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A&E >  Food

Preserving &rewarding

When it comes to preserving the summer’s bounty, canning veterans insist that the age-old practice isn’t difficult provided you do one important thing:

Follow the directions carefully.

“It is so simple,” said Roberta Hartley of Newman Lake, who has won blue ribbons for her jams and pickles at the Spokane Interstate Fair.

And while fears of jams not gelling plague many amateur canners, Hartley said it’s nothing to sweat about. “If it doesn’t gel, use it for syrup. It doesn’t really matter. I made orange marmalade once that didn’t set, so we had orange marmalade syrup.”

As summer winds down, many residents have started canning, freezing or drying fruits and vegetables so they can enjoy local produce – whether from their own gardens or from area U-pick farms – during the sometimes dreary winter months.

Karen Joy and her family spent a day recently canning 21 quarts of peaches they picked at Green Bluff. The golden gems will grace a storage shelf for months to come. The Medical Lake resident also makes her own dill pickles.

“My oldest son is in his 20s and until recently he never had a pickle that wasn’t mine,” she said.

For both women, there is a sense of satisfaction knowing that their families are eating something they’ve made or preserved themselves.

Hartley said she and her family (even her kids have won ribbons for their own pickles) will take a 100 pounds of cucumbers and make more than 130 jars of pickles. Some will be donated to school fund-raisers, others given as gifts.

As her daughter headed off to college this year, Hartley said she snuck several jars of her homemade jams and pickles into a box.

“It was big deal for her,” Hartley said. “We’ll see if she shares some of it.”

While following directions is important, it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with the flavor of a recipe.

Hartley recalled making nectarine jam and found herself without lemon juice. She used an equal amount of lime juice instead. “It was incredible,” she said, adding that to the jam won a blue ribbon at the fair. She now regularly uses lime juice for her apricot and nectarine jams.

Donna Russell, a blue-ribbon winner and now a judge for the Spokane Interstate Fair, began canning in 1991 after running out of space in her freezer for all the things she grew. She wanted to have shelf-stable foods.

Russell said she has canned just about everything there is from fruits and vegetables to meats. While many stick to items that can be water-bathed canned, Russell insists that pressure-canning is just as easy – and safe.

“Everyone has horror stories about it (pressure canning),” she said. “Pressure canners have improved. They do not explode. There’s nothing scary about it.”

Mistakes happen, she said, when directions aren’t followed.

That’s why, if you’re just starting out or haven’t canned in years, you should be sure to use reliable and current sources of information, said Nancy Sanders, food safety adviser with the Spokane County Extension Office. Two Web sites she recommends are and canningguide.html.

Russell echoed Sanders’ advice and added that any Ball Blue Book published after 1989 is an excellent starting point for those new to canning. In fact, many residents who have canned for years, say they still follow the Ball book.

Just be sure it’s been updated since the late 1980s when changes in home canning safety recommendation s were made.

“Grandma might have the best tasting recipe, but that might not make it safe,” Russell said.

Sanders said common mistakes people make include using water-bath canning methods for low-acid foods, not adjusting for living more than 1,000 feet above sea level and using age-old “tricks” such as tapping on the jars to force a seal.

In short, experts advise, don’t take shortcuts. And, “Don’t do too much at once,” Joy said.

Here are some tips and things to remember for different preserving techniques.

Water-bath and/or pressure canning

Water-bath canning works for most fruits and high-acid foods and for sealing jars of jams and jellies. Use a pressure canner for low-acid foods such as green beans and beets.

Always use jars designed specifically for canning. Do not re-use jars from commercial products.

Remember to adjust for elevation. Most areas of Spokane County, and the Inland Northwest, are above 1,000 feet and this means you need to adjust the pressure on a pressure canner dial and the time in the water.

Russell explained: “Water boils at 212 degrees at sea level. In Spokane, it boils at 208 ½ degrees.” Because of that difference, it takes longer for the temperature in the product you are canning to reach the 240 degrees necessary to kill bacteria.

Here are the adjustments for boiling-water canning from the Ball Blue Book: At elevations of 1001-3,000 feet above sea level, increase processing time by 5 minutes. At elevations of 3,001 to 6,000 feet above sea level, increase processing time by 10 minutes.

The Ball Blue Book suggested adjustments for steam-pressure canning are: At elevations up to 1,000 feet above sea level, set weighted gauge to 10 and dial gauge to 11. For 1,001 to 2,000 feet above sea level, set weighted gauge to 15 and dial gauge to 11. And at elevations of 2,001 to 4,000 feet above sea level, set weighted gauge at 15 and dial gauge at 12.

Use ripe but not overripe fruits and vegetables for the best results. Firm is good.

To keep jars warm while filling, Joy works on the counter atop her dishwasher. “I just open the dishwasher, take out a hot jar and fill it.”


To freeze vegetables, blanch them first in boiling water, drain and freeze. Many cookbooks include charts listing blanching times for different vegetables. Times also are available at blanching.html

Freezer jams are popular because they don’t require sealing jars in a water bath. Follow the directions for the pectin you are using. Joy said she prefers using lower-sugar pectin. “It really gives it a fresh fruit flavor.”

Jams also can be made without pectin, as long as the fruit has enough natural pectin in it. Because underripe fruit is higher in pectin than ripe fruit, Sanders recommends combining 1/4 underripe with 3/4 ripe to ensure the mixture will gel. Fruits that typically have enough natural pectin include tart apples, blackberries, crabapples, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, loganberries, plums (except Italian) and quinces. Lower-pectin fruits such as apricots, strawberries, peaches and pears should be combined with higher-pectin fruits for better results, Sanders suggested.

Eli Penberthy, nutrition educator for the Women, Infants and Children program, recommends freezing simple fruit purees made by simmering fruits such as peaches, nectarines and apricots in a small amount of water until they release their juices. Puree the mixture, let it cool and store in zipper-style freezer bags. Thaw individual bags and use the fruit as a spread on toast or stirred into cereal.


Use firmer fruits for canning. “The mushier ones, throw it in the blender and make fruit leather,” Hartley said. She uses an electric dehydrator and recommends purchasing one if you plan to do a lot of drying.

Otherwise, you can dry foods in the oven, outdoors when the weather is hot or even in a vehicle parked in the sun.

The University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a 32-page guide giving step-by-step instructions to drying fruits and vegetables. It is available free online or by mail for $2.50 plus shipping. Go to PDFs/PNW0397.pdf or call (208) 885-7982. The guide also includes specific instructions for making fruit leathers with either cooked or uncooked fruit puree.

Tips for competition quality

Donna Russell, judge and past fair winner, offered these tips for blue-ribbon quality preserves:

“ Make sure jars are clean. “If it’s sticky, that’s not a blue-ribbon jar,” Russell said.

“ For green beans and other vegetables, make sure all of the pieces are uniform size. Make sure pickles come from the same size cucumbers.

“ Consider the clarity of the liquid. If a brine is cloudy because of an ingredient, such as dry mustard, be sure to state that on the label, otherwise it counts against you.

“ Be sure to use a safe, tested recipe and follow current safety guidelines.

“ Practice makes perfect. “My feeling is if you want to win a blue ribbon, you have to do 100 pints … in order to get a blue ribbon jar. It has to be the best of the bunch,” Russell said.

Here are some recipes to get you started:

Picalilli or Green Tomato Relish

4 quarts peeled, cored, chopped green tomatoes (about 32 medium)

2 quarts chopped cabbage (about 1 large head)

2 cups chopped medium sweet red peppers (about 4 medium)

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup salt

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1 tablespoon celery seed

4 1/2 cups vinegar (5 percent acidity)

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

Sprinkle salt over vegetables and mix thoroughly; let stand 3 to 4 hours. Drain thoroughly. Press to remove free liquid. Add sugar, spices and horseradish to vinegar; simmer 15 minutes. Add vegetables and heat to boiling. Pack hot into hot jars, leaving 1/4 -inch head space. Adjust caps. Process 15 minutes boiling water canner.

Yield: 7 pints

Approximate nutrition per 1/4 -cup serving: 45 calories, less than 1 gram fat (no saturated fat), 1 gram protein, 11 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 1,000 milligrams sodium.

Applesauce with Red Hots

Adapted from Ball Blue Book

Donna Russell, an avid canner and past blue-ribbon winner at the Spokane Interstate Fair, likes to toss a handful of cinnamon candies into apples while they cook to give the sauce a spicy cinnamon flavor.

Wash apples; peel, if desired, core and slice. To each quart of apples, add 1/3 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon ascorbic and citric acid mixture. Toss in a handful of Red Hot cinnamon candies. Cook apples until tender; puree. To each quart of hot puree, add 1/4 cup sugar, stirring until dissolved. Cool. Ladle applesauce into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes, leaving ½ -inch headspace. Seal, label and freeze.

Yield: Varies

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.


From Janice Thorson, Glenrose Gardens

8 to 10 large tomatoes (peeled)

2 large onions, diced

4 to 5 sweet peppers, diced

3 medium jalapenos, diced

1/2 cup vinegar

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons ground chili powder

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, stirring frequently for about 30 minutes or until it begins to thicken.

Freeze or can in a pressure canner following the manufacturer’s directions.

Yield: About 4 quarts

Approximate nutrition per 1/4 -cup serving: 12 calories, less than 1 gram fat, less than 1 gram protein, 2.7 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 42 milligrams sodium.

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