Pull 'Food in Jars' Off the Shelf and Get to Work

Cooking How-To, How-To, In Season, Recipes, Summer
on July 9, 2012

When there’s too much of a good thing—in this case, summer produce—that’s the time to can just a couple of jars of something wonderful with a recipe from Food in Jars.

Call it casual canning, Food in Jars is a simplified approach for the uncommitted canner from slashfood and seriouseats blogger Marisa McClellan. Food in Jars offers a bloggy aesthetic on sourcing the produce, demonstrating the steps and developing the recipes.

Canning for today’s cooks is usually by choice or accident rather than necessity.  There’s less likely to be a big garden or a kitchen full of canning gear yet still plenty of interest in all the good things that can be preserved in a jar. A prospective canner today likely obtains fruit and vegetables from a small garden, a friend’s garden, a farmers’ market or a CSA box. McClellan’s recipes are scaled to use these small windfalls to make less than six jars.

The cooking, canning and boiling processes are illustrated with detailed, unstaged photos. A lifter hauls a hot jar from boiling water, a spoon drawn through Meyer lemon curd shows its hearty texture. Phrases like “fingertip tighten” and “sheeting from a spoon” finally make sense when pictures shows how they work.

What’s in those jars has changed. Less inspired by excess cucumbers and more by a salsa from Trader Joe’s, a Chinese condiment or a pitcher of sangria, foods like corn salsa, cherries in wine syrup and vanilla cinnamon sunflower butter keep up with how people shop, cook and eat now.

Food in Jars tips its hat to an enduring affection for the classics like dill pickles, apple pear chutney, dilly beans, pickled green tomatoes, and Concord grape. There’s a reason they’re classic, after all. Favorites get a tweaking with a new flavor or format—pickled peaches get a dousing of bourbon, apples are paired with pumpkin for a butter.

Adventurous recipes explore making jelly from mulled cider and reinterpreting Vietnamese pickled carrots.

And if your kitchen runneth over in the old-fashioned way from a kitchen garden or fruit tree, there are plenty of recipes for use things that might grow in your very own neighborhood, like figs, pears, plums, peppers, okra and (of course!) tomatoes.

Food in Jars by Melissa McClellan (Running Press, 2011)

–By Nicki Pendleton Wood

Excerpt from Food in Jars:

How to Process

  1. If you’re starting with brand-new jars, remove their lids and rings. If you’re using older jars, check the rims to make sure there are no chips or cracks.
  2. Put the rack into the canning pot and put the jars on top.
  3. Fill the pot (and jars) with water to cover and bring to a boil. I have found that this is the very easiest way to heat up the jars in preparation for canning because you’re going to have to heat up the canning pot anyway. Why not use that energy to heat up the jars as well?
  4. Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to the barest simmer on the back of the stove.
  5. While the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare your product.
  6. When your recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars) and set them on a clean towel on the counter. There’s no need to invert them; the jars will be so hot that any remaining water will rapidly evaporate. Remove the lids with tongs or a magnetic lid wand and lay them out on the clean towel.
  7. Carefully fill the jars with your product. Depending on the recipe, you’ll need to leave between 1/4 and 1/2 inch/6 mm and 12 mm of headspace (that’s the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar). Jams and jellies typically get 1/4 inch/6 mm, while thicker products and pickles get 1/2 inch/12 mm.
  8. Wipe the rims of the jar with a clean, damp paper towel or the edge of a clean kitchen towel. If the product you’re working with is very sticky, you can dip the edge of the cloth in distilled white vinegar for a bit of a cleaning boost.
  9. Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of your fingers to ensure that they aren’t overly tight. This process is known as “fingertip tight.”
  10. Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot. You may need to remove some water as you put the jars in the pot. A heat-resistant measuring cup is the best tool for this job, as it won’t transfer heat to your hand.
  11. Once the pot has returned to a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of the processing time will vary from recipe to recipe.
  12. When your timer goes off, promptly remove the jars from the water bath. Gently place them back on the towel-lined countertop and let them cool.
  13. The jar lids should begin to ping soon after they’ve been removed from the pot. The pinging is the sound of the seals forming; the center of the lids will become concave as the vacuum seal takes hold. After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, remove the bands and check the seals. You do this by grasping the jar by the edges of the lid and gently lifting it an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold fast.
  14. Once you’ve determined that your seals are good, you can store your jars in a cool, dark place (with the rings off, please) for up to a year. Any jars with bad seals can still be used—just store them in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.