Just Mad About Canning
Wednesday February 13th 2013, 10:38 pm

shelves laden with comestibles

I’ve been a keen jam maker for donkeys years. Since I was 20, it’s been rare that a summer has passed by without a batch of strawberry or damson jam reaching setting point in my little kitchen. I love the tradition and never tire of celebrating the berry season each year. A few years ago I started **canning and learnt of a life beyond … jam.

Jam is lovely, and all that, and I’m still jam making with avengeance, but once you know how to can or bottle stuff in jars, it opens up another preserving dimension altogether. I now ‘put up’ all kinds of compotes, purees, pie fillings, cordials, syrups and ketchups. Sometimes I preserve fruit without any added sugar at all so my beautiful jarred comestibles become potential ingredients ready to turn into dishes, desserts and baked goods later down the line. More recently I’ve begun pressure canning vegetable soup and pulses made with homegrown vegetables from the plot.

**Canning or bottling enables produce in jars to be processed in such a way that the contents will become sterilised and so keep for a year or more safely unopened. The process involves immersing the filled jars in a boiling water bath or heating them under pressure using a special pressure canner. The correct technique called for depends on the acidity or alkalinity of the ingredients.

corner of my sitting room with comestibles

At first my ambition was to fill the shelves. A well stocked pantry or store cupboard is a thing of beauty with a real feelgood factor and the added advantage a ready supply of comestibles means you wont starve. So I filled the shelves with colourful and flavour-filled jars in tidy ordered rows till there was hardly room to fit more, all very satisfying. Then I realised the turnaround, opening jars and using up the contents, was the next vital part of the job. The scraping sound as the spoon scoops the last morsels from the sides of the jar has become music to my ears. Oh yes, an empty jar offers another opportunity, to be refilled with something even more delicious. And so the cycle continues. I’m on a voyage of discovery to find the preserves I adore and can’t get enough of. I don’t want anything nondescript taking up valuable shelf space in my house.

shelves laden with comestibles

Learning how to can or bottle produce has totally changed my approach to how I source ingredients, store food and cook it. Making use of mainly homegrown or locally grown produce means naturally following the seasons and going with the flow. I feel it allows me to appreciate more living in the moment. I just love that.

Bottling fruit was once a common activity in the UK, especially during wartimes until freezing food became the easier option. Once every household had a freezer, bottling was seen as to much of a faff, all but one of the companies in the UK making the necessary equipment died a death and only a handful of diehard allotmenteers and make do and menders managed to keep the craft alive. I too own a freezer and it is filled to busting with stuff I generally forget about. I have realised that if I freeze some homegrown veg, all the while it languishes in the freezer it is clocking up additional cost. It is an expense most of us are quite prepared to accept, but with utility bills rapidly on the rise, these considerations become more relevant. Those bargain beans will have cost a fair bit more by the time I use them, that’s if I remember to use them at all of course. Alternatively, the joy of jars on shelves means once bottled the food doesn’t cost a penny more or require defrosting either. Pop open the jar and it’s ready to go. It is surely time to revive this culinary craft and give a big tick for sustainability.

But apart from all the practical reasons to love canning, the flavours are the biggest plus. I was brought up to think that preserved foods were second rate and nowhere near as tasty as fresh. What I have experienced first hand confounds these ideas. By following correct practice and keeping cooking times safe but to a minimum, you can capture the most intense and delicious flavours in a jar, capture the absolute essence of those ingredients.

These Are few of My Favourite Things :
Squashed Strawberries
With months of rain over the summer, 2012 was a difficult one for growing fruit and veg here in the UK. For a couple of weeks in July a freak strawberry glut meant strawberries were on sale at a bargain price, juicy, flavourful local strawberries. I bought loads and bottled them. They have been my favourite and most useful preserve of the year and they’ve been eaten with yogurt, rice pudding, cake … just about anything. Now down to my last couple of jars and hoping such good fortune is to be found this summer for a repeat performance. Canning means you can make the most of bargain-priced ingredients when they come your way.

Rhubarb Ketchup

I gave my recipe for rhubarb ketchup a couple of years ago and it has been a big hit with everyone who has tried it. I like to add it to my vegetarian cottage pie. I grow rhubarb anyway, so is generally in plentiful supply and I try to make enough ketchup to see me through the year. This is a good one for people with savoury tastes too.

forced rhubarb and a crate of quince

Quince Blood Orange Cordial

Stocking up with cordials is when canning makes such sense. You can make combinations you will never see for sale anywhere and quince blood orange and coriander definitely fits that category. (For this fabulous recipe see my top-notch canning chum Shae’s blog – Hitchhiking to Heaven) Can be given added sparkle or served flat, scope is endless for a non-alcoholic tipple or as part of more potent cocktails.

Straight Bottled Morellos

Though the canning cycle naturally runs over 12 months, some people like to stock up for longer in case next year their tomato crop is destroyed by blight or unpredictable spring weather ruins the quince harvest that should rightfully follow. Most produce if bottled and stored correctly will stay good for a year or two. I’ve got a couple of jars of morello cherries bottled in 2011, still delicious and destined to become clafoutis. Fingers crossed the local cherry harvest is bountiful this summer so I can stock up again.

apple syrup with vanilla


It is always so much easier to have someone who knows what they are doing to show you the ropes. Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms Marmite Lover) has invited me to run a special canning class on 3rd March 2013 starting at 2pm, as part of The Secret Garden Club at her The Underground Restaurant, in North London, followed by a special supper focusing on food from jars.
At Canning for Beginners, you will learn all you need to know to get started; Which ingredients call for what approach, a basic sequence to follow every time you prepare your jars, how to water process high acid ingredients and a brief introduction to pressure canning for low acid ingredients and what you need to consider to keep your canning safe.

We will cover the best jars to use, how they work and what tools and equipment you will need and I will be advising on the best sources for specialist bits and pieces that are harder to find.
 After bottling some fruit compote to take home, there will be a meal based around preserved ingredients.
Be prepared to be surprised by just how wonderful the flavours of preserved foods can be.

Soup in a jar

Selection of Cheeses and individual hand pies with an abundance of pickles and relishes to go with and sample. The pickles and relishes to include jarred garlic scapes, black grape chilli jam, pickled golden beetroot with onion, rhubarb ketchup, pickled greengages, etc.

Little Cardamon or almond puddings baked in vintage French jars served with pear vanilla compote or roasted rhubarb and clotted cream.

Damson mincemeat and Bramley apple jalousie served with ginger syrup cream.

You will leave with a goody bag to take home containing a preserving jar, a pair of jar lifters and a list of useful resources as well as my suggested reading list so you feel ready to go off and stock your own pantry with wonderful things.

The event is by ticket only and there are limited places available. To reserve you place book here.

bottled morello cherries

Tuesday March 30th 2010, 4:29 pm

fancy a slice of victoria sponge

For me, running a business has at times felt disappointing. Obstacles seem designed to get in the way of creative thinking, and it takes training and experience to restore your enthusiasm and energy at times. Creative ideas are what fuel and excite me. The days of setting up a stall of your wares down the Kings Road, just because you could, are long gone. Spitalfields used to have that excitement for me too, but once the potential is spotted, big business takes over and the cost of shop leases goes through the roof. The many shows where individual makers can sell their wares, end up costing an arm and a leg to take part and you really have to know what you are doing to turn them to your advantage and make them pay. Unless you’re dead smart, most of ones business life can be coined by the phrase ‘putting it down to experience’. But what joy, the spirit of entrepreneurial adventure lives and this weekend I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

ms marmite did a demonstration how to make focaccia shots

This Sunday the first underground farmers and craft market was held in secret in Kilburn, north west London. I say secret, because as an underground event it was operating outside the conventional ways of doing these things. Thirty-odd businesses, artisan makers, keen amateurs and a couple of friends who thought it might just be fun to do some baking, put our their wares in any space available in an ‘ordinary’ one bedroom flat with garden, summerhouse and balcony, the abode of the marvellous ms marmite lover. MsMarmitelover, has for some time now been causing a stir with her underground restaurant, holding special suppers in her home, attendance by ticket only. She is most definitely a trail blazer with a streak of anarchy. I have been following her on Twitter for some time now and when she tweeted to say she was hoping to hold a farmers and craft market in her sitting room, might anyone be interested to take part, I was there like a shot.

gloria's (that's me) glorious curd tarts

As a person who needs a deadline, it was a good reason to make me sort out some packaging for my jams, marmalades and fruit curds, at the same time without it being too big a deal. I made raspberry and blackberry curds using some frozen fruits grown organically here at Taurus Crafts and using eggs from my neighbour Jane Hale’s hens, that were as fresh as fresh can be. If I say so myself, they are pretty damn fab. I served up tasters in tiny pastry cases, tweeny weeny curd tarts stacked on my homemade wacky cake stand. I also made 2 marmalades; bitter seville marmalade and my special pink grapefruit, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade as well as a jam that went down a treat; rhubarb, blueberry and lime jam.

gloria's glorious jams

Back to the market, in the house, every inch of space was utilised to its best. Someone created a cocktail bar on the ironing board, the mantel shelf was used to display cupcakes, my jam jars were lined up along the top of the upright piano and the bed was strewn with wonderful baked goods and crocheted flowers. Occasional tables became shop fronts for chutneys, cup cakes, more cup cakes, sauerkraut, chocolate brownies, all the foodstuffs you could ever dream of, and a steady stream of enthusiastic customers wandered through, tasting and sampling as they went. There were wacky tourettes biscuits embossed with rude words, cupcakes in handmade flowery boxes and bundles of napkins made of 50’s inspired fabrics. It was utterly totally lovely.

The Underground Restaurant's dead good muesli

There were cookery demonstrations taking part in the kitchen; how to make your own hollumi cheese, Ms Marmite made her very own focaccio shots, that were delicious, Porridge lady made porridge the proper way using organic oatmeal and a lot of stirring. The atmosphere was buzzing and others taking part were a friendly bunch. I only wish I had had more time to enjoy the event as a customer. This will no doubt be the start of a new craze. Whether or not such energy can be recreated remains to be seen, but I’m up for it.

To be kept up to date on MsMarmite Lovers events you can find her blog here.
To see more of my pictures from the day look here and even more here. Feature in the London Evening Standard here.
Apologies for not naming all the participants photographed or taking pictures of everyone who took part, I had too much on my plate to record all that information.

Crumbelina's cupcakes to go