I wouldn’t consider myself a “natural” cook. Just like I don’t have the proverbial gardening green thumb, I also lack similar intuition in the kitchen. In the past, I have been accused of being such a bad cook that I could burn water. Which, by the way, is technically impossible (I checked). I was never THAT bad of a cook, I was just afraid to try. I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t confident. I always wanted to be a master in the kitchen, but I was intimidated by how much I had to learn. But over time, with practice, patience, experimentation, reading recipes, learning from others and becoming inspired by fresh local ingredients, I now consider myself a relatively competent cook. What once brought on dread and frustration is now calming and uplifting.
That brings me to the point of this post… canning is hard! This was my first attempt and it’s a lot of work. But it is so so satisfying when it is done. Learning to cook is an amazing feeling – having the skill to take fresh, raw ingredients and turn them into something delicious and healthy with just your own two hands (ok, and a few choice kitchen appliances) is very fulfilling. Canning takes this same feeling to another level. Crafting something that can sit on your shelf for six months and enable you to have tomatoes that taste like tomatoes (instead of cardboard) in the middle of winter – it’s empowering to sidestep the industrial food system and put up your own preserves.
Plus, I have a thing for Mason jars. I find them romantic in a rustic, burlap and roses, sort of way. I have been squirreling them away for some time now, using them for everything except their intended purpose. It was about time I finally ventured into canning and this was my first experience.
I made salsa and crushed tomatoes, using the following Bernardin recipes.
I’ve compiled some learnings from my first experience that I think might be useful if you are endeavoring on a canning adventure of your own:
– It takes longer than expected. The salsa took about five hours from start to finish. Yep, that long. The crushed tomatoes were much quicker, closer to two hours. This was my first attempt, so I’m hoping future attempts will be quicker!
– Get a friend to help (or two or three or four or…). Many of the tasks can be performed in tandem, and you can create an assembly line to make it go quicker.
– Make everything as clean as possible. This is my paranoia rearing its ugly head here. Much of what I read about canning stressed the importance of a clean environment, so I didn’t take this one lightly. Which brings me to…
– Don’t stray from tried and true recipes – proper acidity is key to safe canning and adding/changing ingredients can mess with the acidity level. Bernardin has a number of classic recipes on their site, while Canadian Living has some more interesting twists on basic recipes (they also have a really pretty hardcover book).
– A canner is a BIG pot and when filled with water takes a long time to boil. Like, over half an hour. Seriously. Start it early.
– Peeling tomatoes is weird and tricky at first, but gets better once you get the hang of it (I had my doubts). I used the boiling water method listed here. Once peeled, remove the core around the stem and then squeeze the seeds into the compost bin.
– Wear rubber gloves when chopping jalapenos – don’t be macho, that stuff hurts if you get it near your eyes!