I had no personal experience with canning and preserving fruit, so when an opportunity to observe presented itself, I jumped on it.
Handling fruit and canning is a beautiful, sensory process. You start with nurturing the fruit trees, then picking the ripe fruit, cooking the jam with pectin and sugar, filling the sterilized jars, and tasting their perfect sweet goodness on (ideally!) freshly baked bread.
The whole process is rich with intriguing colors, fragrances, sounds, and tastes. Sounds like art to me—so perfect for a special place on my art blog.
For my grandmother and great-grandmother, canning was an ordinary task. In the same category as creating springerle cookies with intricate faith-based patterns pressed into the dough, or pickling vegetables, the process of preserving fruit in the form of beautiful jams or jellies, was a seasonal job.
The goal was to maximize every ounce of usable food from the gardens. These industrious, hardworking grandmothers lived in a little river town in Nebraska where the soil favored delicious produce and grain. They stored all these canned and preserved products in a true “root cellar”: a dirt room under the house a step off the kitchen. Of course, living in “tornado alley”, this dank cave with its earthy smell—that I remember to this day—also served as a well-stocked storm shelter.
So, in the summer at a garden in northern Minnesota, when I noticed that canning was about to being, I invited myself to watch the process.
First the fruit was picked from the trees. The gardeners had several plum trees. As is typical with many fruits or vegetables. When the crop is ready, it needs to be picked right then. There is a window of time when it is ripe and that is the essential time to pick it to maximize the harvest.
This is a dwarf plum tree with one of the gardeners ready to harvest the fruit.
The fruit itself is gorgeous. (Note, you can purchase items with this image at Cafe Press.)
Next the fruit is washed and sorted. In each piece of fruit, the center stone (large seed or pit) is taken out, and the fruit is sliced.
Fun fact: dried plums are known as prunes; dried grapes as raisins. Why don’t we call them “dried (blank)” instead of giving them a whole new name?
The fruit is put in a large pot and cooked down with sugar and an agent to jell it such as pectin. Sometimes spices or herbs (cinnamon or basil, etc.) may be added to enhance the flavor. Check your recipe or your imagination if you are attempting your own home canning.
The jars and lids are boiled.
The jam is poured into the sterilized jars.
Stay organized so you can easily move through the line-up of filling jars and adding the lids.
After the jars are filled and lids are added, put the jars back in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove. Let the jars cool. And enjoy!!
If safe canning practices have been followed (as in this post), the jars can be held at room temperature for quite a while. They should be refrigerated after opening.
Since canning is a chemical process that needs to be following strictly for food safety, please use care, use thermometers, and follow recipes. The USDA has helpful guides on home canning Also advice on food safety is available from FoodSafety.gov
Do you have favorite fruits that you preserve? Let us know in the comments!