Whoever coined the phrase, “If you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen” must have been canning in the middle of a heat wave.
And this month, for me it’s all about cooking in MY scalding hot kitchen.
What’s on the menu at Camp Ossorio?
Chutney, cherry marmalade, bread and butter pickles, pickled green beans, basil and garlic tomato sauce, beet and sage relish, peach butter, and of course, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, apricot jam.
I feel a little like a squirrel stocking away nuts from my garden, or in the parlance of home cooks who have learned the art of “putting up” from their mother’s, grandmothers or Youtube.
Stirring batch after batch from a bubbling cauldron of smashed fruit and sugar that could cause third degree burns, while wearing an apron, hot oven mitts and manning two other burners filled with water for a hot bath and a separate pan for sterilizing lids.
I think part of the charm of canning is that the technique hasn’t changed much. Arguably, it’s one of the few things in life that there isn’t an “app” for.
But if you’re going to can, you want to pick the freshest, best ingredients possible. And, fortunately, Renton has two Farmers Markets filled with local fruit and vegetables. Tuesdays from 3-7 at the Piazza in downtown Renton. And, on Friday’s from 3- 7 at the Renton Landing.
I feel fortunate to have mastered a skill that was helped along by Napolean Bonaparte, of all people.
“An army marches on its stomach,” Bonaparte famously said, and placed an ad in Le Monde offering 12,000 francs to anyone able to invent a new way to preserve food for his troops. A French baker answered the call creating the glass jars and water-bath method we use today.
There have been other iterations toward perfecting food preservation including pottery, tin-iron canisters and others. Then in the 1800’s inventor John Mason created the lid with the rubber ring that created a vacuum seal that protects the food from spoilage.
For me, there is a deep sense of personal fulfillment in having access to a bountiful local harvest at the peak of its freshness and preserving it for another day.
I also love the feeling of sharing those simple, old-fashioned style Mason jars with little bits of fabric or a simple sticker that says, Vanilla Peach Jam.
But mostly, I know there will come a morning, which feels light years away from these 90-degree days, when I’ll wake up and it will be either drizzly or overcast, but probably, both. On that day, I shall take a thick piece of wheat bread perfectly toasted – perhaps a petite baguette – and slather it with creamy, salty butter and spoon on chunky, bright red strawberry jam recently harvested from a field not too far from home.
The thing about canning, as I’ve discovered is true with most things in the kitchen, is NOT “if you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen” but rather “If you don’t take a chance you’ll never learn.”
So, if you’ve always thought about trying to can, but felt too intimidated, you’ve gotta try! All it takes is a willingness to say to yourself, “I’m totally OK with messing this up.”
Besides, the thing with jam, as opposed to baking bread and your mother-in-law, is that jam is very forgiving.
Which is to say, you really can’t mess it up. It might not “set” which is to thicken the way you like it, but raspberries and sugar always pair well together!
This year, I was a little slow on the draw and missed the strawberry season. Partly, because I’ve taken a majority of white and brown sugar out of my diet.
And jam has tons of sugar in it. Which is why in the past I kind of looked the other way while dumping in that truckload of it into the pot; It just tastes so darn good!
But this year, I decided to take my own advice and take a risk and try something different: jam sweetened entirely with raw honey and bananas.
I decided to add bananas because they are so naturally sweet. True to the “Just Do It” cooking adage I always subscribe too, I just did it!
The jam didn’t set exactly as I would like, but it tastes delicious and I’m calling it my “Pippimamma Honeyed Raspberry Banana Jam.” I will be adding it to cookies, sweet breads, cereals, smoothies, toast and whatever else I can dream up.
These days if you go into any grocery store and there are all sorts of gadgets designed to entice shoppers to buy into the tradition of canning as a way to preserve foods.
But getting started, all you really need is a big stock pot, Mason jars, fruit, sugar/honey, pectin and a culinary desire to “just do it.”
So hit those farmer’s markets and see what you can dream up!