Canning, with all it's steps involved, really can be a messy adventure. Produce lined up on the counter tops, the sink is overflowing with soapy water, the stove and the floor has everything imaginable splattered on it. But when the jars have finished processing and are resting on the counter as they cool, with each "pop" of a lid, the little kid inside us, just wants to do cartwheels and start dancing. Success sounds so good.
The process for canning (at least water-bath canning) is similar no matter what you're doing. You prep your food, prep your jars, fill jars, water bath for a time, allow to cool. Simple. Anyone can do it even on the first try. There are plenty of recipes online these days, many with photos of the process. Don't be afraid to try this, you'll love the results.
A while back I ventured into the kitchen and actually canned some pickles. Easy, delicious. Actually, I made two batches. The first batch of pickles turned out to be too mushy. The reason? I sliced them entirely too thin. (OK, so you can screw up) But after blending them in a food processor, the result...several jars of dill pickle relish. Genius! Great solution. Second batch, turned out great...tasty, crunchy, just perfect. Made me want to can more. But I wisely chose not to. (too time consuming)
Reality check: there's enough to last a while without making more.
The next adventure was all about peaches. They are in season here in New Hampshire, so all the local farms are putting their harvests into the local grocery stores. And they are delicious. After eating several, the idea came to me that I just needed to preserve some of that fresh, peach goodness, for the cold winter months to come. When I was younger, I remember my mom canning lots of things, fruits of all kinds, vegetables, pickles. Just about anything that could go in a jar.
As I read through recipes and instruction books about canning, it all comes back to me.
The process isn't hard, but you have to have a few necessary items, the fruits or vegetables you want to can, jars with lids (preferably new lids since they have to seal - not good to reuse lids because they won't seal properly),
a funnel to sit on the top of the jar so when you're adding the prepared food it actually makes it into the jar, tongs to remove the hot jars from the water bath,
a very large canning pot with a rack inside to sit the jars on.
The Peach experiment helped me realize there was one more tool that I needed to get the job done perfectly. I'll explain that in just a bit. But it has to do with texture. It's all about the texture.
Fast forward to today, apple butter was on the agenda. Not applesauce, apple butter. It's thicker and spicier than applesauce. Easily spreads on fresh bread or toast. Making your own you can make it as thick as you'd like and add as much cinnamon as your cravings encourage you to add. The best thing is being able to control how much sugar goes into the recipe. Many brands from the store, while they may be healthy, have a ton of sugar. Apples are naturally sweet and really don't need as much as you think.
For this batch, I chose McIntosh apples, fresh from a local orchard. Notice on the bag it says "1/2 peck." Not sure who uses that measurement these days, but I got 4 large bags which I thought might equal about 1/2 bushel. That measurement I understand.
After washing them, then the fun begins. If you've never seen or used one of these, it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's an apple peeler, corer, slicer. And in five seconds, you will have accomplished all that for one apple. Simple. Fast. Amazing. I've had this one since my kids were small. At that time, it was a novelty to prepare apples for consumption with this, but for larger jobs, like today, it's a life/time saver for sure. Every apple comes out completely peeled and evenly sliced. Great for making pies, too.
The next step since we're making apple butter, is to take all the apples, add a little water and cook them in a large pot until they are soft. You want them soft because the next step involves managing the texture. Using a food mill, that task is much, much easier. When I made the peaches, the recipe called for chopping into small pieces. Not so bad. But, when they were finished, and we tasted them, the chunky texture wasn't our preference. A more creamy, applesauce-like texture would have been better.
So, we picked up this food mill. The OXO brand is really great. It's a little bit of an investment, but well worth it. After cooking the fruit, spooning the soft pulp into the mill and mashing it through the bottom, creates this soft, creamy texture. You'll be thrilled at the results. It worked great with the apples after they were cooked. And we even took a couple of the jars of canned peaches out, ran them through the mill and the texture is now something that is much more palatable for us. And it will be easier to spread. Incidentally, the peach recipe was a no-sugar, fruit juice sweetened only recipe. First time. Not that bad at all.
This is the beginning of a very delicious pot of apple butter. Basic instructions called for cinnamon, cloves and allspice, with some sugar. This cooked down for a couple of hours in order to get to the consistency and thickness we wanted. But during those two hours, the aroma completely engulfed our home, upstairs and down. It was better than any apple/cinnamon/spice candle I've ever used.
After cooking for a time, it has a darker, richer color and taste to match.
The final step today was using a couple cups of the applesauce (before all the spices went in) to make apple bread. Omg. Too delicious.
I think I'm going to love having freshly canned apples and peaches this winter. Four bags of apples made 7 quarts of apple butter. On second thought, I'm not sure if we canned enough. (I should go take a look at the kitchen mess one more time.) But with all the other things we'd like to can this fall, I'm thankful for the 7 jars.
They will add color to the pantry with all the other jars of canned goods and be delicious, each and every spoonful. Yum!