Make your own pectin. Apples naturally contain this setting agent. If your jellies aren’t setting up properly, place a cheesecloth sack filled with the apple parts that have the highest pectin content — peelings, cores, and seeds — into the pan. Other good pectin sources include crab apples, true quince, and the Japanese quince.
A hint of almond adds a pleasing bitterness to apricot jam. Throw in some peeled (blanched) almonds to cook along with the apricots — about 10 almonds are enough to flavor five to six jars of jam.
Boiling jelly. Hot jelly will be easier to put in jars if you pour it into a pitcher first. Be sure to use Pyrex or other heat-resistant glass.
Is jam ready? Pour 7.5 mL (1/2 tbsp) of boiling jam onto a plate; let it cool. Slant the plate. If the jam doesn’t slide, it’s ready. If it slides easily, cook it a bit longer.
Homegrown capers. Pickle the tightly closed flower buds of nasturtiums in vinegar. Use as a condiment for smoked fish.
Chow-chow. Use your surplus vegetables to make this savory pickle relish. Simmer finely chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and peppers in vinegar and pickling spices; process in a water bath.
Homemade cornichons. You can duplicate the little French cornichons available in many gourmet produce stores by picking or buying Kirby pickling cucumbers when they are young and small. Wrap them in a towel with salt and leave them hanging up overnight. The next day, pack them in jars with your favorite vinegar, brine, and spice mixture; process as you would other pickles.
Keep the heat on. Don’t let hot-packed jars cool before processing in a water bath canner. Once they lose their heat, they can crack when submerged in the hot water.
Head space. Always leave space at the top of the jar while processing, especially when raw packing. Overfilled jars can explode.
A tight seal. Boil rubber seals for a few minutes just before closing the jars. Listen for the telltale pop that lets you know that the jars are sealing. Recheck all jars the day after canning. If there is a slight depression in the lid and the jars give off a light “ping” when tapped, they are firmly sealed.
Easy peeling. You can slip tomatoes right out of their skins if you plunge them into boiling water for 5 seconds. The same treatment works for peaches, apricots, peppers, and onions.
Canning must be carried out with scrupulous care to prevent bacterial contamination and spoilage. Most spoilage causes only minor illness at worst, but one type of contamination– botulism — is extremely dangerous and often fatal. Use a water bath to can acidic foods such as pickles, fruits, jams, and jellies. Use a pressure canner for nonacidic foods, including vegetables and meat. To be safe, follow the instructions to the letter and check the seals on canning lids before storing. Store in a basement or pantry where temperatures are between 10° and 21°C (50°-70°F). Before serving preserved food, carefully check the jar. Discard a jar if the contents seem foamy or discolored, if the lid bulges or is misshapen, or if the rim is leaking. Odd odors, mold, or spurting liquid are also warnings to steer clear.