I spent last weekend doing the can-can. Now, I’ m no Elaine Benes, but everyone who knows me knows I’ m not much of a dancer (and the speakers at Geddy’ s — back when it actually was Geddy’ s — don’ t count). So I can assure you I was not doing high kicks in my living room. Nor was I wearing petticoats.
I did end up wearing a lot of raspberry puree, however.
The can-can I’ m talking about required a lot of fresh produce, a bunch of Ball jars, a healthy amount of salt, vinegar and spices, an unhealthy amount of sugar and more coordination than I thought I had.
ShopGuy and I are canning up a storm this summer, and we’ re certainly not alone. In my other, nonShopGirl life, I work for UMaine, and our county Cooperative Extension offices are fielding a lot of calls from first-time canners. Now, I’ m not going to give you a primer on proper preservation procedures — I’ ll leave that to the experts (www.umext.maine.edu). But I will give you a heads-up on what you’ ll need to buy — and where you can find it — if you want to go all Martha Stewart on your garden.
This time of year, you can find canning supplies all over the place — we bought ours at Parks Hardware in Orono, but jars, lids, starter kits and other must-haves can be found at most traditional hardware stores, Blue Seal and mass-market retailers such as Wal-Mart. Before you buy supplies, however, I recommend you pick up a copy of the “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving” or spend some time on the University of Georgia’ s National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site (www.uga.edu/nchfp). That way, you’ ll know exactly what you do — and don’ t — need to buy.
Let me start off by clearing up a few misconceptions. Those old-fashioned wire-bale canning jars with glass lids and rubber seals should not be used for canning (www.villagekitchen.com).
Ditto for the lovely “European-style” jars with glass lids and metal clips that you see in the magazines (www.lehmans.com). Both of these options make great candle holders, and they’ re fine to use for things that you don’ t plan to put up over the winter — like pickled beets or olives that you’ ll eat within a month. For long-term storage, these jars might not seal as tightly as they should, which opens up a whole bunch of unsavory — and potentially life-threatening — possibilities.
Unfortunately, I’ m a little underwhelmed by the country-kitchen aesthetics of modern-day canning jars. I have to admit, I’ m not a fan of the fruit pattern on the lid, the quilted glass or the labels Jarden Home Brands (which manufactures Ball and Mason jars) includes. I get it — canning is practical. It can stretch summer’ s bounty well into the winter, saving money and flavor. But I always like to mix a little pretty in with my practical.
Clearly, my friends at Jarden feel my pain, because they introduced the Elite Collection with its sleek(ish) lines and platinum lids a few years back (www.kitchenkrafts.com). But I’ m SO not spending $8 for four canning jars. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’ t it?
So last weekend, after I bubbled, bubbled, boiled and troubled over my first-ever batch of blackberry-raspberry jam, I grudgingly ladled it into sterilized quilted-glass jelly jars. Then I started thinking up ways to jazz them up. One easy solution? Make my own labels. I headed over to Jo-Ann Fabric, which had a 30 percent off sale on rubber stamps. I picked up a cute one with a little tag on it, and I’ m going to stamp it on plain old mailing labels from Staples. Feeling inspired, I grabbed a yard of gingham fabric, which I’ ll cut into circles and place between the lid and the screw-on ring — that will cover up the ‘ 80s fruit pattern quite nicely.
Next, I went to Blue Seal, which is a canner’ s delight. The store has everything: cookbooks, spice mixtures and all the jars you could ever need — including the 1-gallon wire-bale model I wanted ($13). No, I’ m not contradicting myself. I’ m using it to store half-sour pickles in the fridge while they, well, half-sour. If we had any room, I’ d buy ShopGuy a ceramic pickle crock at www.leeners.com. But we don’ t. So I won’ t.
Feeling inspired, I headed over to Borders and got the closest thing I could find to a gourmet canning cookbook, “The Complete Guide to Small-Batch Preserving” by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. A further online search revealed a little book called “Putting Up” by Steve Dowdney.
It’ s on my list of things to buy. But for now, I’ m going to have to “put up” with my poor attempt at mastering the berry jam recipe from the “Ball Blue Book.” It has been four days and my jam still hasn’ t set. Good thing I didn’ t waste any of my homemade labels on it, because it looks like my can-can was a can’ t-can’ t.
About last week &
A note from a concerned reader on last week’ s scooter column:
Nice piece on scooters. Please tell your friend that bicycle gloves and denim jackets from the Talbots (or anywhere else) are NOT proper protective gear for scooterists and motorcyclists. Only protective gear specifically designed for such use is of any value. It is not unreasonable to expect to spend around $1,000 for a complete and proper riding “kit,” as our British friends call it.
Very often when well-intended but, untrained, unaware individuals climb on a cute scooter or motorbike, they wind up very seriously injured (or killed) through their own ignorance. Rider training and protective gear are essential for a long, happy, safe career on two wheels. Riding is exciting, socially responsible and environmentally smart. But jump on without training and the right riding gear and someone may as well be tossing you a hand grenade with the pin pulled.
Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach