Preserving, canning, "putting up," whatever you want to call it, often sounds too scary or laborious to contemplate. But of you can boil water, you can sterilize jars. And some of these recipes, the ones that feature vegetables preserved in oil or vinegar, don't even require that step. Plus, while these recipes can certainly be multiplied, we're not talking about preserving an entire harvest's worth of fruit or vegetables; these are small batch recipes requiring, say, a dozen tomatoes, a little more than a quart of blueberries, a few pounds of peaches. Even those who are counter-topped impaired can find the room to do this.
Though canning used to be all about frugality, a way to keep the crops during the cold months, these days it's more about flavor. Adding exciting ingredients along with the fruits of vegetables creates bold new flavors. Think hot chiles and garlic with tomatoes; cinnamon sticks and cardomom pods with plums and apples; vanilla beans and peaches; mustard with figs for a delicious mostarda.
Some of the recipes in this collection are true preserves, meaning they are processed and sealed and can be kept for up to a year in a cool, dry place. Others are more like quick picking, an easier method that requires no processing but means the preserves must be kept refrigerated and will last for just a couple weeks.
What follows are some guidelines for safe handling of preserves.
How to sterilize jars, screw bands, and lids
Wash jars, screw bands and lids in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Put jars and bands on a rack in canner or in a deep pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Put tongs and ladle into pot, making sure lower 5 inches of tools are submerged in the water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cover pot. Put lids in a small saucepan; add water to cover by 2 inches. Heat over high heat until instant-read thermometer registers 180º (do not let boil). Remove saucepan from heat, leaving lids in water. Keep the jars, bands, tools and lids in hot water, covered, until ready to use. Drain jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel 1 minute, then invert and pack immediately while hot. Jars and screw bands are reusable; lids must be new.
Note: Vegetables preserved in oil, or oil and vinegar, do not require sterilized jars.
How to cool and check seals
All jars should be cooled 12 to 24 hours. After jars have cooled 12 to 24 hours, press center of each lid to check that it’s concave, then remove screw band and lift jar by lid with your fingertips. If lid stays put, it has a good seal. If lid does not stay put, refrigerate preserved and use within 2 weeks.
How to store your preserves
Once you have checked that lids have a food seal, check that they are filled at least up a 1/2 inch from top (or as specified by recipe). If not, refrigerate and use these preserves first.
If lids are tightly vacuum-sealed on cooled jars, remove screw bands, wash lids and jars to remove food residue, then rinse and dry jars, and return screw bands. Label and date jars and store in a clean, cool, dark, dry place. Do not store jars above 95° or near hot pipes, a range, a furnace, under a sink, in an uninsulated attic or in direct sunlight. Under these conditions, food will lose quality in a few weeks or months and may spoil. Dampness may corrode metal lids, break seals, and allow contamination and spoilage.
Accidental freezing of canned foods will not cause spoilage unless jars become unsealed and contaminated. However, freezing and thawing may soften food. If jars must be stored where they may freeze, wrap them in newspapers, place them in heavy cartons, and cover with newspapers and blankets.
Foods preserved in sterilized jars, unless otherwise noted, keep in sealed jars in a cool, dark place 1 year. For foods preserved in oil, or oil and vinegar, follow keeping times per recipe.
How to perform the sheet test for jams, jellies and preserves
To sheet test, run a metal spoon under cold water for 1 minute, then dip into the boiling mixture. Raise spoon about 12 inches above pan (out of steam). Turn spoon so mixture runs off the side. Mixture passes sheet test when it flows together and “sheets,” or hangs, off edge of spoon.
If you live at higher altitudes:
Add 1 minute of processing time (both to sterilization and final processing) for every 1,000 feet above sea level.