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Posts Tagged ‘canning’

  1. The Biggest Batch of Cranberry Sauce Ever

    November 17, 2013 by Daniora


    Autumn in New England means a lot of things. Leaves changing, the chill in the air, pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING. It’s also cranberry harvest time. Thanksgiving is coming, and no turkey dinner would be complete without cranberry sauce.

    I will admit that I am a big fan of jellied cranberry sauce from a can. It’s yummy and comforting. However, it can’t hold a candle to home made.

    When I started making my own cranberry sauce, I used to use the basic recipe from the bag consisting of cranberries, sugar, and water. Those ingredients, when combined over heat, do certainly make something one could consider cranberry sauce. It’s just not particularly good.

    This recipe came to me a few years ago from a friend of mine, and I’ve been making it every year since. The addition of apples, citrus, and sweet raisins can make a cranberry skeptic into a fan.

    This year, I decided to go big. The recipe takes a bit of time to make, and so I figured I’d just make all the sauce I’d need for the entire holiday season in one go. That means there was canning involved.

    Now with real cranberries!

    Now with real cranberries!

    Cranberry Sauce



    • 1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
    • 1 3/4 cups sugar
    • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
    • 1 orange, zest grated and juiced
    • 1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
    • 3/4 cup raisins


    1. Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open.
    2. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes.
    3. Remove from the heat and add the raisins.
    4. Let cool, and serve chilled.


    Simple! Couldn’t be easier! Then, just put it in a jar and you’re all set! Piece of cake!

    Okay, well, actually the recipe is really easy, and if you’re just making a single batch for nearly immediate consumption, it works out quite well. When you decide to triple the recipe and then can it, things get slightly trickier.

    Let me walk you through how the process actually goes.

    First off, put the giant pot of water for canning on the stove. This will take about 3 years to boil, so get it started early. Put the clean jars in so that they can boil and sterilize.


    Next, take the three bags of cranberries out of the freezer. They’ll be in the back, under all the other stuff. Dump them into a bowl. Now, you’ll need to sort through them, pulling out any little bits of stem or any shady looking cranberries. Your fingers will get cold. Rinse the berries off and put them in the pot. You will second guess the size of the pan you have chosen, but will go with it anyway. You hope this isn’t a mistake.

    Add the recommended amount of water.

    Do the math for the amount of sugar you need for a triple batch of sauce. Check the math. Check it one more time. Measure out the sugar, trying not to think about it. Dump it into the pot with the water and cranberries. You will now have a mass of frozen cranberries with an uncomfortable amount of sugar on top. This is perfectly normal. Turn on the heat.


    While your cranberry-sugar monstrosity thaws, it’s time to deal with the other fruit. Peel the apples. This takes way longer than you think it should. Every time. Cut the apple into tiny little pieces. Admire your excellent knife skills. Turn your attention to the citrus fruit. Look for the zester. It will not be in the drawer where you think it should be. Ask other utensils if they’ve seen it. Once you find it, remove the zest from the citrus, careful not to get any of the pith. This will yield a lot of zest. *Added benefit: Your hands will smell like citrus for hours.



    By this time, the cranberry sauce over on the stove should have started to heat up. You know things are progressing when you can hear the hiss and pop of the berries exploding. This is a good thing. Once most of the berries have started popping, add the zest and the apple pieces. Stir well.

    Cut the zested fruit in half. Juice said fruit into the pot of cranberry sauce. *Pro Tip: Squeeze citrus fruit into your hand over the pot in order to catch any rogue seeds. Nothing ruins Thanksgiving like biting down on a lemon seed.

    Let the sauce cook for a good 15 minutes. This will help release the pectin from the apples, helping your cranberry sauce gel later on. When everything is nicely cooked, turn off the heat.

    Once the sauce is ready and the jars are sterilized, it’s time to put the two together. Suddenly remember that you have to add the raisins. Dump them in and stir. Then you’re ready to can.

    I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every photo you’ve ever seen of someone in a pristine apron lovingly ladling jam into a jar with a serene smile is a lie. These calm people are not spooning molten hot fruit-and-sugar based napalm into tiny glass jars. They’re all staged. Real canning is messy, serious business. There are reasons why I never post photos of canning in progress; it’s not pretty. By the time I’m done, my counter top looks like something out of Dexter.

    Oh, the horror!

    Oh, the horror!

    Once the jars are filled, the rims have been wiped clean, and the rings have been screwed on tight (“Yup, I’ll just grab this jar and screw on this metal ring. Oh, that’s right, it’s filled with magma.”), then they go back into the giant pot of water to boil for 15 minutes. After that, it’s a simple matter of letting them cool.
    All joking aside, it is a lot of work, but getting all this done ahead of time will save me a lot of heartache in the end. I always wind up cooking lots of complicated things for holiday gatherings; it’s who I am. Having this one thing done early will come in handy.

  2. The Orange Marmalade Disaster

    May 4, 2012 by Daniora

    It’s getting closer to that time when I get to start canning and making jams, jellys, and preserves again. I’m sure we all remember the yummy strawberry and carrot cake jams of last year. The Nerdly Home is in the process of moving, and we’ll be near a very large weekly farmers’ market, ensuring that I’ll soon be posting lots of pictures of my spreadable triumphs.

    Lest I get too full of myself, I feel I must relate the tale of The Orange Marmalade Disaster.

    A lovely jar of marmalade

    That’s some pretty looking marmalade, isn’t it? Looks good enough to spread on a warm crumpet or maybe even a scone. It looks so refined, so elegant.

    Well, it tastes awful.

    I’m not sure why I wanted to make marmalade. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that it was winter, and one of the few things in season and actually worth canning was citrus. When cruising around looking for recipes, I found one from Alton Brown. Not only was it simple, it was from someone whose recipes I trust. I read through the recipe reviews and learned that I’d probably have to cook it longer than the recipe called for, but otherwise, they were all positive. I felt confident in the recipe and felt well prepared.

    I went to the store and bought the best looking oranges I could find. I brought them home and lovingly sliced them by hand. I enjoy using these sorts of opportunities to sharpen my knife skills.

    Sliced oranges

    This is the point where we encounter the problem with Alton Brown’s recipe. No where does it tell you what variety of oranges to use. More importantly, it doesn’t tell you what varieties not to use.

    It turns out that navel oranges, the ones that were newly in season and the best looking at the store, have way too much pith (the bitter white stuff) to use in marmalade. Well, you can use them, but you have to peel them, then remove the pith from the peel before adding the peel back into the mix. Juicing type oranges like valencias are much better, since they have a thinner layer of pith. The pith, while bitter, does contain the pectin you need to help your marmalade stay together. It’s a magical balance that takes cooking from science to art.

    So after my hours of careful cooking and canning, I wound up with eight jars of beautiful, bitter, foul tasting orange marmalade. To make matters worse, because of the excess amount of pith, I wound up with a marmalade so stiff, I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t spread it on anything if I tried. I did let the marmalade rest a few days, since some reviews and instructions said that even with the right oranges, the marmalade can be bitter immediately after it’s made and will mellow over time. This didn’t. There’s no saving it.

    So in the near future, when berries and fruits go from farmers’ market to jars in my kitchen with delicious results, let’s all remember the tragedy of the orange marmalade. We’ll call it a “learning experience” and soldier on.

  3. Carrot Cake Jam

    July 26, 2011 by Daniora

    Carrot Cake Jam

    I recently picked up a special issue from Better Homes and Gardens all about canning. It has tons of recipes for jams, preserves, and pickles. Every group of fruits and vegetables are represented, and there are even two full pages of recipes for dealing with your surplus zucchini. The issue will be available until August 9th, so I recommend picking up a copy.

    The first recipe I tried out of this new resource was for carrot cake jam. They recommend serving it on toast with a bit of cream cheese (since real carrot cake generally has cream cheese frosting). I’ve been having it on crackers, and it’s fantastic. I will say one thing about it; it’s extremely sweet. This is a jam to be used sparingly, not slathered heavily on your morning English muffin.

    Because this recipe has a pretty high yield, I wound up getting myself an actual canning pot. It can process up to eight half pint jars at a time. The one problem with this is that our kitchen is currently plagued by a particularly small stove. As a result, the canning pot and the dutch oven I use to cook the jam do not fit on the burners at the same time. This made sterilizing and warming the jars while keeping the jam hot a tricky feat. I also happened to pick a 90° day to test out this new recipe. Between the bubbling jam and the steaming canning pot, it was not a comfortable experience. However, the end result was totally worth it.

    I think the one flaw in this attempt at jam making was that I didn’t cook it quite long enough. In spite of having fantastic instructions on how to check to see if the jam is done, I completely ignored them and went purely on the cooking times given in the recipe. As a result, the jam isn’t quite as firm as it is supposed to be.This is also the first jam I’ve made using pectin, so I wasn’t entirely sure how precisely I had to adhere to the cooking times. Next time I’ll be sure to check how gelled it is before putting it in the jars.

    The recipe yields seven half pint jars, so I’ve been handing jars out to my friends and family. They have been universally well received. I’m looking forward to using it as the jam for a batch of thumbprint cookies.

  4. Simple Strawberry Jam

    April 27, 2011 by Daniora

    StrawberriesWe here at The Nerdly Home are all about making things from scratch whenever possible. That can be tough to do when things get busy. Fortunately, there are plenty of things that can be made ahead and stored for later. I’ve just started getting into canning, and I’ll admit that I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. There always seems to be one little step that I forget and everything has to be stored in the fridge instead of on a shelf. I’m definitely improving, though.

    Since my canning skills are improving, I figured it was about time for me to start making things from scratch to put in the jars.  After going through the wonderful book Canning and Preserving with Ashley English (Homemade Living), I decided that her recipe for Strawberry Jam would probably be the simplest. In spite of the weather, it is spring.  Spring is the best time for strawberries. Just be sure that if you’re making anything with strawberries, be sure to get organic.  They cost a bit more, but strawberries are one of the dirty dozen foods that retain the most toxins from pesticides.

    Simple Strawberry Jam

    • 4 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice


    1. Place two small plates in the freezer. These will be used later to test for gelling.

    2. In a large nonmetallic bowl, add the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice; stir, cover loosely with a kitchen cloth, and set aside to macerate at room temperature for 2 hours.

    3. Sterilize 3 half-pint mason jars, lids, and screw rings. Fill a canner or large stockpot with water, and set over medium-high heat. Bring just to the boiling point. Place the lids in a small saucepan, fill with water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and set the pan aside.

    4. Transfer the strawberry mixture to a medium stainless-steel pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 20-25 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Stir frequently an watch the pot carefully to prevent to contents from boiling over. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.

    5. Test for gelling. Remove a plate from the freezer and spoon about 1 teaspoon of the strawberry mixture onto it. Place the plate back in the freezer and wait 2 minutes. Remove from the freezer and push the edge of the jam with your fingertip. If the jam has gelled properly, the surface will wrinkle a bit. If it fails to wrinkle, or is obviously still runny, boil the jam for 5 minutes longer, and then repeat the test.

    6. Place the hot, sterilized jars on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. with the help of a canning funnel, ladle jam into the jars, reserving 1/4-inch headspace. Use a nonmetallic spatula to remove any trapped air bubbles, and wipe the rims clean with a damp cloth. Place the lids and screwbands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

    7. Using a jar lifter, place the jars into the canner. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling bath.

    That’s it.  Simple ingredients and simple to make. The only major problem I had with making the jam was skimming off all the foam.  There was quite a bit of it and I really didn’t have a good tool for getting it all.  As a result, I wound up with some bits of foam in my jars compromising my canning.  So, all three jars went into the fridge.  I doubt the jam will be around long enough to risk spoiling.

    This jam is delicious.  I’m having a hard time not just grabbing the jar and a spoon and eating all of it. Because it doesn’t have any added pectin, it doesn’t set up quite as firm as commercially made jams.  Be sure to have a  napkin handy if you’re putting lots of this on your sandwich.  I’m looking forward to using it to make something tasty like danish or turnovers.