Monday, October 10, 2011

Adventures in Canning

As the title of this post suggests, I recently went on an adventure in canning that was similar in extremes to Adventures in Babysitting.  No, it didn't have any blues-singing.  Or skyscraper-scaling.  Or guys named Thor.  Or babysitting for that matter.  OK, it wasn't really the least bit like Adventures in Babysitting, but it did have kids, and I had to get you to read it somehow!

Some backstory: When my oldest brother decides he's going to do something, he goes all the way.  This is the man who decided he wanted a wife, met a (lovely) woman, got engaged two months later, and was married about nine months after that.  He decided he wanted some kids, now they're on the fourth.  See, when he does stuff, he's all in, and he does it right.  So, last year, when he decided he wanted to can stuff (oh yeah, he's also my antithesis.  He's the country to my city, the tree to my telephone pole), he went out and got all the stuff he needed to can, and learned how to can all the way.  Therefore, when I decided to learn how to can, it wasn't just a pot on a stove for me, I went to the home of the master.  Besides, his kitchen is way bigger and way prettier.

Last year, I picked up some grapefruit marmalade at a farmer's market.  It was delicious; sweet and tart at the same time.  I haven't been able to find it anywhere, so I decided it was time to make it myself.  I also decided, since I was launching into the world of unknown cooking, that I wanted to pickle asparagus as well.  So, one weekend a few week ago, I went to my brother's house and canned stuff.  We canned just about everything that wasn't screwed down.  Of course, the only thing we didn't end up canning was asparagus, but that's because it's expensive in the fall and will have to wait until spring.

It seems, this city mouse learned, that pickling and canning are different.  I guess I really knew that, but it was clarified that weekend.  To make marmalade, you basically just have to make a big, sticky mess and then add more sugar than you ever want to see in one place (unless it's a Pixie Stick), and some pectin.  To pickle things, you need to cook them, typically in some sort of solution involving sugar, water, and vinegar.  To can things, you put them in fancy jars, clean their tops, put on lids and rings, and going against everything you've ever learned about boiling water and glass, you then dump the jars in a big pot of boiling water for a while and hope nothing explodes.

And you know what?  Nothing explodes!  It's like chemistry.  Or something.  In any case, it works.  And then you have pickles and jams and stuff forever!

We made grapefruit marmalade (which isn't really congealy enough), pickled green beans (which I don't love), pickled carrots, cauliflower and onions (which are awesome), and bread and butter pickles (which are super awesome, and a pain in the hiney to make).  The next week I went back and we made black forest jam (cherries and chocolate!), and apple, cranberry relish (yum!).

The best thing about the canned stuff is that it's so pretty.  The worst thing is that I have no place to store any of it.  The jar lids also get sticky and now I have a fridge filled with jars of half-eaten pickles that I can't open.  I'll work on that.

Aren't they pretty?!

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