An annual ritual has begun here. It’s a ritual so old and deeply ingrained that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t do it. It began in my childhood and has continued right on through to today. The ritual of preserving the harvest or, as it is better known in the South, “puttin’ up.” This is the ritual of canning or freezing the abundance of fresh produce that comes our way at this time of year.
This is a ritual I began learning at an early age. When I was a child we didn’t have access to anything and everything at the grocery store the way that we do today. If you wanted fresh peas in January, you had better freeze some in July. And freeze produce we did!
I have lots of memories of helping my mother “put up” during summer vacations. I can remember peas and butterbeans spread on newspapers on the floor in our den underneath the window air conditioner. You had to keep them cool, you know, so they wouldn’t “go through a heat.” Let the peas and butterbeans get too warm and they’d sour before you finished shelling. Not good. Shelling was my favorite puttin’ up activity. I think that’s because you could do it indoors under the air conditioner while watching television. I’ve never been much of an outdoorsy girl. Perspiration? Ewww. Which is why I hated helping with the corn.
I remember sitting in our backyard at an old picnic table shucking corn. Corn was always ready for pulling during the hottest part of the summer and shucking it made a huge mess, so you had to do it outdoors. And Mama was very particular about the corn. You had to get every single silk out of that corn. It took a while. And did I mention it was hot out there? Also, mosquitoes. It was enough to make you seriously consider the importance of freezing corn for the coming year.
Even though there were parts I didn’t like, I mostly enjoyed that time of year. It was just a part of the rhythm of life in a small, southern town during the 1960’s. And it didn’t matter whether your family was poor or well-off. Everyone “put up” for the winter. That was just the way it was and we didn’t question it.
And I find that I am, after all, grateful for the lessons I learned on those hot, humid summer days. The importance of preparing for the future, of putting something aside when you have extra for times that are leaner.
Whenever I mention today that I still carry on the “puttin’ up” ritual, people look at me so strangely. Some have even said, “Oh, how quaint.” Or, “I didn’t know people did that any more.” I even had one person say to me, “Oh, you mean they still make canning jars?” I just laugh with them and go right on about canning.
Some years I do a lot more than others. Jams, preserves, pickles, relishes, salsas. Some years just a few pickles and jams. But, regardless, I almost always start the canning season with Strawberry Jam.
Good old-fashioned (quaint?) Strawberry Jam. One of the first recipes new canners often try because it’s so easy and the odds of messing it up are quite low.
If you’ve never tried canning anything before, please (I’m begging you) educate yourself on the correct procedure before you start. It is imperative to properly sterilize your jars and to use an approved canning recipe. And the technique is critical. Old techniques such as the inversion method (turning the jars upside down to seal rather than processing in a water bath) are no longer used. They’re downright dangerous. And, just because “Mama always did it that way and we never got sick” is NOT justification for using incorrect and outdated canning techniques.
For a beginning canner, if you purchase nothing else, the best money you can invest is in getting a copy of the Ball Blue Book. It’s put out by the people who make Ball canning jars and is considered the “canning bible.” It’s cheap, easy to read and simple to follow. A couple of other good resources are the Ball web site (http://www.freshpreserving.com) and the experts-of-all-experts at the University of Georgia (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp). They know of what they speak. They are home to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Trust them.
I have lots of canning and preserving books. And I use all of them. Really I do. I might even need one or two more. Maybe. This recipe is from the book Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. It’s a great book with easy to follow recipes. And I like that the recipes are all, well, small batches. Since it’s just the two of us now we don’t really need 16 pints of Strawberry Jam to see us through the year. Just a few half-pints are fine.
4 cups firm strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on size)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. butter
For this recipe I purchased two baskets of strawberries. It only takes one basket for the jam, so we had enough left for several strawberry shortcakes.
Mix the berries with the sugar in a non-reactive pan (stainless or enamel), cover, and let them stand for 8 hours. Stir it occasionally just to distribute the sugar through the berries.
After 8 hours, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add the lemon juice, return to boiling and allow to boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, add the butter and bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat. The butter, by the way, is simply to prevent the jam from foaming up so much. If you don’t want to add it, you can skip it but you’ll need to skim the foam from the jam while it’s boiling. Much simpler for me to just add that smidgen of butter. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Ladle into sterile jars. Wipe the jar rims with a damp paper towel. Apply caps and rings.
Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove the jars and place them on a kitchen towel until cooled completely (about 24 hours). Listen for the “music” of the lids pinging. Makes 3 half-pints.
Do you “put up?” Would you like to see more canning and preserving recipes on Never Enough Thyme?
Please let me know if you have any questions about proper canning techniques. I’ll try my best to answer them for you.
–Recipe adapted from Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard