By Garland Mason
Growing up, my family ate decent food. We did the bulk of our grocery shopping at the local Shaw’s. We ate lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes year round without much regard to their origins. I never really did much cooking and certainly never any canning. In college, I was the typical broke student subsisting on popcorn and canned tuna. But when I moved to Vermont following my college graduation, things immediately changed. I was constantly surrounded by really good food and I had a bit of a revelation:anyone can can.
I moved here in August of 2010 and quickly found a group of kindred spirits residing in and around Poultney. This group was in the midst of a mad season of canning, a method of preserving summer’s bounty through the art of vacuum sealing food in jars. My prior relationship with canned food had been with the average supermarket pickle and the aforementioned tuna.
I immediately became fascinated with the canning process. I tried dilly beans, a dill pickle made from green beans, at the farmers market and fell in love. My friend Dayna showed me how to make them at home shortly after and I remember vividly hearing the first subtle “ping” of one of the jars’ lids, signaling it had successfully been vacuum sealed. I was so surprised by the sound that I jumped, a story that Dayna always likes to recount.
I spent countless nights that summer staying up late canning with friends, trying new recipes and waiting for the boiling-water bath used to process and seal the jars to get up to temperature. Ever since that summer I’ve been hooked. Last year I made gallons upon gallons of relishes, pickles, jams, jellies, salsas and tomato sauce.
So now it’s the time of year when anyone who knows anyone with a zucchini or squash plant has suddenly become overwhelmed with “gifts” of zucchini and summer squash. This is the perfect moment to begin to learn how to can if you don’t do it already. I recommend beginning with zucchini relish.
To get started all you need is a deep stock pot with a lid, enough canning jars for the recipe, a set of new lids for the jars, and the one specialized tool that comes in handy—a jar lifter. Once you decide to go whole hog into canning you’ll quickly realize that a $25 granite ware canner from the hardware store is worth its weight in gold, as is a canning funnel, a jar lifter and magnetic lid lifter, but in the meantime you can improvise.
When canning, it’s incredibly important to follow recipes exactly, especially as you’re just getting started. Always use tested recipes from a recent edition of Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning (many of which are available on the Ball website), Putting Food By, Food in Jars, or from the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website. Never play around with the ratio of produce to acid to water to salt. Although feel free to adjust the other spices as needed. Just make sure everything you can in a boiling water bath is low acid. That means pickles, relishes, and most jams, jellies, chutneys and salsas are good candidates. Meats, fish and vegetables that are not pickled will need to be canned with a pressure canner, a process that’s a bit more complicated.
If you decide canning isn’t for you, there’s always freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, smoking and curing, but that’s for another day.
Makes about 5 pint (500 mL) jars
- 12 cups finely chopped zucchini
- 4 cups chopped onions
- 2 red bell peppers,
- seeded and chopped
- 1 green bell pepper,
- seeded and chopped
- 1/3 cup pickling or canning salt
- 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 ½ cups white vinegar
- 1 T. ground nutmeg
- 1 T. ground turmeric
- 4 T. prepared horseradish
- 1 chili pepper, including seeds, chopped
1. In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onions, red and green peppers and pickling salt. Cover and let stand in a cool place (70 to 75 degrees F) for 12 hours or overnight. Transfer to a colander placed over a sink and drain. Rinse with cool water and drain thoroughly. Using your hands, squeeze out excess liquid.
2. In a large saucepan, combine drained zucchini mixture, sugar, vinegar, nutmeg, turmeric, horseradish and chili pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until liquid is reduced and moisture is the consistency of a thin commercial relish, about 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare water-bath canner, jars, and lids as described in any of the mentioned resources.
4. Ladle hot relish into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot relish. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid away from you. Wait 5 minutes, and then remove jars. Cool, label, and store.
Recipe from The Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning
Garland Mason works for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, heading up the New Farmer Initiative and Farm to School and Institution activities. She lives and farms West Tinmouth.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.