Free Range on Food

Aug 10, 2011

Today's topics: Today's topics: Canning jams, pickles, chutneys and more. Special guests Cathy Barrow and Kim O'Donnel join to answer questions about all manner of home-preservation techniques.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. Today, we're all about canning. It's a can-o-rama in WaPo food -- what with our stories/recipes on global pickles by young farmers and farm workers, British-inspired chutneys from a Virginia company, and an essay on one cook's can-volution.

We have two of our favorite canning experts in the house: Cathy Barrow, who blogs at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen; and Kim O'Donnel, former longtime Postie who now lives, writes and preserves out of Seattle.

They will help get you out of any of those jams or pickles you've gotten into in the kitchen (guffaw), but of course you're welcome to also ask us about anything else food-related. We'll have cookbooks to give away to our favorite chatters, to be announced at the end of the chat.

Let's go!

I have about a dozen very ripe peaches that I have to do something with today as I am leaving town tomorrow for two weeks. I have no canning equipment and frankly do not want to buy any. Any suggestions for something I can make and freeze or something that will ok in the refrigerator for a few weeks?

I learned this trick  from a woman who has a large orchard - peel and slice about a quart of peaches. Put the slices in a freezer bag, sprinkle about 1 Tablespoon of citric acid/Fruit Fresh (to retain the color) and 1/4 cup of sugar. Shake the bag and freeze flat. To serve, allow the slices to just come to room temperature and enjoy as peach "popsicles." In January, this is one of our favorite treats, they taste so fresh, and at that point, it's been months since we had a fresh peach.

First, great articles on canning today...thanks so much for continuing to focus on canning, and it was especially nice to see Kim O'Donnel in the Post again. My question is about this week's Nourish recipe. It sounds great and I'd love to try it, but I am confused by the amounts of squash suggested...a large yellow squash and two medium zucchini. 'Large' and 'medium' are very subjective terms. You typically offer weight estimates for such items, which makes it much easier to follow the recipe. Can you please do so now...tell me about how much a large yellow squash, and two medium zucchini should weight? Thank you.

We'll try to be better about including weights. Figure a medium-size squash is 6 to 8 ounces. A large yellow squash we would call for in a recipe would be 11 to 14 ounces.

Hi KIM! I really want to start canning. Do I need to go out and buy all those crazy items to do it? What are the must have kitchen items for canners? (Excluding the obvious jars of multiple sizes and lids.)

Hey everybody, great to be back!  Your canning rig need not set you back. Got a deep stock pot? Cool. I highly recommend a rack to hold those jars in place while they're processing. They cost about 8 bucks.  Also good to have a wide mouth funnel (but not a deal breaker) and heavy duty jar lifter -- that one I won't compromise on. Ball has a new one out this year -- and it rocks.  As for air bubbler, you can use a wooden chopstick.

I need some ideas beyond cucumber salad and soup, please (but not canning pickles, please).

Where in the D.C. area can I buy inexpensive canning jars?

When folks ask me where to buy cases of jars, I always tell them to first check their local hardware store. I have some coupons for cases of jars that I can give away, too. Let's see if I can coordinate w/ Bonnie and/or Joe.

I usually prefer salty over sweet and love pickled... well... everything. Is it more difficult to pickle than just make jam? As a beginner, would you suggest starting with jam or can I jump right to pickling?

I think pickling is much easier than making jam! Jump right into pickling. Try the quickles that are in this Express Night Out article, and once you've made a pickle in a few minutes, you can try lacto fermenting cucumbers or using a hot brine with dilly beans.

LOVE that Kim and Cathy are here. I have a question about using frozen tomatoes. I will be helping a friend make tomato onion jam from a bounty of tomatoes she received. She had to freeze the tomatoes because our cooking date is a few weeks away. How should they be thawed and will using previously frozen tomatoes greatly impact the texture of the final jam?

The best thing about freezing tomatoes is how the skin will just slip right off. I say this is a good thing - you can skip the blanching, vats of boiling water, and so on. Just measure the tomatoes as you would if they were fresh and proceed with the recipe.

I got a ton of plums at the Dupont market this past weekend, they were hard but the vendor assured me they would ripen. Well that was a stupid mistake because now it's Wednesday and they are still hard as rocks. Assuming they never soften, is there anything useful I can do with them?

They'll soften. Put them in a paper bag with a banana, and that'll kick start 'em.

Is anyone aware of a red quinoa shortage or other issue? I can't find it anywhere.

Could have sworn I saw packages at Whole Foods. And you can always order via Amazon.

Hi When I searched for the 2011 list of farmers market in the area, what came up was for 2010. Please put up the site name for 2011.

Sure thing. Here you go. Not sure why the search wasn't turning up the new one, but will look into it. This link lives on our Food section front page, so if you lose it, you know where to find it. The shortcut to that page? Just remember

Kim, nice to see you back if only for a visit. You know I'm a condo dweller so I don't have a garden and don't have space for much canned goods, but my sister in S. Arlington has a huge back yard that she practically farms. I benefit from her fresh and canned tomatoes. She used to make homemade garlic dill pickles, sometimes with a jalapeno, but hasn't for a few years. I miss those.

GAFF,  like old times! You know, small batching canning is all the rage these days.  Ball has designed a jar lifter that fits 4 jars and accommodates small pots. Just sayin'...

Help! Last Wednesday, as a newbie canner, I canned some blackberries, following a recipe that I found online. It did not call for any lemon juice so I did not include any. I am now worried of the possible implications of not doing so. Please advise (crossing fingers that the preserves are still safe to eat).

I think it's still safe, but without the lemon juice, the color may fade more quickly. Just eat the jam within the next three months.

I hope you all can help me! I'm desperate to make this tart  and would like to serve it to a group of friends. A tiny issue: one of these friends is a lacto-vegetarian (she doesn't necessarily have a moral issue with eating eggs, rather she says she can taste the egg in most things and it grosses her out). Can you think of anything I can replace the ONE egg yolk in this recipe with? Your help is much appreciated!

Well, she is really NOT going to taste the egg yolk in this. Really can't imagine that she could, given that it's just one yolk for such a large amount, and there are so many things going on in the crust (and tart generally). The recipe looks great, btw.

But if you really want to avoid it, I don't think it'd be too hard to do. In this case, I bet if you just added a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of milk, that would give you the extra moistness and richness the recipe author intends. Speaking of, however, you should ask the recipe author, if you haven't already!

I have always wanted to try canning and pickling. But the hardest part is inertia and getting started. What is the best resource for just getting over the first hurdle and get started?

Start with a small project - 3 pounds of fruit for jam or a couple of pounds of vegetables for pickling - and give yourself just two or three hours. I guarantee you'll be hooked. Canning doesn't have to mean bushels of produce to preserve. Small batches are great!

Do you have any ideas for how to safely store the glass lids for my bowls and pans? Ideally they would go with the item, but then I can't stack and I don't have enough room not to, but the lids chip in their drawer.

Have you checked out the vertical lid racks that hang or can be mounted on the inside of cabinet doors?

My husband bought a plant because he thought they'd look pretty in the garden, but now that they are red and ripe I'm wondering how to use them. There aren't many recipes on the 'net other than goulash. Are they interchangeable with other peppers? Thanks for any ideas.

I love to pickle those wax peppers, they're great on a sandwich or to spice up a stew. Treat them as you would any other pepper, slice or leave whole and prick  with a knife three or four times, pack in a jar, and pour a hot brine over them. Use any spices you might like = dill, mustard seed, coriander seed, black pepper - and add a hot pepper if you want some heat.

My extended family gets together about once a month during the spring & summer to put up whatever's in season, from strawberries through apples. But we focus entirely on foods that are acidic enough that they don't require pressure canning. To be honest, this is primarily because we're sort of terrified of the whole under-pressure thing. Can your wonderful guests give me some reassurance, and maybe some tips, to ease our minds?

Pressure canning has changed my canning life. The new canners are very easy to use, and I've been happily canning under pressure for five years with no problems. I prefer the dial gauge to the weighted one, but that may be familiarity. Just read the instructions that come with the canner, commit to the project (you really can't leave the room during the processing) and think about how nice it will be to have chicken stock, home canned tuna, tomato soup, and black beans on the shelf. I'll be posting a pressure canning blog post in the next week.

Cathy is way ahead of me. I'm still making my way through water bath canning, but pressure canning is on my to-do list. I really want to be able to put up chicken stock & can Pacific albacore tuna when it's in seasons here in Seattle. Everyone who pressure cans loves it.

I was JUST saying to Bonnie yesterday that next year, pressure canning will be our thing for the annual canning section. I haven't tackled it yet, either, but my sister is a longtime devotee, and I'm ready to take the leap, too.

Hi there! A good problem to have -- lots of basil. Making pesto makes sense, of course--but can I freeze it? Any other way to "put it up" for use during winter? thanks!

I'm truly addicted to the Basil Paste that Susan Belsinger included in her recipe package on herb preserving last year. It's just amazing to be able to pull out the bag from the freezer, reach in and break off a piece, and throw it into a pan or onto, say, green beans just out of the blanching water.


Try Ayers in Arlington.

...try your local least in my area, there are usually quite a few listings for canning items/jars being sold. Also try auctions -- many times you can get a whole "lot" of them!

I was just going to post early to tell you how fantastic the pickle article was, and I see it's your topic. So, my question is, now that I have made some jams and pickles following recipes, how can I begin safely doing small batch recipes? (preferably without a lb of sugar) For example, I have 2 lbs of nectarines and I'd really like to make a jam but I can't find a "safe" recipe anywhere. I could freeze it, but that is just not as convenient as shelf-stable jars. I know halving recipes is not recommended, but is there a formula for converting recipes? By the way, I process small batches in an asparagus steamer, which works great.

I use a no-pectin method for making jams. My rule of thumb is one cup of sugar to one pound of fruit. Cut up the fruit, sprinkle the sugar over, add juice from one or two lemons, and let it macerate overnight. Strain out the fruit and reserve, then bring the liquid to 221°. Add back the fruit and cook until nice and jammy - about 10 minutes. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

This recipe has me so excited to try it; but I'm wondering what you would use it on.

The cherry ketchup is killer. I actually spooned a bit the other day and mixed it with a teaspoon of prepared horseradish for a new twist on cocktail sauce.  So far I've smeared it on sandwiches, but I see it in my near future with some sweet potato fries.

Boyfriend and I were having a discussion about what temperature water should be before you boil it. I have always seen/heard/read that water should be cold before you boil it. Boyfriend (an engineer) says that starting with hot water is quicker and more energy efficient. Who's right? Loser has to wash dishes tonight...

Nah. The boyfriend wins. I double-checked with Mark Scarbrough, who wrote with Bruce Weinstein "Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them: And 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking," who verified by saying:

Hot water is quicker and more efficient. It takes less time and energy to get from 100F (or so) to 212, than from 50F (or so) to 212. It's all about physics.

Now, I did see this caveat on the website Kitchen Myths:

Note, however, that many people generally avoid using hot tap water for cooking because hot water may not be as clean from sitting in the water heater or from leaching substances from the pipes (a worry in houses with old plumbing).

I bought fresh corn at the farmer's market on Sunday, and I searched online for tips on how to grill it. I found a recipe on that said: don't peel off the husks, don't soak it in water, don't wrap it in foil. Just put it right on the grill for twenty minutes, turning several times. I turned it every 5 minutes, and rearranged it based on how blackened the husks were. It came out so delicious we ate some immediately, with no butter or salt. And the best part is the prep time is ZERO. I used a charcoal grill, after I finished cooking the meat and the coals were medium-hot instead of intense-hot. The recipe said to use medium heat on a gas grill.

Grilled corn is such a treat and your method sounds great! Once it's grilled, try Mexican Street corn. Brush it with mayonnaise, then roll it in cilantro and crumbled queso fresco spiked with chipotle powder. A squeeze of lime is the finishing touch.

Esquites! Yes!

Yeah, Kim's back! Wonderful to see her back on the site! Kim, as/for a canning newbie, if you could suggest one thing to can first, what would it be?

Lovely to be back, thanks! For first timers, I recommend doing a berry jam. It's straightforward, it requires just fruit, lemon juice & sugar, it works well in small batches and is tremendously gratifying on that cold winter morning with your toast.

What pickling spice do you recommend? Is this something I can pick up at Safeway or do I need to make a special trip to Penzey's?

Commercial pickling spice seems to have a consistent flavor across brands. I make my own mix (I like less allspice and more cinnamon, but that's just me.) Here is my recipe 

Pickling Spice
1 tsp galangal or ginger
1 T allspice
3 cloves
2 tsp coriander seed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 T mustard seed
2″ cinnamon stick
Combine well. Crush stick and seeds a little. Store in a jar for one pickling season.

All this talk of canning has me thinking about my great aunt who will be turning 95 in two weeks. She used to make jams and jellies and the best one was her pepper jelly. Slather that on top of cream cheese and a cracker and I'm 7 years old again playing hide and seek in Dallas. Well, she doesn't make any of her pepper jelly anymore. I miss it.

Pepper jelly is actually one of the goodies on the demo schedule for Can-It-Forward Day, the event I'm part of this Saturday in Seattle. For folks out of town, you can check out all the demos on -- pepper jelly demo is at 6ET, fyi.

I first tried Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Maria's Bakery and since that time, it was love at first sip. For me it's better than any other milk-based tea, since it is creamy but still you are able to taste the tea. I've done a bit of research on how to do it on my own to no avail. I even ask in Maria's how they do it and I did exactly what they told me and I ended up with a creamy texture but no taste of tea. I used Ceylon tea, brewed for a couple of minutes let it stand for a while then added evaporated milk until the tea gets a distinctive caramel color. I've tried other black teas as well but still not the flavor. Any suggestion on how I can replicate this tasty tea at home!?

Hmm. Well, I've never made it, but seems to me that you need to brew the tea stronger. Have you tried going longer? I see on good old Wikipedia a mention that some makers in Hong Kong bring it to a boil then let it stand then boil it again to intensify the flavor before adding the milk. The entry also says that in Hong Kong some places use a wholesale brand of milk that's actually skim milk and soybean oil, which makes it rich but not overwhelming to the tea flavor.

No you always use water from the cold tap since it is the purest and will not have impurities from the hot water heater. Thought everyone knew this. Yes it can effect taste of thing like pasta and lobster.

Only with older pipes/systems, though, I'd imagine...

Have a favorite recipe for cream of tomato soup which includes mixing in an egg yolk along with the milk/cream. I'm curious as to why a yolk would be used (for additional thickening?), and what the reason might be to use only the yolk rather than a whole egg?

Thickening would be my guess, as well as promoting a silky texture. Might be hard to incorporate the gloopy egg white.

I'm an election officer, and we have a primary coming up in Virginia which means working from an hour before the polls open until all the ballots are counted and the equipment returned - over 14 hours. In my precinct, we bring snacks to share throughout the day. There is no refrigeration or heating available, so they have to be foods that are stored and eaten at room temperature. Cookies, cakes, etc are typical, but I'd like something less sugary and maybe even a bit healthy. Vegetable trays have not been very popular in the past. Any suggestions?

Always a tough food assignment.  Long ago, precinct workers had to make do with Election Day Cake, but we've got better options for you now.

You could start with today's chutneys and pickles; definitely good all day. Almond Dip, which is delicious,  doesn't need refrigeration.  Blueberry Power-Snack Turnovers are whole-wheaterrific and have no added sugar. There are simpler versions of baked kale chips than these, but you won't believe the flavor (and low calorie count).  If nuts are okay groupwise, you'd make friends by bringing Honeyed Pecans With Sesame Seeds. These Cheese Cookies are very easy and freeze well, in case you have leftovers.

I also think it's probably worth it to organize a cooler  brigade -- at least one or two so you can have pieces of cool watermelon or cantaloupe to snack on, a range of salumi and cheeses, and cool drinks.

I have started making and canning jams and notice the recipes never call for salt. Understanding what an important role salt plays in bringing out the flavor of food, why isn't it added to jam?

That's a food science question I don't know the answer to. Great question. Cathy, you got any insight?

My first thought had to do with food history, even more than food science. Preserving foods is an ancient craft. Salt and sugar were very expensive. You need one or the other to preserve - not both?

Even newer construction uses lead solder so hot tap water should not be used for cooking.

I stand corrected. Just reading this! OK, so the boyfriend LOSES. (Although, actually, I think I win with my method, which is to use my electric tea kettle to heat cold tap water to boiling before putting it on the stove. Super quick. Do four in a row and have enough for pasta or veggie blanching!)

Fischer Hardware: 6129 Backlick Road, Springfield, VA (703) 451-3700

Why is it so hard to get pickled peaches any more? Not spiced peaches, but pickled!

Time to make your own! The Ball Blue Book of Preserving has a basic recipe for peach pickles that is terrific. I use apple cider vinegar for a more mellow pucker.

Part of my fear of getting into canning was that my recipes would flop leaving me with a whole lot of sad jars. So when my batches of blackberry jam didn't set recently, I called it syrup instead. Took some to Big Summer Potluck to swap and they were a hit. So it's all about what expectations we set up....and remembering that we won't always get it perfect.

I love your can-do-it attitude. By the way, when fruit is really ripe, it's lower in pectin & thus more challenging to "gel."  The more the can, the more you know -- and the better you get.

What about using two tea bags? I found that makes a big difference when I try to make a quasi-chai latte at home.

Yep, that would help -- concentrate it!

I've never try this but will love to. Any recipes that you recommend? Also would it be possible to do pickled avocados? The not so ripe avocados have a good consistency but Im not sure if this is a suitable food for pickling.

Pickled strawberries, cherries, bluberries are all terrific. I think avocado is too dense, and turns to mush too quickly to effectively pickle. Pairing avocado with pickled red onions is an inspired start to a sandwich.

Tempting, but I don't really have the cabinet space to store much. And as I said, my sister has loads and is always willing to share. If you can't can yourself, I highly recommend having a sister with a basement full of already canned stuff. GAFF (though I may buy some peaches and freeze...)

GAFF, you touch on a good point -- what if space is a premium -- how can we preserve summer produce for later? One way to do that is to freeze, as you mention, and another is to dry. I just dried a batch of Bing cherries that I love snacking on -- & very little cabinet space.

I store under the bed. In the bottom of every single closet in the house. And on every flat surface in the basement. :)

Thanks so much Cathy! By the way, I love your blog. ps, I got my canning jars at Cherrydale hardware. Canning is super fun, so for those wanting to try it--nothing to it but to do it!

Similar to what Cathy does, my mother-in-law taught me to freeze 4 cups of peaches to 3/4 cup of sugar with a tablespoon of Fruit Fresh. I thaw it, cook down the juices that the sugar mascerated before freezing, add 2 tablespoons of instant tapioca and voila - pie filling for a 9" pie. If you use a 10" pie, you don't need to cook down the juices.

Tzaziki sauce! Use it on crackers or pita chips, with chicken souvlaki and other Greek inspired dishes, make it thin by using regular yogurt instead of Greek or cutting with buttermilk and use as salad dressing - oh the choices are endless for tzaziki!

Public health weighing should run your faucet for at least 30 seconds before using water for cooking or drinking, in order to clear out impurities from the pipe system. This is usually suggested just for hot water, but in truth it applies to hot AND cold water....but cold water is run more frequently, so may have less to flush out.

Any tips on how to make crispy canned pickled peppers at home? I made a batch a few weeks ago that taste deliciously vinegary and spicy, but they're complete mush when you bite into them. Used a raw pack, hot brine, boiling water bath. I know I could do it by just fridge pickling them, but I'm hoping for a true canning tip!

One trick I learned for cucumber pickles (from Eugenia Bone)  is to throw in a grape leaf, which helps stave off the sogginess.  Cathy, do you have any other anti-soggy pickle tricks? (She's famous for her quickle).

Alum is the trick to crisp pickles. It's been used in pickles forever. However, cooking peppers almost always makes them mushy, in my experience. I cold pack, hot brine, and store in the refrigerator.

Hi there, when I was young my dad made sauerkraut using huge crocks (and our own cabbage). I recall that the taste was amazing. I'd love to try this on my own, now, but don't have the large crocks. Is there anything else that can be safely substituted for the crocks? Would sauerkraut be your first choice for putting up something using the l/f method?

Glass works great. I've been known to make sauerkraut in huge glass flower vases. Make sure to keep the kraut in the dark while it ferments.

Thanks for the verdict! Any recipes suggestions where I can use up every pot and pan in the house? Only kidding :)


almost took my hand off with a cleaver when I tried to fill the pasta pot with hot water. She said no you use cold water. Hot water makes the pasta taste bad. Even in a new house with modern plumbing hot water can still have more impurities that do effect taste. I could do a scholarly article on it but it would never get published. GMU Chemistry department(phd)and CIA grad I teach inorganic chemistry

For greater convenience, apportion the pesto in ice cube trays, freeze, then place the cubes in a freezer bag to store. Take out as needed. No need to chip away pieces from a large chunk o' pesto!

Thanks! The paste I linked to works well in a flat plastic bag, too -- you just very easily break off a piece. No chipping, no chunks!

Hi Kim! Welcome back to a WaPo chat! I'm wondering what are the best canning blogs out there?

Well, there's Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen, for starters...

I'd also check out Punk Domestics, Food in Jars, Hip Girls to Homemaking, Learning to Preserve, Saving the Season, and of course Canning Across America (wink).

Maybe it's because I'm out here in Frederick but out local grocery stores have boxes of jars and lids. I've done three batches of tomatoes so far, with a few more to go. Every year I swear it's the last time, but oh the soups, chilies and sauces in the winter! BTW - to get rid of air bubbles slip a regular flat blade knife along the sides of your jars.

It is addictive, no? Once I get started, I can for a few days in a row.  Re: air bubbles: it's my understanding that nonmetallic is key, as metal could disturb glass, cause breakage.

I've been eyeing that wider, flat-blade device Ball is now selling to help get rid of air bubbles, which do seem to vex me a bit.

How do you get rid of the corn silks? Aren't they kind of difficult to remove once the ear is hot?

You can also make the base/fruit part of a peach cobbler and freeze it inside your baking dish. Or inside a ziploc inside a baking dish, then just add the topping and bake later. I usually bake for a while with just the fruit until it's mostly thawed and then add the topping. A ripe peach should never go to waste!

I've seen pottery crocks that would be good for sauerkraut at several local hardware stores, including Fischer that was mentioned earlier.

Wonder if you had any suggestions for pickled pearl onions/beets for martinis and the like. Only have an old pickle jar, nothing air-tight for the process.

I found tiny onions at the farmers' market this weekend, and made cocktail onions with a hot 50/50 white vinegar/water brine, juniper and black pepper. After two days, they tasted amazing. 

I've been thinking of forming tiny beet rounds with a melon baller, and then pickling them using the same brining method.

HOWEVER, it's the first time I've found tiny onions. Prior to this, I'd done the same brining using frozen pearl onions. It's a suitable alternative, but not perfect.

Can a regular pressure cooker be used for pressure canning? Or is the capacity an issue? I have a pretty big pressure cooker...

Pressure cookers and pressure canners are two different items, from what I understand.

This weekend at the Farmers Market I saw a bunch of greens I could not identify. The farmer said is was PURSLANE. I've read quite a bit about it, but have never seen or eaten it. I immediately bought a bunch. At home first thing I checked WP recipes on line. BINGO! Made the most amazing soup for dinner. The soup tasted good as is, but was even better with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt. I love your recipes I don't know how to thank you. For complete disclosure - I did not use peas. The recipe called for frozen petite peas. I had a bag in the freezer, but it had that awful freezer smell & taste. What was I to do except ditching it? Is there anyway to save Freezer attacked frozen veggies in the future? I put a fresh bowl of bicarbonate of soda into my freezer every month, to be precise first Saturday of every month and have never ever have anything go bad before.

Kisses to you and purslane, which is truly in the super greens category. (I'm kinda partial to sauteing it w/bacon, and it pairs so well with arugula in a salad.) Here's a little more about it, from Barbara Damrosch.

As to your poor freezing veggies, you want to eliminate as much air and moisture as possible. Sometimes, even a trip home from the grocery store is enough to partially defrost frozen vegetables that then have a little extra moisture on them when they are plonked back into your deep freeze. Maybe the ones you got were already traumatized. So, if you've got a new bag of frozen peas that you plan to hang on to for  a while, seal it inside a freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bag. Best bet: Reseal vegetables using a vacuum system such as FoodSavers. I know it sounds like a lot of trouble, but it'll keep you from throwing food away.

Purslane has been popping up ALL OVER my garden. Love an edible "weed."

When I learned to can, back in the seventies--my primary sources were "Putting Food By" and the Ball canning guide--I learned that when making preserves, to fill the jar with hot whatever, put on the lid, tighten the band and flip the jar over onto its top for a few minutes so that the super-heated contents would sterilize the top even more than its boiling water bath had. Then, turn the jar back over and wait for the ping. I've rarely had a jar fail to seal or the contents get moldy in all of the years I've been doing it. Do you use this technique?

I do not flip the jar. I know it's a time-honored technique, still used in Europe, but it is not approved by the USDA, and as such, it's not what we're recommending over at Canning Across America.   There are all kinds of way to play with jars; Rachel Saunders in her Blue Jar Jam book puts up her preserves in the oven. 

Does anyone have a favorite bread and butter pickle recipe?

Here's my family's sweet pickle recipe. Not exactly bread and butter, but not exactly a gherkin, either.

Do you have a recipe for GREEN pepper jelly?

The Ball Blue Book of Preserving has a Green Pepper Jelly recipe. It uses green food coloring, by the way, because the green doesn't really hold - turns more avocado colored - once cooked.

Kim, Great to see you! How is Seattle and the Mister? Wednesdays are always good because of the amazing food chat and the Rangers, but having you is a real treat. So, I have a gigantic roasted sweet potato that I want use for tonight's dinner. I thought I'd make a pureed soup. I'll saute a shallot and a clove of garlic, add chicken stock, and maybe a little cream or milk. What spices should I add? I have ginger, cumin, cilantro, galgangal, nutmeg, etc.

Seattle is swell and the Mister ain't bad either.  You may find that dairy isn't even necessary for that puree. Ginger, yes indeed. Maybe even a little chile pepper, too.

They have some nice ones at

This may be a dumb question, but can I serve hot food in glass bowls? Not Pyrex or other oven-safe bowls--these are antique Depression glass. If they have no cracks to start with, am I safe putting, say, mashed potatoes into them, or should I stick with salad? Thanks.

These are bowls designed for serving food? Generally, I'd say you're okay here, especially with mashed potatoes (which I think would not be as molten, say, as hot chutney). It appears, via Google, that Depression glass is heat-resistant.

I saw medium-sized jars at rodman's in dc this past weekend.

Check thrift stores, yard sales. Always have to get new lids.

We live in one of the cleanest water areas in the world. Running your tap for 30 seconds is wasteful. The minute amount of leaching from the pipes is not going to cause any more major health problems than breathing our air.

When jellies or jams don't set, I just dump the stuff back into the pot, add commercial pectin, and voila! No more syrup.

I often  use some lemon peel in preserves because of its natural pectin, and that's why you sometimes see a little apple included in a jam that's mainly another fruit. My blueberry-lemon jam has no problem setting, because of those lemon slices. The other day I made a blueberry jam with red wine syrup and threw in a little chopped lemon peel after juicing it, and the set was beautiful. (Sometimes with blueberries it can be a little TOO firm.)

I make "quick" pickles regularly in the summer when I can get fresh picklers at farmers' markets (although I often include cauliflower and/or radishes) and I have no trouble getting crisp pickles as a result. The secret appears to be to pour your hot brine (water, pickling or coarse salt with no iodine, and vinegar - I use white vinegar and coarse sea salt or kosher salt - and I put garlic cloves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and dill seeds into the brine) over the vegetables you've stuffed into your (sterilized) glass jars. I also stuff fresh dill into the jar and slices of hot peppers because I like spicy pickles. Anyway, just look online for various quick pickle recipes to get a clue re: proportions. My pickles turn out great - and crisp - within a few days.

I'm glad you point out salt -- earlier poster may have used regular table salt, resulting in the sogginess.

I'm the person who roasted the corn in the husks. The silk was actually easier to remove after roasting, compared to my past experience trying to remove it when the corn is raw.

Is what my Grandmother (and I) always used to steam shrimp.

While it is true doing this will almost always cause the jar to seal, it doesn't replace the water bath. The purpose of the water bath isn't to seal the jar (which will usually seal itself from the heat of the contents is to sterilize the air space in the jar. It's not safe to skip steps in the canning process, including this one.

I couldn't agree more.

I started last year...and love it. It's not worth doing in small batches, because it takes longer than water bath canning. (The pressure has to reduce before you can open the canner.) So it's a bit more of a commitment, but I had home-made vegetable stock all winter long...without crowding my freezer. The pot is a bit of an investment, but I got a good price on a pressure canner on Amazon. If you're not going to use it a lot maybe you can share one with someone. The instructions were very clear, and when I had a question I called the company and got an instant answer.

That's the spirit -- sharing a pressure canner with a friend or neighbor. There's something about canning that invites collaboration & pooling of resources.

I've made several kinds of salsa over the past few years, and although they've all tasted fantastic, they tend to be too liquid-y. It doesn't seem to matter what the base ingredient is -- the same thing happens with tomatoes, tomatillos, and (to a lesser degree) peaches. I end up draining them, which seems a sad waste. I want to keep the flavor as fresh as possible, so don't want to cook them down, but what else can I do? Do I just have inferior recipes? Thanks!

There are a few things that will affect the wateriness of your salsa. The most important is the type of tomato. Some tomatoes are more watery than others. Using roma type tomatoes will help a lot. Also, I add tomato paste to my salsa to ensure a nice thick texture.

So nice to have Kim back at the Post. I have a pectin question. As I understand it, most pectins (like Certo) need sugar to jell. I had a minor disaster with my strawberry jam this year when I cut back on the sugar because the berries were so sweet. I got a very syrupy jam and wound up re-processing it with more pectin and more sugar. I understand there are pectins (like Pomona) that do not need sugar to jell? What is the difference?

I don't use pectin very often, so I'm going to defer to Cathy on this one...

I don't use pectin often, either. Pomona pectin uses calcium water to trigger the set, which is why you can use so much less sugar with their product. But neither Certo or Pomona is perfect, and sometimes you just don't get a good set. Some jams will take up to a month to set - I've experienced that with both apricot and strawberry. If it doesn't, I just label it syrup and call it a day. The syrups are great added to cocktails.


I made fresh (uncooked) salsa the other day, from tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, one hot pepper, cilantro, fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, and a little white vinegar. It has very little flavor! I've dumped a bunch of garlic powder and cumin on it, and even after sitting for a couple of days, it just tastes bland. What am I missing? Do I need to cook it to bring out the flavors of the onions and peppers?

I'm not seeing salt in this recipe. Also, did you seed drain off the liquid?

I don't care much for lemon - can lime be used in its place (or should I not worry about tasting any lemon)? Does it depend on the recipe? Thanks!

It's all about the acidity in this case. You're looking for 5 percent acidity.

I'm loving this and scared at the same time. I got some 'maters last year at two farmers markets and made sauce, just olive oil and a little salt. Oh so sweet and rich. I stored some in the fridge and some in the freezer. I wanted to can but hesitated when I read about needing some acid in the sauce. I'm too afraid the acid will ruin that sweet richness and depth I got and now I fret that I will poison someone. Help! I want to make sauce to last thru the winter, I got the jars, I got the Mason cookbook and I got a big dose of indecision. What can I do here?

Think of it this way - can tomatoes to make sauce. Just as you might purchase canned tomatoes during the winter months, reach into your cupboard for home canned tomatoes to start your sauce, or your soup, casserole, whatever you might want tomatoes for!

The acid is critical to safe canning of tomatoes, but won't alter the taste of your final sauce. Sauces with oil need to be pressure canned, and that's a whole different ball game.

Get your feet wet by canning whole or crushed tomatoes!

I gotta add to this. When you're scared, you're a warrior at heart.  Go for it, dear!  What do you have to lose -- a few hours? Canning is one of the most gratifying things you can do for yourself.

Hi all, I'm planning a brunch this weekend and needed suggestions for a salad and/or light side to go with the other courses. I have sweet chocolate smores bars for dessert (Dessert First recipe), an egg dish like a strata for the main, and possibly a spinach pie (Good Eats recipe) for non-meat eaters. Those are all pretty heavy and savory dishes. Any ideas for summer salads and/or light sides incorporating fruit or vegetables? I'm a fairly novice cook, so nothing too complicated. Thank you.

So many ways to go! Because I tend to eat salad with my eyeballs (first), let's try this pictorial guide of easy options:

This Pineapple, Red Cabbage and Onion Salad is out of the ordinary and quite colorful.

This Dongbei Salad is refreshing.

ANY corn salad will be scarfed up. I like this one, which is grilled and has peaches and poblano:

And don't forget the wonderful world o' coleslaws. This link goes to a bunch of them, including an N.C.-style one:



You might want to pre-warm the bowls with hot water (despite what some of the folks on this chat have said against hot tap water).


I'd follow the regime of warming the dish up by swirling hot tap water in it before adding a hot item to the depression glass dishes. It's never a good thing to shock glass with either hot or cold (ice cream) items. For more info on depression glass check with the National Depression Glass Association

I had the same problem...solved by putting an old dish drainer inside my cupboard. It holds 7 lids upright. This is not a space saving solution, but is all I could figure out. (The vertical lid racks didn't work in my case.)

Thanks, Joe! I agree about not tasting the yolk. For the record, I've seen her eat pasta and cheesecake, so it's not like she's never missed it before! And um, the author is Ina Garten... I'm not sure she'd actually respond!

Right. As for the author, sorry, I meant the blogger who wrote about the recipe. You know, cause she made it...

I would do an Israeli salad (diced cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes, with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper) and then make your own falafel or chickpea fritters. Slather on some hummus and/or drizzle tahini. So delicious.

Yum, anytime. Good for breakfast.

Just want to say "hello" to Kim. We miss you here at Hope your are thriving in Seattle, one of my favorite places. Take care.


A few years ago, I tried making fruit preserves via Christine Ferber's method, from her book _Mes Confitures_: the same method that Cathy Barrow cites above, macerating the fruit in sugar overnight and then slow cooking until the syrup has thickened. I found that with sour cherries, the flavor (and color) were very different and less pleasing than sour cherry preserves made the fast-boil-with-pectin method. The method works great with apricots and plums, less so IMO with berries and cherries. I discovered also, that sour cherry preserves, even when made with pectin, will thicken more reliably when much of the juice is drained off after pitting and chopping the cherries. I cook down the juice separately with sugar to make cherry syruphw ,ich has all sorts of uses, and my sour cherry jam is nice and thick.

That's interesting! I've liked the sour cherry preserves using Ferber's method, but this year made it with Pomona pectin instead and I was happier because there was more jelly around the cherries.

Aren't both sides technically right? One *should* use cold water as gf states because of health issues, but starting with hot water IS technically quicker. Maybe they should eat out tonight.

I have abundant fig trees and a friend who wants to try making fig jam and canning it. Not sure when they'll be ripe - they seem to be running a little late this year, but I suspect they'll ripen when he's out of town for two weeks. Would freezing the figs affect them for canning? I would think it would be ok since they'll be cooked down a bit anyway, but would hate to waste the bounty.

Great question. I've never frozen figs (never had such a wonderful problem), but I think it's worth trying. Anyone ever freeze fresh figs w/ success?

I've tried freezing figs - it was a disaster. It would be better to pick, blanch and hold the figs in the refrigerator. Stir in sugar and lemon juice and they will hold for a week or two. When you're ready make the jam.

Last year I tried to can green beans from my farmers market. The first batch went bad within 2 days...found out I used iodized salt. Tried it again using pickling salt, with the same failure results. Could it be because my water is treated with water softener salt?

Some of my students have been reporting problems with pickling, and lacto fermenting because of water additives. I would switch to bottled water for your preserving projects.

Well, you've processed us in a water-bath canner for the required time, lifted us out carefully, placed us on a towel -- and then we went "ping!" So you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to the great Kim O'Donnel and Cathy Barrow for helping us handle the a's. Now, for our prizes: The chatter who said "the hardest part is getting started," re canning, will get this Can-it-Forward Day kit from Ball. The chatter who confessed to being terrified about the "under pressure thing" will get "Recipes From the Root Cellar" by Andrea Chesman. And then the first five chatters to email us will get a $5 coupon toward a case of Ball jars! Lots of prizes today.

Send your mailing info to editorial aide Tim Smith at, and we'll get you your stuff.

Until next time, happy cooking, canning, eating and reading. Yes, you can!

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