I’ve got on my shelves some fabulous mayhaw jelly from Northwest Florida. I have canned boiled peanuts from Chef Lindsay Autry (Top Cheftestant). There’s a jar of hot pickles from chef Dean Max (3030 Ocean, Ft. Lauderdale). Chili-garlic pickled green beans from my cousin Sammie. My friend Tim Horn gave me a jar of red pepper jam. There’s blueberry jam from a greenmarket vendor and some mango butter I had to give away because I’m allergic to mangoes.
Of course, what they all have in common is they’re homemade and put up. It’s how our grandmothers and their grandmothers saved the bounties of their gardens from one season for another.
My mother was noted for her pear butter. I can taste it today – one of those rich palate memories you just never forget. On a hot, buttered biscuit it was the pear butter or fig preserves – another all-time favorite – I loved. She’s gone now, as are my sources for figs and pears when I do get up to Pensacola, where they were once plentiful.
Picking your own fruits and putting them up is an accomplishment and a terrific way to add to your own pantry of tricks. Those fig preserves are delicious with pork roast and pecans. The pear butter makes a swell hors d’oeuvre spread over some goat cheese and served with crackers. And Lindsay’s peanuts – well, you have to be a Southerner to appreciate them during a game with a cold beer or even iced tea.
I bring all this up because most cooks today head for the store rather than their pantry for things like ketchup, soft drinks, jelly or vinegar. They don’t know how to make them – much less can them safely.
The book by is called Put ’em Up! It’s got 175 recipes for canning, pickling, preserving, making soda and other wonders you might not have thought of.
Clear, concise directions help you learn the fundamentals of canning, troubleshoot things that might or might not work out right the first time, and give you all those recipes. Plus variations on the traditional recipes (love the blueberry-basil jam that’s in my future) as well as outright modern foods – pickled fennel, wasabi beans and cherry and black pepper marmalade.
Tools for canning
This will also give you a chance to shop! Cooks like any reason to go buy a new toy – and there are several tools you may want to invest in.
First and foremost is a canning rack, and jar lifter. And funnels. So browsing around, I found this Norpro 7-Piece Home Canning Set – an all-in-one deal that includes the coolest toy – a magnetic jar lifter for fishing jar lids out of the boiling water.
And you’re going to need good looking jars – no, you can’t reuse the jelly jar from Smuckers. Go for tradition! Ball Mason wide-mouth canning jars are my pick – you can freeze them so you can make freezer jams.
Now, get busy!