This weekend I pulled out the canning equipment
from a back shelf in my laundry room. I haven't
used it in years!
I didn't grow up with much canning in my family.
If we came home from Bramhall Woods with a pail
filled with blackberries and the scratches to show
for the effort, my Mum would take pity and whip
up a batch of jam but it wasn't something that
happened on a regular basis.
Her brother on the other hand was mad for gardening
and always put up some of the fruits of his labor. Uncle
Ed would make the best zucchini pickles and once we
said to him, "Unc, the zucchini is great but we fight over
the onions at the bottom of the jar." Wouldn't you know,
the next season he put up jars of just the onions. We
would pull off a piece of Italian bread, spread it with
some brie and top it with the pickled onions ~ it was
When I moved to the Midwest twenty-five years ago
(25!), I was in my Country Living phase. I dreamed
of living in an old farmhouse and going down to the
cellar to shelves lines with jars of things I canned
from my garden. Of course, I didn't know how to can
but I was moving to the Midwest and thought I would
learn. About 30 minutes away from where I lived at
the time was Muncie, Indiana, the home of the Ball
Corporation, the canning jar people. I marched into
their corporate office building one day and admired
all the old jars in their lobby and asked where do I
find out information about canning? They looked at
me like I had two heads. They had no idea. I told them
I had to teach myself through books and I generally
stuck to just fruits. I would go to the strawberry farm
every June and pick 30 pounds of strawberries and make
jam. When the kids were little, we had friends who
lived in the country who had grapes on their property.
We would fill the station wagon with boxes of grapes and
go home and make a big mess and enough grape jelly to
last us all year.
Then life got too busy for canning but luckily we had our
Uncle Jamie who was a mad scientist in his kitchen and
he whips up all sorts of chutneys and pickles and preserves.
Every Thanksgiving he comes with boxes filled with goodies
so we really relied on his delicious efforts.
When we were at his house after the big trip this summer he
served us a snack that used his Pike County Tomato Preserves.
Kate and I were crazy for it and we said we'd make some for
ourselves this summer.
It is tomato season in our neck of the woods and this
was the weekend to "put up" some preserves. I went
to the Farmer's Market at Minnetrista yesterday
morning which coincidentally is where the Ball Brothers
lived years ago, their mansions still stand on the property.
The first table I went to had a display of Ball canning items
and the ladies were making Bread and Butter pickles.
They gave me some good info on where to find the best
stores with the largest selection of canning items. We
picked up some tomatoes from another vendor and also
stopped at a farm stand near our house.
I made two batches of Pike County Tomato Preserves.
The recipe calls for tomatoes, an orange, a lemon, sugar,
salt and pumpkin pie spice. Mine aren't as good as
Uncle Jamie's but I'm happy for my first attempt.
We like to eat ours on a thin cracker spread with whipped
cream cheese and topped with the preserves. Num!
In the stores I was happy to see a big selection of
canning supplies. There must be a resurgence of
interest for major retailers to give up that much shelf
space to canning. I had to take home these little jar
toppers. They are made to look like a fabric and
ribbon top that we have all used at one time or
another but they are made of silicon so they keep
your jams or jellies fresh in the fridge since it keeps
the jar airtight.
I'm already thinking about zucchini pickles...