Free Range on Food: Canning, Labor Day

Aug 29, 2012

We review some of the best new canning cookbooks. We'll also help you plan your Labor Day meals.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Good afternoon everyone!


It's the Wednesday heading into Labor Day, and I can already smell the meats slooooow-cooking in my smoker. Yes, I'm throwing a small party this weekend dedicated to my passion for Texas-style barbecue. (I owe everything I know to Jim Shahin, who, alas, will not be able to join us today, so I'll have to do my best Smoke Signals impersonation.)


But we also have many other topics to discuss today, like canning.  Bonnie S. Benwick looked at the recent crop of cookbooks dedicated to canning and preserving, including author and blogger Marisa McClellan's "Food in Jars." Bonnie is on vacation (hey, it's the season), but Marisa will be joining us today to talk canning. So will Friend of Food, Cathy Barrow, who's so good at this preserving stuff she taught The Source's chef, Scott Drewno.


Former Post Food writer Jane Black will return to the fold today to talk about her latest Smarter Food column on a controversial way to combat obesity, diabetes and other health problems in America: via supermarket coupons for "healthful" processed foods. Do you think it's a good idea?


We also have Becky Krystal, the queen of all trades, to answer questions. So let's get this thing started. And remember: The best two questions today will win cookbooks, including a copy of Marisa's "Food in Jars."

we had some visitors this week who left a few things in the fridge that I don't know how to use up. Any good ideas for a bottle of french vanilla flavored non-dairy creamer? (I drink my coffee black...)

Yes: Throw it out. It's not real vanilla, it has no real nutritional value, and without coffee it probably doesn't taste too good. (Some would say that even WITH coffee it doesn't taste too good.)  I can't think of anything you'd want to cook it into. Recycle the container and call it a day.

Speaking of coupons, a Safeway supervisor explained to me that "double coupons up to 99 cents" means that 99 cents is the most the store will deduct from the price of a product. I had thought it meant that any coupon up to 99 cents would be doubled, so you could get as much as $1.98 off.

That's what I would think too. I wonder when that changed. Anyone know?

So, I have to admit, I'm not terribly interested in going through the full process of canning. But making freezer jam does seem something I can do - but I've never had it. Is it any good? Or is this trying to take a short cut that's just not worth it? Thanks!

There are two ways to approach freezer jam. You can make a variety of jam that's designed strictly for storage in the freezer. This is an uncooked jam made with a specialty pectin designed to thicken without the application of heat. Or, you can cook up a batch of jam, let it cool, place it in containers and freeze it.

I'm not a huge fan of the uncooked variety, but have frozen cooked jams in a pinch when I've been low on time and haven't been able to finish the canning process.

Early in my career I worked about 40 miles west of Charlottesville, Va., in the mountains. There were shack-like structures in rural areas used to put up produce from the fields - right next to the fields and orchards. It was amazing. Ever seen 'em?

That sounds fantastic. It gets hot in the canning kitchen, that's for sure. I've always wanted a summer kitchen so I could take the heat, and the mess, outside.

I have a few varieties of chili plants that are producing lots of fruit which is going to be ready to be picked soon. I know that smoking jalapenos gives me chipotles, but I also have a habanero plant and was wondering if smoking a habanero would be worth it, or if they are better fresh? If it matters, I'd be using a Big Green Egg for the smoking. Thanks

Sure, you can smoke any type of chile for another layer of flavor in hot sauces and salsas. I've been testing out different methods for a couple of years. Let the whole chiles dry out on a rack over a sheet pan for four or five days before smoking, then cold smoke for about three hours. The chiles will maintain their shape.

Canning quarts of glistening berries costs a fortune, unless you grow them. (If you grow them and have zillions, I would freeze them instead of canning them.) Canning is really cost effective if you use what is seasonal - maybe even taking very-ripe or slightly bruised fruit. The imperfections come off when peeled, or are easily sliced off. This is cheap and the results are excellent. Green tomatoes are dirt cheap in the fall - few buy them and they make great relish and chopped pickalilly. Onions and vinegar and mustard seed are cheap, as well, for these dishes.

Good point. While I love that canning is the rage, it is funny to go to a farmers market and pay top dollar to can things. The point of canning was to put the abundance away for the winter. I usually splurge and make one batch of berry jam in the summer (because even canning berries is cheaper than buying $14 a jar fancy jam) and then try to do tomatoes or get peach seconds.

I've recently made a recipe that called for ground chicken, which I didn't have. So, I cooked some chicken and put it in the Magic Bullet and used the results (so yummy!). I'd like to keep some ground chicken in the freezer. Can I grind chicken before cooking and freeze it? Or should I cook the chicken, grind it and then freeze it? I have a food processor, but don't have any mixer attachments that could help. Thank you for all your help!!

It's hard to grind without a grinder. But preferably you'd grind before freezing. Does your supermarket have a butcher? I think Whole Foods will do this and you could buy it, parcel it out and keep it in smaller packages. (That's what I recently did.) I have been making these chicken meatballs with pepperonata lately so if you're loving ground chicken, give them a try. They are from the A16 cookbook but republished courtesy of Martha Stewart.

I am so happy that you are focusing on canning today! I am canning my first item today... fig preserves! One item that stumps me is the sterilizing of jars before you fill them... should I put these in the dishwasher, then put them in boiling water? Or can I just take them out of the box and put them in boiling water? How long should I let them hang out? Should I put them in top down or bottom first in the pot? Also, I found a recipe for fig preserves... but if you have a tried and true one, I'd love to use it! Thank you so much!!

I always sterilize my jars in the dishwasher, on a short cycle, with no soap. Just leave them in the dishwasher to stay warm until your jams are ready to jar. If you prefer, you can always sterilize in your big canning pot, in the boiling water. Boil them for at least 10 minutes.

Also, be a little careful with fig preserves recipes. Figs are one of those low acid fruits that need a lot of added acid to preserve well. Make sure your recipe comes from a reliable source (like any of the great books Bonnie reviewed today!)

Our local grocery store is having a sale on ribs. The spare ribs are $1.99/lb and the baby back & St. Louis ribs are $3.99/lb. What is the difference between the two types? Are the baby back/St. Louis ribs really worth the extra cost, since they are twice the price of the spare ribs? Thank you!

St. Louis style ribs are merely spare ribs that have been trimmed by the butcher. Personally I prefer them cut this way. There's less gristle and cartilage, and more uniformity among the bones. This is what you're paying for: the butcher's skill.


Baby back ribs come from another part of the hog, the backbone, and tend to be more expensive.

I have been given a recipe for a curried chicken salad that I really want to try. It consists of chicken breast baked with curry, garlic & olive oil, then processed with celery and green onion stalks and mixed with a lite mayonnaise, almonds and paprika. My only problem is that I really abhor any type of mayonnaise so I was wondering what replacement would work best. Normally when I make chicken salad, I use some sort of mustard (honey mustard, spicy mustard, Dijon -- varies on my taste and other ingredients at the time I am making it) but was not sure if those would be too strong a flavor against the curry. Could a Greek yogurt work? I don't particularly want the salad to be very moist so, considering the food processor is used for the veggies, do you think I could just forego the dressing completely? Thanks so much for responding -- your chats have given me so much kitchen knowledge throughout the years!

You could certainly try it without the dressing, but I think it helps bind everything together. So you might want to have the Greek yogurt on hand. I used it to make a turkey salad along the same lines of your recipe the other week. Worked great.

I understand the USDA marketing grades for beef (e.g., Prime, Choice, etc.) What are your thoughts on meat simply labeled "USDA inspected"? My guess would be that these are cuts from purveyors who don't pay for the marketing grade. So, are they OK for braises and other tenderizing treatments? Or would you steer clear altogether? A grocer new to our area is now offering some meats with this designation, at good prices, so I'd like to have a sense of what it means. Thanks.

According to the USDA: The inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for with public funds. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors.

So what does this mean? You could have an ungraded sirloin and that would mean you could still grill it. It doesn't have to be reserved for braising. The cut should still guide what you do with the meat. Not the grade (though a prime or choice cut is going to be guaranteed to be of a certain quality.) Make sense?

Can Marisa give a guide to what canning recipes (primarily those using pectin) can more easily be doubled for making larger batches. Does she have any guidance for knowing from looking at a recipe, or based on fruit choice etc, what recipe could be doubled? I have made several of her jam/jelly recipes from her book and would love to make in larger quantities than her recipes provide for.

While I don't generally recommend doubling batches of jam, there is one way you can do it without risking burning your jam. That's to use a giant pan. The more surface area you give your cooking jam, the more effectively the jam will cook.

If not, your being called "Free Rangle" is a bit misleading.

Yeah, um, kind of embarrassing, right? We don't have control over that real estate, but we have contacted the proper authorities.

Can I use a pasta aluminum pot with a heat resistant coaster in the bottom to hold the jars? What is the best book to follow or web line?

Yes, absolutely. Any pot will do, as long as it will hold the jars, and water 1-2" above the top of the jars. I wouldn't use an aluminum pot to cook your preserves, and especially not tomatoes.

For how long should lids be soaked in hot water before they're used? I know the idea is to soften the sealant, but what's a good amount of time?

The USDA recommends that you soften your lids for 10-15 minutes in 180 degree water. Personally, I pop them in a little saucepan of barely simmering water when I start to make a batch of jam, so they're ready when I need them.

Please tell me what to make for dinner tonight. I am on my own this evening and want something healthy and easy. Extra guidance: no cilantro or tofu. Had chicken and snow peas last night. Thanks.

In the last days of grilling (or broiling), how about a nice flank steak, sliced for a salad. You could mix it with romaine, potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and good tomatoes for a kind of bastardized Nicoise. Or you could go Greek with tomatoes and feta and olives.

Hi there, thanks for taking my question! We have a group of friends coming over this week, and we're always on the hunt for unique things to serve since everyone has a very diverse diet (i.e. vegetarian, Paleo, no fish, etc.) so we came up with the idea of a variety of grilled flatbreads. Could you please suggest a couple of topping variations to satisfy (almost) everyone? There are so many great ingredient choices - pesto, caramelized, onion, goat cheese, prosciutto, etc - that we don't know what to pair well together! Thanks!!

I'd say you're already on the right track. I like caramelized onion-manchego-prosciutto. You could also use that prosciutto with blue cheese and figs/fig jam. Pesto-mozzarella-tomato would be a classic combo. Goat cheese-balsamic vinegar reduction-sun dried tomatoes.

Other favorite toppings, friends?

Do have a favorite method for dealing with peaches that cling to the pits- I've been having a hard time finding cling free, and it's really slowing down my canning process!

I alternate between a melon baller and grapefruit knife as my tool of choice for removing those stubborn pits. I also tend to use the cling peaches as chunky preserves and wait for late season freestone to do peach halves in syrup.

I finally took the plunge and got a pressure canner. What is the one thing you can't live without that you put on you "must put up every year" list that requires a pressure canner?

Any kind of stock -- chicken, beef, veal.  Also, home-canned tuna or salmon are divine.

Cathy's suggestions are all great. I also like to can beans from dried, as they're a really good pantry item to have on hand. By canning them as opposed to buying canned beans, you get to control the amount of salt and spices, which is nice.

I can't speak for Safeway as it's very rare that I shop there, but during Harris Teeter's double coupon weeks where they double up to $2 coupons, it's exactly as it sounds. If the coupon is for $2 off, they'll give $4 off. I would imagine that's their policy (don't know what their upper limit is) during the regular weeks. I believe Giant is the same.

Thanks for the info!

I make my own mustard at home on occasion. I tend to put all of the jars in the fridge and don't worry about my supply going bad (for up to a year frankly). I wonder if canning is an option, mostly for gift giving since I don't really want to require refrigeration if I don't have to (mostly because I don't actually hand things over directly and may have to mail them). Thank you!

You can absolutely can mustards, provided that you're making them with a high acid ingredient like vinegar, wine or beer. I have a great introduction to canning mustards on my Web site that was written by fellow food blogger Kaela Porter.

Is there anywhere you can buy them? I only seem to find dried figs in the store. My mother raves about the figs she picks off her fig tree (I'd get them from her, but she's 3,000 miles away).

Are you in the D.C. area? They've been at area farmers markets for the past few weeks, and based on some info I just got for my blog post tomorrow, you'll be able to get them at Thursday's Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market .

Wouldn't this chat and info be better earlier in the growing season?? Many crops are long since done and dealt with. Also, my hope would be for including other methods of food preservation, since canning requires some highly specialized equipment and lots of time.

Some of this week's recipes -- and many recipes in the books that Bonnie Benwick reviewed -- call for other means of preservation, including simple refrigerator storage and freezing. I'll let the canning pros speak to the timing issues you raise.

There's still plenty to preserve well into the fall. Tomatoes are in season now, lots of folks still have peaches and the apples, pears and quince are just now starting to come in.

Marisa, I got your book this weekend and was so inspired by so many of the recipes that I had a marathon canning session this weekend! I made your plum jam, peach plum ginger jam, raspberry jam and cantelope vanilla jam (my stove is oh so very sticky now). I tried the peach tea jelly recipe on your blog and it was very promising until it became a disappointing mass of burnt sugar. Several batches of jam burnt or wound up brown and over-carmelized despite constant stirring and watching the thermometer. It would hover at 200 degrees for a good 10 minutes, and the jam would start to look thick and glossy, but if I waited for the thermometer to hit 220, it would become over-carameilzed or burnt. Do I need a new thermometer? (I was using my grandmother's old candy thermometer) Any tips to maintain the vibrant color of the fruit while cooking it sufficiently?

Did you stir those batches regularly? That's really the only secret I know to preventing burning. As the jam or jelly approaches the end of cooking, I stir almost constantly, using a silicone spatula that allows me to keep everything moving on the bottom of the pan. If it doesn't rest for long on the bottom, it has a much harder time burning.

You might also want to make sure your thermometer is reading accurately. Bring a pot of water to a boil and test it to make sure it's reading correctly.

I wrote in last week about the chunky balsamic, but didn't get my answer to your follow-up question in on time. Long story short--I keep my balsamic in a glass decanter on the counter, and it's gone chunky. Can I safely use it, or should I chuck it?

Well, I found this answer on the internet. I can't attest to it's veracity, but I guess it's something.

Any advice for dealing with peaches that don't release easily from their pits? It's slowing down my canning process and driving me nuts!

I like to cut the peaches in half before blanching, because it gives you a better grip when trying to separate the fruit from the pits. Then, once you get them into halves, have a melon baller handy to scoop out the pit. That's the best way I've found to do it at least.

I am thinking of getting a pressure canner-but I am still confused about the 2 types, despite my research. What are the basic differences?

The two types of pressure canners  -- weighted gauge or dial gauge -- refer to the indicator on the top of the canner. The former uses small weights that are counterbalanced, and for my money, are much harder to use. The dial gauge has a pressure indicator --  round with numbers --  much easier to read.

Our fig tree has finally decided to be bountiful, and I've already made fresh fig jam with liquid pectin. Any other suggestions for fairly easy canning recipes? I have a water canner and do salsas, tomatoes, squash pickles, etc., so am familiar with the process enough to be a bit adventuresome.

I love this Italian whole preserved fig recipe from Divina Cucina

I do water-bath canning every summer/fall and now my 9 year old is interested in learning. Yea, but he not only wants to work with the fruit, he wants to CAN (I'm worried about the boiling water) and to know why it works. Are there any canning books aimed at a younger age?

As far as I know, there aren't any canning books out there designed specifically for kids. Sherri Brooks Vinton's "Put 'Em Up!" might be a good one though, as it has lots of illustrations.

My dear fiance decided to host a dinner for seven people this evening. We'll be making pork loin with a jerk marinade on the grill, wild rice, and a spinach salad. Any recommendations for a side dish? When I looked online all I could find is peas and rice (fiance doesn't like beans) or plantains. Something that could be made quickly is preferable. The guests are coming at 7pm, and I don't get home until around 6.

Try Mexican chef Patricia Jinich's wildly delicious Chop Chop Salad! Easy to make and perfect for this time of year.

Loved the article today, I did not hear about this program until now. A question for Jane: do you think these coupons have the potential to serve as a stepping stone towards using fresh, whole foods. For example, is a family that traditionally ate out more likely to cook whole foods if they have healthy processed foods to get them started? I was tremendously lucky to grow up in a home where food was prepared everyday from scratch, but I know that is a luxury for many families. Not sure if I would have the skills to cook as an adult without this upbringing, but I am sure that if the process was broken down more I would be more likely to learn. Any research on eating patterns of people who have used this program?

I don't believe there is research on this program specifically to show how, over time, using these coupons changes their habits or how far towards cooking-from-scratch they have moved. (At least, not yet.) But there is lots of research out there that shows that people who are motivated for change (by their weight or a diet-related disease) are more successful making small changes than trying to overhaul their diets. (The ones who try to change everything  feel overwhelmed and just give up.)

The reason? Many people don't have the skills that you have (and as you say, you wouldn't have them if you hadn't learned them growing up). So it's not realistic to incentivize people to buy fresh kale if it just rots in the fridge. But if they take one step and are successful, they might be encouraged to take a second step and a third. Or, at worst, at least they are eating healthier packaged dinners.

I thought we were done jamming this year, but peaches and saffron, two of my favorite tastes, sounds irresistible. We're used to making jam without added pectin and the usual rule is it's reached the gel point at 8 degrees above the boiling point. Is this a soft jam? We've never made a specialty jam. This sounds like a good, simple start. Thanks!

Yes, do make the Peach Saffron Jam. It is oustanding. I'd say that the jam is pretty soft.

Peach Saffron Jam

I have lots of empty glass jars with lids. All sizes. Are they all usable for canning regardless of their original use, or does the glass need to be a certain thickness or something? Also, do the lids need to have rubber gaskets in them? I have some empty Mason jars that came with sauces in them, but the lids are just lids. Anyway, thanks so much for this topic -- I was feeling embarrassed about holding onto empty jars, and you've possibly made me feel smart instead!

Are your empties canning jars? You can certainly use old Mason jars, even if they don't say Ball or Kerr on them like the ones available today. However, if your empties are just basic jars from the grocery store, you don't want to re-use them for home canning. They're just not designed for it.

For those empty Mason jars, as long as a new set of two-pieces lids fit them, you can use those jars with new lids and rings.

I enjoyed reading your canning article. Although I don't can myself, the article brought back memories of my grandmother, who had a small vegetable garden and canned all sorts of things, including jams, pickles, beets and tomatoes. She even had a second kitchen she used mostly for that purpose. It's a shame she's not still around, since I would appreciate her canned goods so much more now.

What a luxury, to have a second kitchen, just for canning! How nice to have those memories!

Prompted by today's column but not really related, what is the best way to preserve organic tomatoes if you can't eat/cook them at once? Refrigeration robs them of their flavor but leaving them in an air-tight container seems to mold them faster...

As long as they don't have any major soft spots, I've found that tomatoes will keep on the counter for several days without any issue.

When we were house hunting in Frederick Co., VA a few years ago, we saw a number of houses that had canning kitchens in the basement. As a former military family, we've lived in twelve different areas, but we had never seen these. Now that I've canned my share of applesauce and apple butter, I understand the luxury of a cooler kitchen in apple country.

Oh, cool. I used to live out there. They do love their apples!

I am hoping you can share with people that is is NOT safe to can zuchinni anymore. I am going by the NCHFP regulations, I know some people are using older books for canning and are not aware of this. Thanks

You can can zucchini by pickling it. I've actually found that it makes an excellent dill pickle, because it holds its texture better than cucumbers can.

I have a canning pressure cooker, and don't have room for another huge pot. What is the best way to can high-acid foods in the pressure cooker? Normally, I can tomato sauce and applesauce -- I don't eat enough jelly and relish to make them worth the effort. This year I canned green beans, instead of freezing them like I usually do. After losing power for four days, I just a little paranoid of the freezer right now.

I often use my pressure canning for boiling water bath canning. It's nice and tall and holds a lot of jars. I don't firmly close the seal on the top, just place the lid on to keep the steam from filling the kitchen. Warning - it gets heavy when filled with water!

My favorite curried chicken recipe uses one cup yogurt, 3 tablespoons sour cream. I've had it since before Greek yogurt came on the scene and don't know how that tastes but it's fabulous with store-brand yogurt, even non-fat. Also, I've used reduced-fat sour cream with happy results. As an aside, it was hard to get myself to type in "tablespoon" without capitalizing the T, as in recipes!

Good suggestion.

I went a little overboard on buying cilantro this week. Any ideas on how to use it up? Thinking chicken marinade? Can I chop it up and freeze it?

Cilantro freezes really well. I either puree it into a thick paste with a little olive oil (think pesto) or I chop it, pack it into ice cube trays, add a little water and freeze it into cubes.

Hey guys, I was the poster from last week who made bacon chocolate chip cookies (and a cheesecake) for parties that didn't get eaten. I wasn't able to be on during the chat, so I missed the question from the reader asking for my recipe. I also wanted to asked David another question on his answer: He said that if I made a dessert at the request of the host, then I basically made a gift out of it. Now, my desserts were in my own dishes, so I really didn't want to leave them, but I had never heard of this rule! Am I always supposed to leave food I bring to a party? My friends and I usually take any leftovers back home with us. Now, the recipe for the cookies. I got it from Really, though, you could probably just make the candied bacon and add it to any chocolate chip cookie recipe you like.

Candied Bacon-Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate

Makes about 3 dozen 2-inch cookies.


1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large egg

teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 t salt

1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks (Chips are fine.)

1 cup Candied Bacon Bits (recipe follows)



1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line three baking sheets with a Silpat liner or parchment paper.

2. Beat the sugars and butter together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda. Whisk together the flour and salt, then sift them into the batter. Stir in the chocolate chunks and bacon bits.

3. Using a small cookie scoop or a teaspoon, scoop the cookie dough into small balls, about 1-inch in diameter, and place them 2 inches apart on each of the baking sheets.

4. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Rotate sheets halfway through baking for even browning. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. The cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for 3-4 days, if they last that long!


Candied Bacon Bits adapted from David Lebovitz

8 strips bacon

1/2 cup light brown sugar



1. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Lay the strips of bacon on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or aluminum foil, shiny side down.

3. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar evenly over each strip of bacon.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes. Midway during baking, flip the bacon strips over and drag them through the dark, syrupy liquid that's collected on the baking sheet. Add the rest of the brown sugar and continue to bake until a deep mahogany color. Remove from oven and cool the strips on a wire rack.

5. Once crisp and cooled, chop into little pieces, about the size of grains of rice. Candied bacon bits can be stored in an airtight container and chilled for a day or so, or stored in the freezer a few weeks ahead

Thanks for the recipe. Hope the chatter from last week is back in the house.

If I bring a bunch of baked goods to a party and some are left over, a lot of times the hostess will just tell me I can take some home. I'll then usually leave some behind anyway. Without being too passive aggressive, I suppose you could, when you're leaving, mention something to the hostess about arranging to pick up your dish -- which will prompt them to either say "oh, do take your extra goodies home" or "thanks!" And then you would graciously leave the bounty.

David emails the following response:

Excellent question. I'm not mincing words here because I think this is a very important issue. 

Someone asks you to bring a dessert and you agree. The tacit understanding here is that you are bringing a dessert and not charging for it. It is therefore a gift. In legal terms, this is a contract. They are not asking you to bring part of a dessert. In social terms, it is a contract, too. The rules being followed here are the age-old rules of good manners. Once you hand the cake over, it does not belong to you anymore and the host may do with it what he or she pleases. The tacit understanding is, of course, that the dessert will be served.
A host may be inclined but isn't required to pack up leftovers in nice little boxes and offer them as parting gifts to guests— a social twofer because it is: a) a clever way to get temptations out of the house  and b) a manifestation of graciousness.  If your cake wasn't touched, the host would be smart to say, "I'm so sorry your lovely cake got overlooked in the shuffle. I guess I overestimated what we would need. Would you like to take it home with you?"
About bringing your own platters: I offer two options. Either bring the dessert in/on something disposable (a cake should be on a cake round that can slide easily onto a host's platter) or do what ladies in the South used to do: place a strip of adhesive tape on the bottom of the platter  with your name written on it and then make arrangements later to retrieve it. (This was especially done when bringing food to houses of mourning.) In small towns, the host would just leave the platter on the guest's porch or the guest would  retrieve it if in the neighborhood.

Many years ago I worked in a kitchen that did lactic fermentation on their vegetables, instead of water-bath canning. They used whey and salt, and the result--especially for crunchy vegetables like carrots and beans--was delicious. Of course, as a working farm with a dairy cow they had the luxury of vast amounts of whey to use. Although I've wanted to start getting back into that sort of preserving, I don't have a good source for whey. The only thing I can think of is straining yogurt, but I can't imagine that would produce a lot...

Ever made homemade ricotta or mozzerella? These are really fun projects and create plenty of whey for lacto fermentation, or even as the added liquid for homemade bread. Not a bad protien drink, either.

With water bath canning... why do different foods require different times? Also, when is it necessary to use pressure canning? Is there a specific rule? Thank you!

Different foods need different times in the water bath canner because of their varying densities. The denser something is, the more time it takes for the heat of the boiling water to reach the interior of the jar.

Pressure canning is used for low acid foods. Those are ones that have a pH of 4.6 or above. If there's not enough acid in your product to naturally inhibit the botulism growth, you need to elevate the temperature of the jars to a point over 235 degrees so that the spores are killed. Pressure canners have the ability to cook to between 240 and 250 degrees, which kills those spores.

If the poster is correct, that means they very few coupons would ever be doubled. Seems like the smallest value I see is 50cents, which means it would go over the limit.

Clever, huh? I feel like groceries and food packagers are taking these subtle steps to save costs without letting you know they are doing it. Has anyone noticed that a pint of ice cream isn't a pint anymore? It's 14 ounces! There are other examples too. Think I might write a story about this...if I'm not the only one who has just noticed. 

I am a small time canner, mostly to use the stuff from our backyard garden, and also occasionaly purchases from local orchards. Recently we seriously reduced our sugar intake, and the worst thing about that is how hard it is to make jam with reduced sugar. What is your favorite way of handling this, and make it taste good!

I've recently done a lot of experimenting with Pomona's Pectin and have found that it's a really good product if you're trying to get a jammy set without a ton of sugar. The one secret is to use about half as much as they call for on the packet instructions. If you use the full amount called for, your jam sets up like cement. Using half gets you a far more natural set.

I decided not to do the tomatoes this year, as I still have jars leftover from the overzealous canning campaign of 2011. would love to do some canning with fall fruit/veg though. I was thinking of canning apples, like apple pie filling, maybe? Any other ideas for sweet or savory fall items to can?

There's so much to can in the fall! Applesauce, apple butter, pear jam, quince jelly, pickled Brussels sprouts, pressure canned pumpkin cubes and cranberry jelly!

Are Vitamix blenders worth their price. I regularly use my blender, stick blinder, large food processor, and small food processor, so it would be nice to have something I could just keep on the counter for most things. Love the idea of making soups, but does it actually get that fast?

I adore my Vitamix, and as far as blenders go, it's incredibly powerful. One of the things I like most about it is that at low speeds, you really can chop things without mangling them. I use it frequently to prep fruit for jam making.

Target recently sent us coupons that included Plum Organics, Annie's Bunnies and a few other companies in that line. We don't often eat processed foods, but we've been going on a lot of car rides this summer, so we do keep these snacks around. It was nice to get coupons for products I actually buy as opposed to apple sauce with a lot of ick ingredients in it.

Good to know. I find Target coupons in my mail only sporadically.

I'm in my mid-30s and have been canning since before it was cool. I finally even made my great-grandma's recipe for bread and butter pickles (which started with "take one gallon of pickling cukes"--needless to say, there are a LOT of jars of pickles now). However, I really want to expand my horizons to tomatoes (found a jar of citric acid at my local space market!); any suggestions for the "right" one to buy? Does it really matter? I'm planning to use in all the spaghetti sauce and chili and all that. I saw Mrs. Wheelbarrow's suggestion for Brandywines, but those seem few and far between (and EXPENSIVE) at the NC farmer's market where I now live. [Biltmores and some random other beefsteak-y tomatoes are predominant]. I figured I'd try some beefsteak-type and some roma-type if you have suggestions.

I like to use meaty tomatoes for canning like roma, plum, paste or San Marzano-style tomatoes. Slicing tomatoes have a lot more water and so you end up with less finished product that you would with those heftier tomatoes.

Beefsteaks will work well, too. I would love to use only romas, but the price is twice what we pay for a basic red tomato (as my favorite farmer calls them.)

Interesting! Here in Philadelphia, the roma tomatoes are the very cheapest ones you can get for canning.

This is what the Safeway website says. Sounds like the stores decide how to honor them:

Check with your local store regarding "double coupon" promotions where customers will receive double the manufacturer coupon face value off the regular or club card price up to the identified limit. Not all locations offer double coupon promotions and the terms of such promotions may differ by time and store. Limitations and restrictions for double coupon promotions may change at any time. Changes will be posted in store only. "Double coupon" promotions do not apply to any internet or digital coupons except for applicable internet printed manufacturer coupons. These explanations and restrictions on "double coupons" apply to any promotion that increases the value of a manufacturer coupon beyond its face value.

Thanks for looking that up!

I know we're not supposed to use outdated canning directions, but what if we just want to try something that seems reasonable to waterbath can, but had the old heat the jam and seal opinstructions. How do we guess how long to process? I am particularly looking at a peach/apple/carrot marmalade and I was hoping the additional lemon juice counteracted the carrots' lack of acidity. 2:2:1 on the amounts.

Most jams are water bath processed for 10 minutes these days. As far as using older recipes, the best thing to do is to do a little research and see if you can't find a modern equivalent that will have the proper acid levels and processing times. For instance, I know that there's a carrot cake jam in the current edition of the Ball Blue Book that might have the right acid proportions for your marmalade.

So, I found a jar of bread and butter pickles in our pantry that my husband made and canned several years ago. How long do home-canned pickles stay good?

The USDA recommends that for best quality, you should eat your home-canned foods within one year. After that, they do start to lose quality. However, if the pickles look good, the seal is still tight and there's no mold growing, the pickles are still safe to eat.

My friend and I had our inaugural canning session this weekend, and we think it was a big success! But our pot wasn't big enough to process the jars standing up so we processed them on their sides in a soup pot. Is that safe?

Not really. Jars need to be processed upright so that the oxygen in the headspace can escape. That's what creates the oxygen-free environment you need for shelf stability. You can also compromise your seal if you process your jars on their sides.

Hi-can you make small batches of jam to keep in the fridge and use immediately-like within a week or two? Would you go about using the same sterilization process and using sealed lids or can you use jars or other glass containers that are clean with screw top lids? thanks so much...

You can absolutely make small batches of jam for quick use and they don't have to be processed. For those small batches, just put them in clean containers, let cool and refrigerate.

For some reason the Wash Post won't accept a question with a link (?) but those interested in canning for charitable purpose might like the site for the Mennonite effort. The church takes portable canning facilities all over north America and cans meat for donation. Not sure they still do produce. BTW - some faither traditions recognize the value of gleaning - using up extra produce, items that have fallen from the tree and would otherwise rot, etc.

Oh, weird glitch. I'm guessing you mean this site. Thanks for passing it along.

I picked blackberries and made awful jam. Tasted metallic. Was it the pot? I used a regular everyday pot...not nonstick.

Sure sounds like it.. I'm not sure what you mean by an everyday pot, but for jams and other preserving projects, you want a non-reactive pot. This means no aluminum... so look for enamel over cast iron or stainless steel.

Chopped mushrooms (coarse or fine) sauteed with minced garlic and a dash of soy sauce, green olive tapenade, hummus blended with paprika and minced onion or pepper flakes, yogurt blended with dill and slivered radishes, buttery mashed potatoes with arugula and dots of sirachia (?) I've played around with this a couple times.


I'm betting Marisa can help me out here -- What are the best sources for replacement gaskets? I have a number of canning jars and also canisters with worn-out or missing gaskets, and I absolutely cannot find replacement ones as wide or thick as the originals. I'm using three at a time for thickness, but that doesn't help with the width problem. I have looked and looked on-line and tried a number of kitchen and hardware stores with no luck. Thank you, thank you for any and all solid leads!

Check, they carry all the old time canning equipment, including replacement seals for the old bailing wire jars. If you're looking for replacement seals for European jars, is your best bet.

I hope I can get this in just under the boyfriend and I are finally living in a place where we'll have enough room to start canning and preserving. What's a good and easy small-batch recipe that we can do this fall?

Well, I am just as new as you. I made my first recipe last night, this week's Pear and Chocolate Jam. Very basic and will use up nice local pears.

Pear and Chocolate Jam

What size pressure canner would you recommend?

I have a small kitchen and so use the 16 quart Presto pressure canner. It doesn't have a giant footprint but still holds seven quarts or nine pints. If you've got unlimited space, you can always go bigger. However, I find that it does everything I need it to without overwhelming my storage capacity.

My 13 year old daughter is probably going to be diagnosed with an ulcer. The doctor gave us a list of recommended foods to avoid and to consume today, and I am having a hard time figuring out what to cook. She is a picky eater and thin, so she needs to have enough calories. She is supposed to avoid tomatoes and tomato sauces, salsa, pizza, spicy foods, garlic, onions, chocolate, butter, oils, salad dressings, and eat lean meats, fruits, veggies, crackers, cheese, pasta. etc. She eats pasta with butter because she doesn't like sauce, so that won't work. She loves cheese and Mexican food. She likes veggies, but with ranch dressing. Where can I start?

Running out of time, but see if the NIH page on ulcers can point you to some resources.

I have been drying tomatoes and want to put them up with oil. Commercial jars all contain citric acid, some spices, garlic basil, etc.. do I have to do them by weight or volume... how much citric to use as the acidulant, and do they need a hot water bath for 10-20 minutes.. any help would be grateful.

Your question raises several issues. When canning with oil, it's likely you will have to use a Pressure Canner, not a boiling water bath. Adding garlic makes that even more likely. If you are not an expert canner, I would advise against making up your own recipe for this project, and instead, look to the experts, for instance --  any of the excellent books reviewed today, to ensure a safe product. Tomatoes, oil, garlic, fresh herbs -- this is a dangerous stew unless properly acidified.

I see this question asked a lot in this chat, so I thought I'd throw in my suggestion. When I was on a low-carb diet, I found a bowl of tomato basil soup with parmesan did the trick. Throw in some oregano, mozzarella and pepperoni, it tastes like pizza without the bread.

Sounds tasty, even for this high-carb diet girl.

I am really hoping you can help me with this. My bf and I are having a party in a couple weeks and expect about 35-45 people. Since I have some restaurant-style large catering pans with burners, we (I) plan on making mac 'n cheese, meatball sliders, jerk wings, and cold bruschetta with crostini. My question is - how do I calculate how much to make? I put on the invite that some apps would be served, and it's at 8pm so most people will eat at least some food beforehand, but I don't want to risk running out. It's hard to calculate based on servings on recipes just because 1 serving is not what someone would eat at a party. What do you recommend? Also - do you know if any of your mac and cheese recipes would be good served catering-style? I.e. not "casserole" style, but more scoopable. And yes, I realize I could actually just get it catered, but I want to cut down on cost and I enjoy cooking.

I'll tackle the mac and cheese question. You could try doubling or tripling one of our mac and cheese recipes and baking them in separate pans without the topping, then turning them into the chafing dish, adding the topping and (very carefully) broiling to make the topping pretty and golden. Then just transfer the chafing dish from the oven to its stand over the burner. (I''d worry that a hot burner under the bottom would burn the cheese sauce, though, so be watchful.) Or you could just try baking all of them right in the chafing dish, but that's a lot of mac and cheese to heat up in a single container. As to how much food to make, I'd say to make more than you need. You can always freeze it, and like you say, you don't want to risk running out.

This is a food preservation web site with free recipes, techniques and tips, many of them wallet-friendly.

Yes, a very good site indeed.

Check for an interesting flat bread idea using seasonal produce. Looks delicious!

Ah, yes, right at the top -- Leek, Chard and Corn Flatbread. Yum.

This my second year canning. I've been taking it slow and sticking to basic peaches, tomatoes, and apples, so I can learn (and not make anyone sick). I've seen in several people/websites recommend using "seconds" but I've also seen an equal amount of people who say you should use the best available. What would you recommend?

When people say to use the best available, it simply means that you want to use fruit that is fresh and free from mold and bruises. Seconds are typically just not as pretty as the first string fruit. I use seconds regularly and they work beautifully in preserves.

If it helps, know that commercial processors almost always use the less visually attractive fruits and vegetables in their own production lines, to no ill effect.

You are not! I'd love to send you some info about other "cheats" I come across in local markets.

Jane - you are not the only person who has noticed the downsizing of food. This is a devious way of increasing the consumer cost without them realizing it (or some of us anyway). I make a bombe that requires a half-gallon of ice cream. Imagine how irritatated I was to find that it is no longer one-half gallon but 1.75 quarts ... nice, huh? Fortunately, I had a ganache to fill the difference. A lot of foodstuffs (pasta included) are now coming in smaller packages. It'll really mess with a recipe if you aren't careful.

I always like to ones with a couple different cheeses and herbs from the garden, same with a barbeque chicken one. Sometimes I look at specialty pizza menus for inspiration.

Don't forget the Daiya! It's a vegan cheese that melts beautifully. I think the shreds come in cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack.

Let him cook! I was cooking (boiling water and all) younger than that. Just be near enough to remind him of safety precautions without taking the fun out of it.

I'm the person who started out hating cooking, buying premade meals and living off of chicken nuggets, hot dogs and ramen noodles. Then I decided I wanted to eat better, so I tried out the Lean Cuisines and stuff like it. Then I decided I wanted to feel full (those meals are so puny!) and wanted to try my hand at cooking. It's taken me about four-five years of making this transition, and it hasn't always been easy. But I went from using a lot of premade ingredients in my home cooking to basically cooking and baking from scratch. I haven't given up 100 percent on the premade stuff (dude, chicken nuggets are still a nice lunch, and ramen cooked in homemade chicken broth is pretty tasty, not to mention a lot lower in salt). But the slow steps have really worked for me. You'll learn as you go, and then you can dig more into real cooking as you feel more comfortable. I would say the biggest mistake I tried to make is feeling in the beginning like I needed to tackle these huge, long and complicated meals to be a real cook. Now I've realized to save those kinds of dishes for the weekend when I have the time and to realize when something is going to be too much for me. Know your cooking skills!

To the chatter asking about figs, where do you live in the city? Fig trees are not uncommon in the fairly lush parts of the city. Walk around your area, you might see one in someone's yard and be able to negotiate something with the owner. In my area (Brookland) I know of one home with two fig trees where the residents let the birds eat most of them.

Yes, there are lots of fig trees in the area. And, yes, make sure to ask the owner before you pick!

This is an old trick of the manufacturers. Remember when tuna came in 8 oz cans? Or when chocolate chips were 8 oz? Now, to use old proprietary recipes, it means buying more than one package. The European Union dealt with this by requiring specific sizes and the "E " symbol shows the manufacturer has followed these rules. Half a gallon of ice cream is now 3 pints not 4.

Mozzarella and Artichoke hearts is my go-to

Well, we're all pickled here at Free Range after that exhaustive examination of canning and preserving.


The cookbook winners are the chatter who asked about "Canning times" and the chatter who first raised the question about double coupons at Safeway. The former gets Marisa's "Food in Jars." The latter gets Kelli and Peter Bronski's  the "Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking" book.


Winners, please send your contact information to Food editorial aide Becky Krystal at


See you next week!

In This Chat
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is the Food section staff writer. Joining him are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, editorial aide Becky Krystal and Smarter Food columnist Jane Black. Guests: Marisa McClellan, author of "Food in Jars," and blogger/canning expert Cathy Barrow.
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