Breaking the Rules

27 Sep

Dear Zoe,

I recently revisited my childhood home, and spent a moment soaking in the memories still lingering in a room at the bottom of the creaky basement stairs.  It was the room that held all our families dearest treasures: shelves lined with jewel-toned jars of tomatoes, peaches, applesauce, pickles, and jams.  My mother laughs to think that what to her was a matter of making ends meet could now be one of my favorite hobbies.  Even just thinking back to last summer–you and I up to our elbows in an ice-bath full of cucumber slices–fills me with joy.  Here’s to the yearly ritual of putting up treasures!


When people find out I’m into home canning, they often look at me with awe: “Wow!  I wish I could do that…”  And then I say “Uh, duh–you can!”  I am not a woman of perfection.  So frankly, I’m irritated by the bureaucratic institution of home canning perpetuated by the USDA.  They produce publications titled “So Easy to Preserve”, and then fill it with scary don’ts.  DON’T REUSE YOUR LIDS OR YOU AND EVERYONE YOU LOVE WILL CONTRACT BOTULISM!!!!!At the risk of inciting a knock on my front door by a couple of government agents wearing reflective sunglasses, I’d like to make the following statement: I have been home-canning for more than a decade, and I break the rules all the time; the number of people I have killed is precisely…zero.  I reuse lids.  I don’t always follow canning recipes.  Sometimes I don’t even use a hot water bath (did you know jars can sometimes seal themselves?)!

Go ahead and try home canning.  Go ahead and break the rules, even!  But please always perform a few checks on your product before you feed it to someone you love.  Here are some of my tips for making canning more accessible to us folk:

1. Wear a fabulous apron:

The kitchen will get crazy, and it’s probably hot as late-summer’s-ass outside.  So take off as many articles of clothes as you can and cover up the important bits with a classy apron.

2. Salvage questionable produce for jams and sauces:

less than peachy

When eating fresh produce, you wouldn’t want to bite into a bruised, moldy specimen.  So you wouldn’t want to eat them later as a canned item either, right?  Well, when you’re cooking up a sauce or a jam, it’s ok to fudge things a bit.  When preparing fruit or veg for this purpose, just make sure to carefully check it over and cut away any moldy, bruised, or otherwise gross and smelly bits.  You might even find a good source for “seconds” produce at a local market or producer, which could land you a bushel of peaches that you might not want to bite into, but would do just fine in a jam!

3.  Have fun and make sure to line up your jars so they look like a beautiful string of jewels:

And to help you along, a couple of recipes I recommend from my most recent weekend canning fest:

Spiced Fresh Peach Chutney …Great on fish!!

Lord Grey’s Peach Preserves


One Response to “Breaking the Rules”

  1. Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious September 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks for making my Spiced Fresh Peach Chutney! I love that stuff. I eat it with roasted chicken, or grilled sausages, and you’re right, it’s great on fish. Sometimes I just eat it out of the jar. Because I don’t care what the rules are!

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