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Puffball Scramble- Serving Suggestion

puffball fried with vegetables and scrambled egg puffball and stir-fried veggies (photo by jhy)
You will need:
any other veggies you like- peppers, squash, etc.
butter, oleo, or other fat
frying pan

Cut the puffball into pieces no more than 1/2 inch thick and maybe an inch square- it doesn't matter much as long as they aren't too thick to cook through while the outside browns. Cut up the veggies. This would be really pretty with red pepper, but I didn't have any around. Prepare an egg or two by breaking into a small dish and scrambling with a fork. Add a little milk or water as you prefer

Stir-fry the veggies in hot fat. I think the puffball doesn't have much flavor unless you use a fat with some flavor of its own, such as oleo/butter or bacon fat. Add seasoning. When the vegetables are nearly cooked, add the puffball pieces, as these cook quickly. Continue to toss the mixture until the puffball starts to cook.

Clear a space at the edge of the pan and add the egg. Mix it up as much as you like. You could just fry the egg, if you don't like them scrambled.

Edible Wild Fruit- Clammy Groundcherry

clammy groundcherry fruit clammy groundcherry fruit with husk (photo by jhy)
The Clammy Groundcherry, Physalis heterophylla, produces a small golden fruit that is sweet with tart overtones. The plant is in the Solanaceae family, which means that it is a tomato relative. There are also a number of poisonous plants in this genus, but this one is easy to identify. You can click any picture to see it enlarged, and find other views, too.

Start looking for this low plant in June or July. It likes to grow in poor soil, or dry woods. In the United States, it has been found in all the contiguous states except California and Nevada.

clammy groundcherry plant clammy groundcherry plant (photo by jhy)
I find it in an old field mixed with the grasses. It can grow as high as three feet, but I rarely see it more than a foot in height.

The leaves and stems are very hairy, and the stems are slightly sticky. The bases of the leaves are rounded, not toothed. The plant always seems to be drooping, even when it's very happy.

clammy groundcherry flower clammy groundcherry flower (photo by jhy)
The flowers are a creamy yellow and always hang downwards. If you lift a bloom and look inside, you will see a lovely brown star-like pattern.

clammy groundcherry seed pod clammy groundcherry seed pod (photo by jhy)
By mid to late July the fruit capsules (seed pods) begin to form. These look like little Chinese lanterns. They will be green at first. If the capsule is still green, the fruit is probably not ripe. If you open the capsule, the fruit will probably be green, or a greenish-gold. They won't hurt you if you eat them at this stage, but they won't be as sweet.

If you wait until September, when the pods are dry and papery, the fruits will be pure golden. There is one fruit in each capsule, which can easily be pulled out. The fruit is sticky.

What can you do with these? I never seem to find enough to do anything except to eat them as a treat. If I would collect a few to carry back to the house, they would be good on a salad.

However, I once received a gift of jelly made with them, which was good on meat. Supposedly they have a lot of natural pectin. I have also read that they can be dried to create "raisins." I haven't tried that.

Sugar-Free Pear and Crabapple Sorbet

sugar free pear crabapple sorbet sugar-free pear crabapple sorbet- notice the icy texture and how it will not hold a shape (photo by jhy)
You will need:
  • 2/3 c crabapple juice
  • 2/3 c sugar substitute such as Splenda or Stevia (I used Splenda)
  • 2 T. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 4 c coarsely chopped pears
saucepan 8x8 metal cake pan with lid or foil blender or food processor spoons, spatulas, etc Now that I know what the texture of a sorbet should be like, I decided to adapt one of the recipes that uses a sugar substitute. I did like the flavor of the Crabapple-Pear Sorbet, but really hate using so much sugar. The results with the substitute were not very good.
sugar free pear crabapple sorbet sugar-free pear crabapple sorbet after blending and before freezing (photo by jhy)
In a saucepan, combine juice, sugar substitute and citrus juice. Bring to a boil and boil one minute. Cool to room temperature. Add the pears and puree in blender or processor until smooth. Pour into an 8x8 inch metal pan, cover and freeze at least 4 hours, or overnight. I let it freeze overnight.
sugar free pear crabapple sorbet sugar-free pear crabapple sorbet after freezing- you can only shave the surface, it's so icy (photo by jhy)
When I tried to dish this up with an ice cream scoop, it would not come out of the pan. It is full of ice crystals and was too hard to do anything but shave the surface. I let the pan sit out for 15 minutes and tried again. This time I was able to dish some up, but it does not hold the shape of the scoop at all. I even tried to press it into a ball, but it would not stick. The texture is much icier than the sugared sorbet, more like a thick slushie, although the flavor is good. This recipe has less crabapple and more pear, making it a little less tart, and a lighter pink color. The Sugar-Free Pear and Crabapple Sorbet would be a refreshing dessert on a hot day, but it's not nearly as good as the real thing.

Low-Fat Pear Oatmeal Muffins

lowfat pear-oatmeal muffins pear-oatmeal muffins (photo by jhy)
You will need:
  • 1 c quick oats (divided)
  • 2 c white flour
  • 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c sugar (or 3/8 c sugar and 3/8 c sugar substitute)
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt (you can reduce or eliminate this for low-salt diets)
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon, mace or cardamom
  • 1/4 t ground allspice
  • 2 c chopped ripe pear (the smaller the pieces the better)
  • 3/4 c low-fat buttermilk or sour milk (you can add 1 T vinegar to regular milk to sour it- be sure to start it about 30 minutes ahead to give it time to sour)
  • 1/3 c lowfat cottage cheese
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil (we now use Smart Balance, but canola, or any vegetable oil works fine)
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 egg plus one egg white OR 3/8 c Egg Beaters™ or similar product
  • shortening or vegetable spray
bowls spoons, scrapers, etc. measuring cups muffin tins These muffins are really delicious. We've been making them for years, and after my husband had a heart attack, we made some substitutions to make them even more healthy. Preheat oven to 400F, and if you need to create the sour milk, mix the milk and vinegar and let it sit a few minutes. Prepare tins for 18 regular-size muffins. Combine 1/2 c of the oatmeal and all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the pear pieces and mix gently to disperse and coat them. Mix the rest of the ingredients and stir or whisk till well-combined. Make a shallow well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the liquid all at once, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
unbaked lowfat pear-oatmeal muffins fill muffin cups to the top (photo by jhy)
Spoon immediately into the prepared muffin tins. For this recipe you will fill the cups to the top (some muffins should only be filled to three-quarters). Sprinkle the remaining oatmeal over the muffins, and press in lightly. Bake for 18 minutes or until done. Muffins will be lightly golden. Remove from pans immediately and cool on a rack. These freeze well, if you can refrain from eating them all right away! With half sugar substitute, and lowfat milk, chottage cheese, etc. these muffins are only 120 calories each.

Pear and Crabapple Sorbet

a scoop of crabapple-pear sorbet a scoop of crabapple-pear sorbet (photo by jhy)

You will need:
  • 1 c crabapple juice
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 c coarsely chopped pears
  • 2 T. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • salt
saucepan shallow container such as 8x8 cake pan blender or food processor 32 oz. freezer container with lid spoons, spatulas, etc Let me explain, right at the start, that this was an experiment. I had never tried this before. My results were good, but not spectacular. I'm not sure I like this enough to make it regularly, because it has to be made with sugar, rather than a substitute, so that bumps the calories. However, I might make it for a special dessert for company. There are sorbet recipes available which use Splenda™ instead of sugar. I have not tried any of them. I suspect they would need to be eaten immediately after preparation because the reason a sorbet works is that the large sugar molecules prevent the product from forming ice crystals and just becoming a popsicle. Anyway, this recipe was adapted from one that uses cranberry and pears, and it's the real deal... all sugar.
crabapple-pear sorbet before blending crabapple-pear sorbet after first freezing, before blending (photo by jhy)
Heat 1 c. crabapple juice with 1 1/4 c water, and 3/4 c sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add pears and simmer until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, and then transfer it to a shallow pan. I used a square glass cake pan. Freeze for at least 6 hours, or overnight, until solid. Break this mixture into chunks and put in food processor or blender. I only have a blender, and even though it's pretty new and powerful, it wasn't very happy with trying to blend this. I used the puree setting. I probably should have only done portions at a time. When the whole mixture is completely smooth, return to a container with a lid and store covered in the freezer. The less air space there is in the container, and the sooner you eat this after the second freezing, the better it will be.
a soft scoop of crabapple-pear sorbet a soft scoop of crabapple-pear sorbet- before second freezing (photo by jhy)
The taste was excellent, with a nice balance between the tart crabapples and the sweetness. The texture was what you would expect of a sorbet- less icy than sherbet, but similar. I ate some as soon as it was blended. At this point, it was too soft to make into a ball, so was just a blob in the dish. After freezing for another day, I was able to roll up a ball with an ice cream scoop. However, it softened very quickly, and you can see in the top picture that the scoop is already losing its shape. That was after fewer than 2 minutes! Of course, sorbet does give you a frozen dessert option without the fat content. I'll have to try a sorbet with one of the recipes designed to use a sugar substitute, and compare the product. It looks like you could get about 6-8 scoops (servings) out of this recipe.

Quick and Easy Ideas for Serving Pears

If you have a pear tree, or access to one, you've already found that, in a good year, once the pears start to ripen there are more than you can deal with. Here are a few of my favorite fast, easy ways to serve pears that will help make the pile disappear.

Pears Plain
Just eat them out of hand! No need to peel if the skin is clear.

Pears in Lime Jello
This is a classic, but kids love it. (Adults do too!) You do have to remember to mix up the jello a few hours ahead of when you want to serve it. Prepare lime jello (regular or sugar free) according to the directions. Stir in pear chunks. If you stir them in when the jello is just starting to set, they won't float, but if the goal is to feed a hungry family... who cares!

pear with a pickled crabapple pear half garnished with a pickled crabapple (photo by jhy)
Pears with Garnishes
Plain pear halves can be served with just a bit of something to enhance the mild and sweet flavor of the pear. This can even be quite elegant if served on a lettuce leaf.
1. Add a pickled crabapple, and drizzle the pear with the red juice.
2. Add a strawberry and drizzle with chocolate sauce
3. Add a dollop of some jelly, preferably with a tart flavor- mint or crabapple
4. Drizzle with Nutella

Pears and Cheese
Pear chunks mixed with various kinds of greens and sprinkled with crumbles of a strong flavored cheese such as bleu cheese, Gorgonzola, Havarti, etc. make a fancy, but easy, salad.

Pears and Spreads/Dips
1. Pears smeared with peanut or other nut butters make a quick snack.
2. Cut pears into matchsticks and serve with bleu cheese dressing as a dip

Pear "Waldorf" Salad
I think pears go particularly well with pecans. Make a Waldorf style salad of firm pear chunks, pecans and celery. Mix with just enough mayonnaise or Miracle Whip to bind.

The Easiest Way to Peel Pears

pear halves cut pear in half and quarters lengthwise (photo by ory)
You will need:
sharp paring knife
items for whatever you want to do with the pears

Pears can seem quite difficult to peel and core because of their odd shape. This method is the quickest I have found to peel pears, assuming that I don't want to end up with perfect halves. That requires a different technique.

First of all, choose the pear. If you've gotten your pears from an abandoned tree, there are likely to be a lot of imperfect ones. The one in the picture above is quite regular, without insect damage. I chose that for the pictures, but you can use this same basic idea even if the pear has odd contortions from insect stings. You'll just need to cut out any damaged sections. Cut the pear into lengthwise quarters.

coring a pear quarter remove the core (photo by ory)
Then hold the pear with the midline up and the base of the pear toward you.

Place the knife behind the stem, or if the quarter does not contain the stem, behind the hard, cord-like rib which will lie on the midline. With one motion cut that out, and then slice deeper as you reach the section containing the seeds to remove that part of the core. Bring the cut back to be more shallow as you approach the blossom end, and cut off that end too.

peeling a pear quarter remove the peel (photo by ory)
Turn the pear quarter over, and remove the peel with a shallow cut behind the skin. You can accomplish this with very little waste with a sharp knife and a bit of practice.

This will leave you with a long, narrow slice of peeled pear. That is, if you started with a nicely shaped pear. But even if there was a bad spot or oddly-shaped place, you can still salvage as much good fruit as possible with this method, and the core isn't too difficult to remove.

Then you can cut the good portion of the pear into whatever size chunks you desire.

Don't forget to compost the waste!

Pickled Crabapples

whole crabapples cooking whole crabapples cooking (photo by jhy)
You will need:
  • at least 2 quarts crabapples with stems
  • 1.5 T whole cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 1.5 T whole allspice
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 3 cups vinegar
  • 3 cups water
large kettles a cooking basket is handy pint canning jars lids & rings bowls, spoons, dipper paper towel This was the first time I had tried these classic pickled crabapples. I learned some things, and I'll share. First of all, you need more than 2 quarts of crabapples if you want to end up with 6 pints of pickles. I had been putting the best of the apples aside as I made juice, leaving the stems on and refrigerating them so that I would have enough for a batch of crabapple pickles. I started with a bit more than 2 quarts, and could only fill 5 pints with some apples left over. spices tied in a clothThen I discovered that I didn't have any whole allspice. I substituted a teaspoon of ground allspice, and it worked fine. The spices need to be tied in a square of cloth. I used a clean piece of old cotton jersey knit. Muslin would be good too. I fastened it with a rubber band instead of string, and that seemed to work fine. My recipe said to run the apples through with a needle to prevent them from bursting. I used a large corsage pin to do this, and put two holes through each one. Combine the sugar, vinegar and water, add the spice bag and boil for 5 minutes. Then you want to cook the apples in this hot mixture. They should be cooked only one layer at a time. You could ladle them in and out with a slotted spoon. I have a basket that fits in a gallon kettle, and I used that which made it easy to gently lift the apples in and out of the hot syrup. However, the directions I have only say to cook gently until the apples are almost tender. split crabappleI tried 5 minutes, and that was way too long. Almost all of the apples split, like the one you see here. I wasn't very happy, but decided that I cooked them too long. I reduced the cooking time to just under 2 minutes. Some of the apples still split. As it turned out the inner fruit took on the deep red color of the skins, so the splits didn't show very much, but if you were making these for gifts, you might want to sort the apples after cooking to choose ones that didn't split. As each batch of apples is cooked, remove it carefully from the syrup and put in a clean pan. When all the apples are cooked, pour the hot syrup over all the apples. Cover. Put them in the refrigerator for 12-18 hours.
whole crabapples in jars whole crabapples placed in jars (photo by jhy)
After the 12-18 hours, sterilize the jars and prepare the lids. Carefully fill the hot jars with apples. Be sure to leave head space (don't fill so full that apples protrude above the rim).
whole crabapples in jars with syrup syrup poured over whole crabapples (photo by jhy)
Remove the spice bag. Heat syrup to boiling and fill jars with the hot syrup, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Clean rims with damp paper towel. Add lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. See Basic Instructions for Hot Water Bath Canning
crabapple pickles pickled crabapples (photo by jhy) It had been a long time since I've had pickled crabapples, but I have to say that they are really yummy. I don't know how many I will use in a year, but I'm going to try to determine that and make some each year.

Finding Free Pears- Bartlett

Bartlett Pear Tree Bartlett pear tree (photo by jhy)
You can always buy pears, but the point of this blog is to be able to find free food. You have a good chance of finding some abandoned pear tree in an old farmyard if you keep your eyes open.

There are several kinds of old fashioned pears that were often planted at homesteads, now called "heritage" varieties. In the northeastern US, the most common are Bartlett and Seckel. This post will talk about Bartletts. In Europe, these are called Williams pears. The Bartlett has a shape that has come to be the definition of pear-shaped. Not all pears actually have this shape, but this one does.

Look for small (15-20 feet) trees that don't spread out into much of a crown. You will see bright white blossoms in May. Pear twigs are very recognizable, looking stubby and awkward. I'll add a picture when the leaves are off the trees. They were often planted in pairs for cross-pollination.

Bartlett Pears Bartlett pears (photo by jhy)
The fruits grow along the branches, and will be ready to harvest in early September. Each pear is 3-5 inches in length and about 2- 2.5 inches in diameter. Harvest before the first frost.

Bartlett Pears should be harvested while still green. I shake the trees every day and pick up the ones that have fallen. That way, I'm not breaking off a lot of twigs. Then allow them to ripen after picking. You may read that they are ripe when they are yellow, but if you wait to use them till they are yellow, they will be pretty much over-ripe. There is a window of about one day when they are greenish-yellow, and still somewhat firm, but soft when you cut into them. This is perfect for canning, drying, or even eating.

Puffball Fried in Bacon Fat

puffball fried in bacon fat puffball fried in bacon fat (photo by jhy)

You will need:
bacon fat
frying pan

Puffball is one of my absolutely favorite things to eat, when fried lightly in bacon fat. This is a food that doesn't keep well at all, so if you find a puffball, just rearrange your plans and eat it the same day.

puffball just harvested puffball just pulled from ground (photo by jhy)
Even if you aren't comfortable collecting wild fungus or mushrooms, there really isn't anything else that looks like the giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, (identification post pending) so you can't go wrong. They can grow to about a foot across, but as you can see from the picture, the one I collected today was only about three inches in diameter. When they are edible, they are white, smooth-skinned, and will feel firm, like stiff foam.

To gather it, just pull it straight out from the ground. You'll see that it has a narrowing stem where it was attached to the mycelium below the ground. Hold it gently so you don't bruise or break the skin.

If you feel it needs washing, do so gently and dry it off. Usually, I just carefully wipe off any loose dirt with a clean hand or a towel.

puffball slices puffball sliced about 3/8 inch thick (photo by jhy)
Cut off the stem end, and reveal the inside. The flesh should be firm and white. If it has begun to yellow, don't eat that part. If there is just one yellow spot, cut around that. If the whole thing has yellowed (and become soft), just discard it and hope you find another. Peeling is optional- sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't if the skin is thin and smooth. Cut into slices about 3/8 inch thick.

Heat some bacon fat (I keep a jar in the fridge just for puffballs!) in a frypan and place the puffball slices in a single layer in the hot fat. Fry for a couple of minutes until that side is golden brown. Turn (you may need to add more fat because the puffball will soak it up), and fry the other side. It shouldn't need extra salt since the bacon fat is quite salty, but you can sprinkle some on if you really want to.

Eat right away!

If you find a big puffball, sometimes you can keep it over till the next day. Don't refrigerate and don't wrap in plastic. If you want to cover it, put it in a paper bag. As long as the flesh stays firm and white you can eat it.

fried puffball served with a salad fried puffball served with a salad (photo by jhy)

I ate this entire puffball for dinner with a salad. I used about two teaspoons of bacon fat in cooking, which is about 80 calories. I am assuming the puffball has about the same number of calories as a white mushroom, which is 6 cal/oz. The slices I cooked were about 3 ounces, so lets say another 20 calories. Total for the cooked puffball: 100 calories.

Crabapple Jelly- No Added Pectin

crabapple jelly crabapple jelly in half-pint jars (photo by jhy)
You will need:
    crabapple juice (at least 4 cups, but up to 8 is fine)
  • an equal number of cups of sugar, eg. for 5 cups of juice, use 5 cups of sugar
one gallon (or larger) kettle quarter or half pint, or pint canning jars lids and rings spoons, canning funnel, small dishes, etc paper towel It's best if some of the crabapples that you used to make the juice weren't fully ripe, as they will provide more pectin, but apples have enough natural pectin that crabapple juice usually gels well without adding any commercial product. However many cups of juice you begin with, you'll end up with slightly less jelly. So if you want four full half pints of jelly, start with a bit more than 4 cups of juice. I began with 4 cups of juice, and the picture looks as if I got four jars of jelly, but one was not full enough to seal. Not a problem- we ate it up over the next few days! But if you want to produce a certain number of jars for gifts, or something, you don't want to be short. Pour the measured juice and sugar into a kettle. You don't want the kettle to be very full or you'll have an awful spatter mess on the stove. A large surface area, and shallow depth of liquid, is better than a narrow, deep pan. Bring to a boil and continue to boil, without stirring, until the jelly stage is reached. This can take a while, possibly an hour or more. This is approximately 8 F degrees higher than the boiling point. (At most altitudes this will be 220 F, but you'll need to make adjustments for high altitudes.) Another good way to test without a thermometer is to check with a cold spoon. I keep a metal spoon in the freezer, and when I think the liquid is starting to thicken I use the cold spoon to dip a little bit from the pan. If it breaks off the spoon as a jelly, it's ready. I'll add a picture here when I make the next batch. Turn off heat. Skim the foam with a metal spoon.
Ladle or pour into clean, sterile jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Having the jars sterile is really important so you don't have to process the jelly. Fill one jar at a time, so that the jelly is as hot as possible for each. Clean the rims, Place clean, softened lids on the jars, and add a ring. This is steps 4-8 of Basic Instructions for Hot Water Bath Canning.

Here's the way to sterilize the inside of the lid. When you have put the lid and ring on a jar turn the jar over and let it sit upside down for 30-60 seconds. Then turn it right side up again, and place the jars at least an inch apart. In this way, the hot jelly has come in contact with the lid. Because jelly has so much sugar, you can seal jars this way and not have them spoil. Eventually, I'll write a whole post about this step.
crabapple jelly on an English muffin crabapple jelly on an English muffin (photo by jhy)
Let the jars rest without moving them until cool. The lids should seal without any problem. If one doesn't, you can re-heat the jelly and try again, or just move that jar to the fridge for consumption. This is a lovely, tart jelly with a clear red color. It's good on bread products or to accompany meat.

Crabapple Pie

slice of crabapple pie slice of crabapple pie (photo by jhy)
  • You will need: crabapples- about a gallon of whole fruits
  • pie crust for a 10" pie, double crust- ready made or your favorite recipe
  • 2 cups sweetener (sugar, or combined with something such as Splenda™ or Stevia™)
  • 1/2 c flour (or a little more)
  • butter or margarine
knife and cutting board
large bowl
10" pie plate
spoons, scrapers

Preheat oven to 425 F.
cutting crabapples cutting crabapples- can you tell that I got some help with this step? (photo by jhy)
Cutting the fruit is the longest part of this preparation, but at least you don't have to peel the crabapples! Do wash them, but you can ignore the stems and blossom ends. Then just cut four slabs off the sides of the apple, and discard the whole core. You'll need 7 cups of crabapple slices. Add 1/2 c flour, and 2 cups sugar or a mix of sugar and granulated sweetener. I find that about half and half tastes good and cuts the calories a lot.

crabapple slices 7 cups crabapple slices (photo by jhy)
Fit the bottom crust in the pie plate and heap the fruit mixture into the plate. This will be very full, but it cooks down to leave a nicely rounded pie. Dot with butter or margarine. Cover with top crust and seal the edges. Cut a few slits in the top crust. Cover edges with foil or with pie crust shields.

crabapple pie ready for baking crabapple pie ready to bake withpie crust shields in place. You can see that I have a drip pan on the lower shelf and a few blobs of leftover crust. (photo by jhy)
Bake for 40-50 minutes until filling bubbles through the slits. Cool before cutting. I adapted a recipe for apple-cranberry pie to this. The resulting crabapple pie is a wonderfully tart pie with red filling. It has immediately shot to near the top of my favorites list. The flavor is quite tart, so you might possibly want to add more sugar/sweetener. The filling was a tiny bit runny, but congealed more by the second day. You could add a couple more tablespoons of flour if you want. Made with all sugar, a slice equal to 1/10 of a 10-inch pie has 442 calories. If half sweetener is used, the calories are reduced to 365 per slice.

crabapple pie crabapple pie (photo by jhy)

Basic Instructions for Hot Water Bath Canning

jars of food being processed by hot water bath seven quarts in a canner (photo by jhy)
You will need: see Equipment Needed for Hot Water Bath Canning

What is Hot Water Bath Canning?

Canning your own food to preserve it can be very satisfying, and it's a great way to work at becoming more of a locovore. However, if you have not done this before, the whole process can seem daunting. Trust me, even though there are a lot of steps, the basics remain the same for any recipe, so you will quickly become adept at the job. There is a lot of cleanup, and rustling of large pots and pans. None of us can do anything about that!

Processing by the hot water bath method means to submerge jars of hot food in boiling water, and keep them at the boiling point for a specified length of time (stated in individual recipes). This raises the temperature of the food in the jars high enough that bacteria is killed. When special types of lids are used, which seal when the jars cool, food can be kept without spoiling for years (although color and texture may change with age).

Hot water bath processing is suitable for fruits and acid vegetables. Other foods need to be processed in a pressure canner which will raise the temperature higher than 212 F (100C). In general beans, corn, meats, and any low-acid food requires pressure canning, or the bacteria will not be destroyed. Don't take chances with this, because home-canned food can kill if botulism is present.

Steps Used for any Recipe

Don't prepare more food at one time than you can process in one canner load. It's fine to do fewer jars, though; the canner does not have to be full.

You have to do some multi-tasking here. Somewhere between steps 1 and 5 you have to get the food ready that's going in the jars. You want the water in the canner to be hot and ready to receive the jars of food. You don't need to be boiling empty jars for an hour, but you do want to be sure they are hot and sterile when you need them. I usually do step 1, get the water for step 4 ready and warmed up, then hold it just under a boil until I'm almost ready for the jars.

1. Wash canning jars thoroughly. Check the rims for any nicks, or scratches; these jars probably won't seal. Never use a jar with a crack- it's sure to break.

2. Fill the canner at least half full of water, and put the rack in it. Begin heating this. It's good to have it just below the boiling point when the jars of food go in. It takes a long time to heat this much water, so that's why I put this as step 2. You should also fill another kettle, teakettle, etc with water and bring it to a simmer, too. When you have the jars in the canner, you'll probably need to top it off, and you should do this with hot water.

canning lids soaking canning lids soaking (photo by jhy)
3. Put lids to soak in a shallow dish of clean, warm water. This softens the sealing material slightly. I usually alternate them, one up, one down, so I can easily grab them when needed. If they are all stacked one way they can be difficult to separate when I'm in a hurry to get one on the jar.

4. Place clean jars in a kettle of simmering water, laying on their side. They don't have to be completely submerged, but be sure that the water is boiling enough to produce what my mother used to call "live steam." If you can only fit a couple of jars in your kettle at a time, that's fine. They only need one minute in the boiling water/steam to sterilize them. You can be sterilizing the next one while you are filling a jar with food.

headspace 1/2 inch headspace (photo by jhy)
5. When the food is ready, put a towel on the counter or table. This insulates and cushions the hot jars so they are less likely to break when contacting the surface. The chances of that happening are slim, but I've had it happen once with a jar full of hot tomatoes, and it was no fun at all. I suspect that jar had a crack I didn't notice. Fill the jar with the food leaving the amount of headspace indicated in the recipe. Headspace just means the distance from the top of the liquid to the rim of the jar. Depending on the food, a canning funnel can be really useful for this job.

6. Using a very clean damp cloth, or a damp paper towel (I prefer this as I can always have a clean spot), wipe the rim of the jar to remove any drips. Even one grain of sugar can prevent a jar from sealing. Do this carefully.

7. Take one of the wet lids and place it on the jar with the sealing compound against the rim.

8. Screw a band on the jar to hold the lid in place. Tighten it snugly, but not forcefully.

9. Place the jar of food in the canner. The rack will keep it from touching the bottom of the canner, and will also hold it upright. Repeat steps 5-9 until the canner is full or you have used all your food. If there is some food left over, just refrigerate and use soon. Partially filled jars won't seal.

10. Top off the water in the canner. Jars should be covered with at least a half inch of water. Bring the water in the canner to a boil. It does not need to be a full rolling boil, but needs to really boiling, not just producing occasional air bubbles.

11. Boil (process) for the recommended time in the recipe.

12. Turn off the heat and remove jars from the canner. It's possible to do this by lifting out the rack to remove all the jars at once, but I'm always concerned that I'll jostle or drop them, so I use my jar lifter and remove them one at a time. Place them on the towel again, and don't let them touch. In fact, keep them at least an inch apart so that the cooling takes place evenly.

13. Wait at least 12 hours. In fact, my mother always said to not even move the jars for a day.

14. Remove the rings. Wash the outsides of the jars. Particularly if the contents were sugared, some syrup is likely to have oozed out during processing and made them sticky. Label- don't think you'll easily remember what's in the jars. A lot of things look a lot alike after a few years on the pantry shelf. Unless it's for a gift, I just use a marker and write on the cap. Be sure to include the year! This way you can use the oldest jars first. It's also handy for reference if one batch turned out particularly good or bad.

15. Clean up the whole mess, and start another batch of something!