Canning is one of those things that homesteaders look forward to each year with excited anticipation and a slight twinge of dread. Nothing beats the quality and the feeling of accomplishment you get from preserving your harvest each year, and that peach cobbler sure is to die for in the frigid depths of January…but it’s such a lot of work, and most of that time spent is in the preparation. The jars need sterilized ,the lids need boiled, and the magnet fell out of the gosh dang lid grabber again. With all that happens during the canning season there are a few things you can do right now to prepare for next season that will make your life a little easier come harvest time.
Check and replace the gasket on your pressure canner. Remove the gasket from the lid of your pressure canner and look for cracks in the rubber or signs of disintegration. Bad gaskets will affect your canners ability to reach and maintain proper pressure while in use. Gaskets should be replaced every 2-3 years as part of your canners maintenance regimen. You can pick one up online or at your local hardware store for around $10 or less.
Get your dial gauge tested (Weighted gauges do not require testing). You can take your dial gauge to your county extension office to have it tested, often free of charge (be sure to call ahead so they have someone on staff to test it for you), . It is recommended to have your gauge tested and adjusted if need be before each canning season to ensure your safety. Gauges that read high can result in under-processed foods that are unsafe to consume. Ones that read low can result in not only over-processed canned food but it increases the risk of dangerous kitchen mishaps. If your gauge tests more that 2 pounds off, high or low it should be replaced. Cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged gauges must be replaced. You can find replacements online for around $15. Other places that test dial gauges include hardware stores and companies like “Presto” that manufacture canning equipment.
Sort through your collection of can rings. Discard any rusty, worn, or dented rings. Dents can mean an improper seal. Rust can transfer to the lids making it hard to remove the ring from the jar causing the lid to loosen when removing the ring before storage. To avoid rust, remember to always remove the ring from your canned goods 24 hours after removal from the canning vessel before long term storage. Then wash them in warm soapy water, drying them thoroughly to ensure they have a long rust free life. Leaving the rings on the jars can also cause a false seal or rust eating through can lids making food unsafe. Don’t want to just throw away your busted rings? GO HERE AND HERE to see some great ways to re-purpose those rings!
Inspect those jars. As you work your way through your pantry this winter wash your jars with warm soapy water and while they are still wet run your finger around the rim of each jar to check for any nicks or chips in the glass that would cause an improper seal. Discard any jars with defects, or give them a new life as decorations in your home. I like to use mine as vases for all the bouquets my boys carefully pick for me in the summer months. Store unused jars upright, not upside down. I like to place a hunk of cardboard on top of them to block dust from entering to make cleaning and sterilizing easier next season.
Watch for off season deals. Keep your peepers peeled at your favorite stores for canning equipment on sale. You can often find great deals on jars, lids, rings, and maybe even that large capacity pressure canner you day dreamed of while you started your 5th load of canned beef this October. Now is also a great time to cruise the ball website for tested canning recipes to try something new and different next season. I’ve found some of my favorite recipes there…even an apple pie filling recipe that earned first place at the county fair this year!
Over the last few years I have developed a serious complex when it comes to wasting food. Especially wasting food that I spent my hard sought after time and garden space growing. I think every food can be delicious when it’s used (or hidden) properly…Like radishes for instance! I grow radishes to mark my rows of carrots, since carrot seedlings are very thin and can be very hard to spot. Radishes grow quickly forming big leaves that easily mark the row and they kind of help loosen up the soil so the carrots can get a better foothold. Once I can actually see the carrot seedlings popping up I pull the radishes. I also hate radishes. Even on it’s best day a radish tastes like a spicy cabbage fart and I can’t even stand to have them on a relish tray.
So there I sat with a mountain of radishes. Hating them, but not wanting to waste them. Then I started thinking about pepper jelly and how the spicy weirdness of it is absolutely delicious dumped over cream cheese and the light bulb went off. Radish Jam! So I hunted down some old old old recipes and by god, there it was! Some other radish-hater had the same epiphany as I did, I tweaked it to my preferences and I’d love to share it with you!
I used a beautiful variety of radish for this recipe called: French Breakfast. They are oblong with vibrant pink and red on the top and white on the bottom. As radishes go they would probably be my favorite if only for being very pretty. They still taste like a radish.
Also, I realize that all my radish-hate may have turned you off this recipe, but seriously, I wouldn’t share it if it was bad. It is very unique and I think it would be fun to bring to a party and get everyone to try it if only for novelty sake alone. It’s tart, it’s sweet, it’s spicy and tastes nothing like a radish!
Radish Jam Recipe:
Yield: 4-5 4oz jelly jars
2 Cups Grated Radishes
2 ½ Cups Sugar
3 tsp Horseradish
¾ cup water
3 Tbs Cranberry Concentrate
One .75oz envelope of pectin
In a medium saucepan combine grated radishes, sugar, horseradish, water, & cranberry concentrate. Heat on medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and add envelope of pectin continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, pour into sterilized jars and process via hot water bath method for 10 minutes.
To serve: Spread over 8oz block of cream cheese and devour with your favorite crackers!
This is the first year our four rhubarb plants produced enough stalks to actually do something with, so for the first time I made Strawberry Rhubarb Jam! I just love this combination of two of the seasons first crops. It’s tangy, sweet and perfect on warm flaky biscuits, on top of ice cream, or even smeared all over your morning waffles!
This recipe contains no added pectin to help it thicken so you will need to set aside a bit more time to allow the jam to cook down and thicken on it’s own. As always remember: Safety First! Sterilize your jam jars, lids & rings before you begin. You can do this by running the jars and rings through the dishwasher, or boiling them in a pot on the stove. In a small pan, boil the lids for 5 minutes.
In a large pot combine all ingredients, stir gently over medium heat until contents begin to boil but NOT violently. You may need to adjust the heat as you go. Lava jam burns are no fun! Stir occasionally but allow to cook for at least one hour or until the mixture has thickened. When it coats the back of your spoon and doesn’t have runny drips the jam is done! Ladle into prepared jars on a towel, secure rings and lids. Now it’s time to can the jam! Place your jam jars in a hot water bath canner (a large pot will work just fine if you don’t have a canner), cover the jars with water and boil the jars for 10 minutes. After canning remove the jars from the canner and allow them to cool undisturbed on the counter for 24 hours. You will hear the “pop” of the lids shortly! This means your canning efforts were successful. If any jars didn’t seal, pop them into the fridge and use up within a week.
Enjoy! My family loves this recipe, and …if you can manage to not stuff it all in your face it makes a great gift too!