I can’t believe it is October already. I wasn’t ready to stop eating peaches or plums, and I haven’t made all my jam yet, and the pears are ripening faster than I can poach them for my Christmas hamper gifts. One of the things I love about autumn is preserving summer’s goodness with home canning, but it always seems a race against Mother Nature as I try literally and figuratively to pack in more goodies in the pantry before autumn fizzles away and the frost turns to snow. (I do apologize for saying that four-letter word, but those cold mornings do remind me it is coming… we must prepare.)
Last week I wrote about leftovers, so I suppose it follows that I would then move to canning, another way of making sure we don’t waste all that good food. Back in the dark ages when my great-grandmother lived in a sod house in Manitoba, canning was a way of stocking up for winter, ensuring their diet didn’t consist of only root vegetables and cured meat. Homemade pickles and canned fruit in simple syrup were a way to transport summer sunshine to the darker days of winter. I remember eating more canned pears than fresh ones when I was a kid, but those were the kind that came in a tin, not a sealer jar. There is simply no comparison to good old-fashioned home canned fruit. If I had eaten my Grannie’s pears instead of those mushy things that tasted a bit metallic, I would have taken up canning sooner! It really is like tasting summer sunshine when you have your own canned products.
I started making my own preserves years ago when the owner of a restaurant where I worked shared her recipe for the apricot sauce she poured over her homemade cheesecake. (I never did get the cheesecake recipe, but the sauce has helped many other desserts over the years!)
Once I got the bug of capturing summer’s flavours in a jar, I was hooked. Everyone else got hooked too. Martin would probably leave me if I didn’t replenish our stock of Damson plum jam each year, and now he gets into the game too, with a yearly cuvee of his special hot sauce and homemade tomato sauce. We make a whole selection of savoury "jams" at Rabbit Hollow - pork jam, lamb jam, turkey jam, even chicken & egg jam! We love sharing our treats with friends and family at Christmas, and it’s nice to offer something other than a bottle of wine sometimes when we are invited for dinner.
I bet you didn’t know that the idea of canning started with Napoleon Bonaparte… He was the one in the 18th century who first voiced the idea of being able to have food that would remain safely preserved for his armies. The idea was to capture food at its peak and preserve the flavour and nutrients in a package that would keep it safe from spoiling over time. Believe it or not, they have tested modern canned foods and there are cases where the canned items offer more nutrients than the fresh version!
Home canning is a much more rustic enterprise than the commercial operations. Effective supplies became available when Mr. John Mason invented a jar with a threaded lid in 1858. (Until then they had to seal the tin lid on a glass jar with wax, which was messy and couldn’t be reused or resealed.) Mr. Mason sold off his idea and unfortunately died a poor man, but luckily for us Mr. Alexander Kerr came along in 1903 with his Hermetic Fruit Jar Company (isn’t that a cool name?) and invented the sealer lid to go with a reusable ring. These additions to the traditional glass jar gave us the system we all know today – some of the best recycling you can do!
I managed 6 jars of my Cinnamon Shiraz-Poached Pears after work tonight, and I should get about 6 jars of pickled beets this weekend… if you have a recipe you’d like to share, please let me know. I have an ongoing trade of homemade wares with a colleague at work; it is sort of like book club, except our conversations are all about food! (But then, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?) If you want to learn more about home canning, try www.homecanning.ca or www.pickyourown.org for lots of tips and ideas.
Well, I have to get back to the kitchen to make some of that Damson jam…