Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Preserving the past, one jar at a time

Grocery shopping has become a chore for me. It was so nice before I actually started caring what I put in my body. I would almost skip down the isles tossing in peanut butter, jelly, and bread without a second thought. The only rule I had was, whatever was on sale was going in the cart. Life was so easy back then. This was until I started paying attention to all the research about food additives being linked to obesity and cancer, and how large corporations were taxing the environment and shoving corn in many shapes and forms into our bodies without us being aware of it. Thank you author, Michael Pollan and the creators of Food Inc. for that!

As I stared at the jelly section for a good ten minutes, picking up each jar and dissecting each label I thought, seriously?! I have way better things to do! How hard could this really be? It's science! all I need is a little acidity, a binding agent, sugar, and heat.  The acid helps draw the pectin out of the fruit when it's heated (all fruit contains pectin, some more than others, which is why you need to add liquid or powdered pectin for most recipes). The water from the juice is attracted to the sugar, so as those molecules combine it frees up the pectin molecules to bind with each other...then viola! Your jelly can set and get...well...jelly!

Even though I could understand the concept of canning, I was always scared of it because I've heard a lot of cautions about tainted food from canning things improperly and after getting on the USDA's website I was pretty much scared sh!tless that I was going to kill someone.http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/  <---so don't go here. :) One day I just decided to go for it. I'll just try the recipes out on myself (and my poor hubby) just to be safe.  I work in agriculture and I am lucky enough to live in Bakersfield (yes, you read right, lucky), so there is always a farmer around with extra produce laying around. Last year I was given a grocery bag full of white pomegranates, a new variety that is currently being developed. I love pomegranates, but eating them can be a real pain in the ass and not to mention really messy. I had so many, I knew they would start going bad soon, so I checked out some websites and found a recipe for jelly.

It looked easy enough, and with just four ingredients, I was on board. http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1723,146173-238199,00.html . Thanks to my grammy, who as soon as she heard of my desire to can went out and bought me my basic supplies, I was ready to roll! Everything went well at first, added the pomegranate juice (which I squeezed by hand) to a medium sized pot, added the lemon juice, pectin, let it simmer, then added the sugar...and that's when it happened! my sweet, sugary concoction started to grow, and grow...Expletives left my lips as I frantically added butter like the recipe said in case of unwanted bubblage. Yeah, that didn't work. I panicked, and as panic struck in, every braincell waived goodbye and shut down. It was too late to turn down the heat, that crap was moving fast. I lifted the pot off the stove, but in just enough time to watch helplessly as it boiled over and blackened my entire stove top. My poor little burners were covered in a gooey, scorched, gelatinous mess. So I cleaned up and started over...with a bigger pot!

I know what you are thinking, I don't have time for this, I work, I am a stay at home mom busy with kids all day, I____. Stop making excuses, just do it! I work a full time job and work ag hours, which those of you who are familiar with ag hours know our work week is usually 54-60hrs a week and no overtime until after 60. So if I can do it, you can too. You will be so proud of yourself after you did; and if you have kids, you will create lasting memories that they will always remember. Yes kids are great, they make perfect little slaves...helpers:). Kids could easily do the pomegranate juicing, which is the most time consuming part. Just slather the counter tops in PAM, let them work over the sink, and hose them down in the backyard when they are done. In the next post I will go over juicing pomegranates and the actual jelly making process.)

Here are the basic items you will need to start canning.

A. wire rack thingy that you put your jars in. Holds six at a time. You must have this because water needs to circulate all around the jar for adequate sealing.
B. Funnel thingy, makes pouring liquid into jars a lot easier
C. Jar grabber. Make sure to grab jars with curvy looking end, don't be an idiot like I was! haha.
D. Ridiculously large pot.
E. Booze! you will need it after your first canning session (trust me, it does get easier!)

Cool thing is, now you can find this stuff at the grocery store! I saw this starter kit at Albertsons (SoCal grocery chain) last week. You can also get fancy little magnetic lid grabbers, but I just use tongs. You will also need a LARGE pot for boiling your sticky goo, a ladle, plenty of clean tea towels, some cheese cloth (used for juicing), a spoon rest, sterilized jars (I recommend using the 1/2 pint jars to start), lids/rims, another smaller pot to simmer lids(I'll explain later), oh, and more booze! :)

Coming up next!
I will go into more detail for those of you actually wanting to try and can on your own. Don't be scared, like I said if I can figure it out, so can you! I will go over Pomegranate jelly, Jalapeno jelly, Tomato canning, canning your own sauce and salsa, and pickles. As long as you can acidic stuff, a basic water canner is all you need. Stay tuned

Blogs to get you motivated:

1 comment:

  1. I freaking love your blog! I feel the same way...It's quite scary to me, that most people don't even give a second thought to what they put into their body. I, too, watched Food Inc. and my life has been changed by it. If you liked that you should watch another documentary about food called Life According to Monsanto. I believe you can watch it here. http://www.veoh.com/browse/videos/category/educational/watch/v8968165kYRdfmYC
    It's eye-opening.