apples, or pears. A butter can be made from pumpkin or winter squash, as well. In fall, I particularly like sandwiches made with fruit butters and a protein: for example, a buttermilk biscuit with smoked ham and apple butter. But my all-time favorite butter is banana butter any time of year on toast, ice cream, waffles. So good.