Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Love Those Canning Jars!


The first Mason jar was developed in 1858 by Philadelphia tinsmith John Landis Mason. Those glass jars have been made by other companies since then, the most well-known being the Ball Corporation. Through the years they’ve been called Mason jars, canning jars, fruit jars and Ball jars.

The jars consist of 3 parts – the glass jar, a flat lid with seal and a ring or band that screws onto the jar. The jars and rings can be used multiple times, of course, but the flat lids are meant for one-time use only as the seal would not be tight with multiple uses. Some early jars had a wire bail closure, and the zinc lids have been popular to collectors.

These jars have been highly collectible over the years, and can be found at flea markets, yard sales, antique stores, etc. They are primarily clear glass, but some blue jars can fetch a pretty high price. You can also find half-gallon and gallon sizes.

My mother canned quite a bit over the years, everything from green beans to tomatoes. I remember that old pressure canner hissing away while the jars inside heated and sealed – it terrified me! I normally freeze foods rather than can, but have been known to make jams and apple butter. One year I tried a pumpkin butter recipe that was so good…I’ll have to try that one again.

Jars have been used over the years for purposes other than canning, too. They’re great for storage – I have several that contain old buttons! They make great drinking glasses and vases for flowers. In the photo above you'll see a lamp - a jar filled with shells and with a shell-stencilled shade. Jars are great for cookie mixes and other similar recipes. They have recently become popular for desserts, such as mini pies, parfaits, etc. There are many recipes online, and new cookbooks coming out all the time with recipes for all these mini-treats.

I recently made a cherry cheesecake parfait that was so easy and very tasty.

CHERRY CHEESECAKE PARFAIT

1/2 package refrigerated pie dough
1 package sugar-free cheesecake instant pudding
1 can cherry pie filling
1 teaspoon almond extract
whipped topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring the dough to room temperature and flatten out on floured board. Cut into rounds with 1 1/2- to 2-inch cookie cutter. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to rack to cool.

In the meantime, prepare the pudding according to package directions. In separate bowl combine pie filling and almond extract.

In half-pint jars place one pastry circle, then pudding. Top with pie filling. Repeat as many times as desired. Top with whipped topping.

This one is so quick and easy! But you could do any flavor combination you like - it looks like a perfect opportunity to experiment, doesn’t it? And they can be made ahead. Just top the jar with a lid and band and keep in the refrigerator until serving time.

Note: The first time I made something like this I used pint jars - way too much dessert! The half-pint jars are the perfect single-serving size.

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TIP TUESDAY

I’m sure you can guess the topic for today. There are two styles of canning – pressure and water-bath. The pressure canning is for low-acid vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. Water-bath canning is for high-acid fruits and is perfect for jams, jellies, pickles, etc. Pots for the two types are both large, but quite different. The water-bath canner will have a rack inside that typically holds 7 jars and a lid that just sits on the top as with any other saucepan. The pressure canner has a lid that locks and seals in place with a pressure valve on top. During the canning process this valve helps regulate the pressure inside the canner so that the cans will seal properly and the food will be preserved.

1) Always be sure jars are in good condition, with no cracks or nicks in the top. Again, the rings or bands can be used multiple times, but be sure to use new lids.

2) Be organized and work quickly so that food will be preserved at its peak of freshness. Have all supplies ready so you don’t have to stop and look for them.

3) There are tools available to make your canning project go much more smoothly, such as funnels that fit tops of both regular and wide-mouth jars perfectly, jar lifters, a tool to remove air pockets, a magnetic lid wand, tongs, etc.

4) Wash jars, lids and bands in very hot soapy water. Place lids and bands in a large saucepan of simmering water and leave until ready to use. Do not remove from water before ready to place on jars. Place jars in a large pot and fill with water until jars are submerged. Bring water to a boil and boil 10 minutes. Leave in water until ready to use.

5) Fill jars to 1/4 inch from top – this is called “head space”. Remove air bubbles with special tool or with skewer, then place lid and band on jar and process according to your canner and recipe instructions.

6) Follow your recipe to the letter and do not substitute ingredients. For example, do not substitute canning or kosher salt with table salt. Table salt can have iodine added, as well as an additive to prevent caking. Your finished product could be off-color or cloudy. 

7) If your canned product doesn’t seal the first time, try a new lid and reprocess. If it doesn’t seal the second time, either freeze or use the food right away. You can tell if the jar lid has sealed in several ways. One is to hear the “thunk” as it seals. Hold the jar at eye level – if the lid has a downward curve in the center it is sealed. And if you press down on the lid and it “gives”, it isn’t sealed properly.

8) If you plan to can often, it’s a good idea to stock your pantry with most of the ingredients you’ll need. Of course, the vegetables and fruits should be as fresh as possible, but you can store the following for quite a while:

canning or kosher salt
honey and sugar
vinegar with 5% acidity
herbs and pickling mixes
pectin, both powdered and liquid
ascorbic acid

Well, working on this post has really given me the “canning bug”, and I’m thinking it’s time to make some jam. My local market had blueberries on sale a while back, and I put quite a few in the freezer. A good blueberry jam does sound great. And I may just give that pumpkin butter another try. My husband loves the good apple butter that we make, so that’s also on my list, and I can hardly wait for the fall apple crop.

Let me know what you love to can – I’d love to hear from you. And Happy Canning!
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“I won all the blue ribbons at the state fair” (Loretta Lynn)

So she does much more than sing!
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Today is Radio Day, so turn yours on and give it a listen! I have several stations that I listen to, usually depending on my mood. It could be oldies from the 30s and 40s with those great old standards and crooners, or it could be early rock and roll from the 50s and 60s, or sometimes it’s classical or instrumental. 

Tomorrow is Senior Citizens Day. I am one of those – and deservedly so! I think I’ve earned every one of these gray hairs. So if you aren’t one, be kind  to those of us who are. Smile
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

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