I decided to post a canning FAQ based on the google searches I see people using that cause them to find my blog. I keep seeing the same questions come up in my statistics so I wanted to answer the questions directly here. Often the questions are answered in the post they land on, but only if the reader has good reading comprehension skills.
Before I dive in let me tell you about the canning workshops I am teaching this summer. They are being taught through Red Wagon Plants and will help participants feel more comfortable with the whole process.
The first workshop is Saturday, August 28th from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and the topic is No Added Pectin Jam Making. Right now all signs point to a seedless raspberry jam, but please don't hold me to that.
The second workshop is Salsa Two Ways on Saturday, September 18th from 9:00 Am to 12:00 PM. In this workshop we will make a green and red salsa.
To register for either or both workshops contact Red Wagon Plants.
Red Wagon - Phone: 802-482-4060
If you don't want a full workshop but need a little more guidance, last summer I posted a step by step guide to canning crushed tomatoes that can help beginning canners to be more comfortable with the process. My personal goal is 35 quarts, last year I did 28 and while I only recently used them up, I was being careful.
Lastly a link before I get to the questions, the Burlington Free Press published an article today on Canning's comeback. I was interviewed (and photographed) for the piece on topics as wide ranging as the need for safe canning practices, why I do it and where to find more info (other then this blog of course). Canning Makes a Comback Article
Can you make no sugar jam without added commercial pectin?
Sorry, no. While pectin is naturally occurring in fruit, the amount is different depending on the type of fruit and how ripe it is. The pectin that is naturally present in fruit requires sugar and acid in order to set or gel. The only way to make no sugar jam is to use Pomona's Pectin. If you decide to buy it and use this link I will get a tiny credit at Amazon, however I do not personally endorse the product. I have friends who love it, but I find it has a chalky texture. In addition no sugar or low sugar jams will go bad quickly after opening, even when refrigerated, as sugar acts as a preservative. I do make jams that rely on the natural pectin in fruit. With this method I can use less sugar then required by most commercial pectins and I still have a product that lasts in my fridge after opening.
Do you need to use pectin or a special recipe to make freezer jam?
Any jam or jelly can be stored in the freezer if you do not want to use the boiling water bath. Just leave 3/4 of an inch of headspace, making sure to use jars that are labeled as being safe for the freezer. Any of the tapered jars that are wider at the top then the bottom, or the ones with straight sides will work. In the picture at the top of this post the first 2 jars from left to right will work and the other 3 should not be used. Because the top is smaller than the base in the 3 jars on the right. Jam expands as it freezes and could cause the jar to crack.
My jam did not set, how can I fix it? (How do I fix runny jam?)
The answer to this depends on whether you were making a recipe with added commercial pectin or not. If you were using added pectin you need to follow the package directions for redoing the batch which involves adding more pectin and recooking. I have never tried this as I don't use commercial pectin (except in my strawberry freezer jam), however I understand doing this can give you an overly stiff jam. If you were making a jam without added pectin and it just had not set when you canned it you can put it all back in the pan and recook it until the setting point is reached. Alternatively, you can just label the jars as syrup and use it on french toast, waffles, pancakes, ice cream, stirred into yogurt, as a dessert sauce, folded into whipped cream, drizzled over pound cake, as an ingredient in barbecue sauce...
How risky is botulism when making jam and other high acid products?
Botulism is not a concern when making fruit jam (unless you are using a low acid fruit such as bananas), as long as you are making jam or jelly without adding any low acid ingredients or fats (so no oil, nuts, dairy, chocolate, vegetables). Jams and jellies are some of the safest products to can. The steps to safely can fruits are to ensure the product does not mold or decay, not to protect you from botulism. Botulism cannot live in a high acid environment so even if you mess up the canning process when making jam you are not going to have botulism growing in your jars. Instead they may not seal properly so you may have a jar that goes moldy or bad.
If I mess up the steps for canning am I going to poison my family?
Depends on what you are preserving and how you mess up, and even then it is rare. If you are canning tomatoes adding the correct amount of acid for proper acidification is very important, so make sure to add any acid called for and do not change or add any ingredients. Proper acidification creates an environment where botulism spores cannot thrive. However if the proper acidification level is reached any errors you may make in the process may cause mold or spoilage, not botulism. If you are using a pressure canner to preserve low acid items strictly adhering to the process is more vital, the correct temperature and times for processing allow the heat penetration that kills the botulism spores that may be present.
I found this recipe for _____________ in one of my cookbooks. It looks really tasty and I want to enjoy it in the winter. How do I can it?
Sorry, the only way to enjoy whatever non canning recipe in the winter is to freeze it or safely can the main ingredient. Then make the recipe with your preserved items in the winter. For canning it is really important to use tested safe recipes. Canning requires set acidity as well as density to make a reliable and safe product. You can find plenty of safe, tested recipes designed for canning to keep you busy canning all year without searching for new recipes to can from non canning sources.
I want to change this salsa/tomato sauce/pickle recipe to suit our tastes, what can I safely change?
Without seeing the recipe and the changes you want to make it is hard to advise you, however some guidelines. You cannot increase the amount of any low acid ingredients in these recipes or else you may change the acidity and making an environment where botulism could grow. Low acid items include: garlic, onions, peppers, celery, and all other vegetables. You can add wine, sugar, salt, pepper and other DRIED herbs and spices. Do not add any fat (so no butter, oil, schmaltz). You can switch the acid that is being added for another acid. 1 tsp citric acid is equivalent to 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice or 1/2 cup 5% acidity vinegar.
This canning recipe calls for bottled lemon juice, can I substitute fresh? It tastes so much better.
Sorry, no. Fresh lemon juice can vary greatly in how much acid is present, you need to use bottled to make sure you are using the correct amount of acidity to properly acidify what you are making.
These are good pointers, but I am still scared. Any other information that can help me get over my fear of canning?
Yes, remember, I am teaching two, yes two, workshops this summer on canning through Red Wagon Plants. If you take these workshops you will get to take part in canning, this can help give you the confidence in how to follow the steps and get over your fear. You will even get to take home a sample so you can brag to all your friends that you canned this tasty item. Plus I will answer your questions about canning.
The first workshop is Saturday, August 28th from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and the topic is no added pectin jam. Right now all signs point to a seedless raspberry jam, but please don't hold me to that.
The second workshop is Salsa two ways on Saturday, September 18th from 9:00 Am to 12:00 PM. In this workshop we will make a green and red salsa.
Red Wagon Plants Workshop Series