Canning seems to be one of those skills that you are born into. Most canners can’t remember the first time they saw their mom or granny doing it, it was just always there. I imagine them sitting in a bouncy seat on the kitchen counter watching as jars got filled with the season’s crops. Next thing they knew they were in the process of washing fruit, brewing simple syrup and dunking jars in caldrons of hot water.
Then there are folks like me, who are completely enamored with the notion of “putting up” food, but find it a daunting mystery, too big to take on as an adult. Either you’re born with it, or you’re not, was how I thought.
I imagine it is similar to how many folks feel about baking bread. Too time consuming, difficult and rife with stories of disaster. Knowing full well that this doesn’t have to be the case with bread, doesn’t it stand to reason that I could have faced canning as well? It took a visit to Suvir Saran’s American Masala Farm to show me the way. He gave me the gift of canning!
In the amount of time it took me to make a cup of coffee he’d set himself up to preserve a batch of fresh berries he’d bought at a local farmer’s stand. He was so nonchalant about it all. I grabbed my camera and in the following 45 minutes he rocked my world. I asked Suvir how he learned this art and he confirmed my suspicions …
“I first saw canning when watching my mother can jams, jellies, ketchup and squash in Nagpur, India. My mom sowed the seeds when I was in first grade.”
Those of you born into canning families may think my discovery is as obvious as breathing air, but for those of you who have avoided it, I hope you, like me, will be inspired to “put up” everything you can get your hands on*. My only issue now is getting enough jars.
Suvir’s Canning Fresh Blueberries in Lavender Simple Syrup
*This process does have to be done by the guidelines set up by the USDA to ensure that you are eliminating any chance of food poisoning. Suvir consults the Bell Jar books to find out the proper cooking times for various fruits.
Fruit or berries can be used for this recipe. The amount will be determined by the size and quantity of your jars.
Simple Syrup – equal parts water and sugar, amount will also be determined by quantity and size of jars.
Vanilla Bean, scraped (use 1 bean per quart of simple syrup).
During my visit to Suvir’s we stopped at nearly every farm stand we passed and he knew all the farmers intimately. It IS a small community, but also Suvir is dedicated to supporting his neighbors and eating locally. This seems to be both an effort to eat the tastiest, ripest, most gorgeous foods, but it is also because he is deeply connected to the people. Brian Talmadge is the farmer from whom he bought the Chandler blueberries. Brian and his wife Christina teach in local schools and run Black Lab Farm.
The blueberries were plump, sweet and juicy. Had I been picking them, I doubt I’d have enough to put in the jars after popping them in my mouth as I went along.
Suvir has way more willpower than I do and told me “In Cherry season, Grandma Burd (His partner Charlie’s grandmother) and I can pit about 100 pounds of cherries in 2-3 hours and then make jam, process and package and cool that and enjoy the next morning. There is a certain joy to working so hard. It comes from knowing you are preserving the best of a season to bring it back in even greater magic in seasons hence. A rewarding act in the kitchen that brings joy back in times when you need it. Like the very cold and frigid mornings and short days of winter in North Country. Nothing like waking up people to the smell and sounds of fresh biscuits, good thick, steak-cut bacon and an assortment of home made jams and jellies.” – you can find recipes for the biscuits and assorted jams in Suvir and Charlie’s upcoming book Masala Farm.
Blueberries are an easy way to get started because all you have to do is rinse them and they are ready to go. But I tasted his cherries and they are well worth the extra effort of dealing with the pits. I imagine the company of Charlie’s grandma makes that time fly!
There is some equipment that you need and some that just makes the process easier.
A big caldron Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack for boiling/sanitizing the jars
The Jar Lifter – which Suvir is using above to get the jars out of the pot of boiling water, which sanitizes the jars before filling them.
Fill the sanitized jars to the top and then tuck in the lavender.
Of course, Suvir and Charlie have a gorgeous supply of fresh herbs on the farm, so I just went out and snipped lavender.
Suvir set a giant vat of simple syrup to boil with vanilla beans. Any leftovers can be refrigerated or turned into sorbet.
Ladle the hot syrup over the berries to fill the jar.
Make sure it goes to the top.
The lids also need to be boiled to sanitize them.
Lift the lids out of the water with a Ball Magnetic Lid Lifter so that you don’t contaminate the lid, nor burn your fingers.
Screw the lids tight.
Place the jars back into the boiling caldron of water and cook to the directed amount of time, as determined by the USDA, which can be found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
Lift the jars out and set to cool on a towel.
That is it. I promise it is that easy. I had a master chef teaching me, and I do mean TOP CHEF MASTER, but the process is simple once you have the equipment and the correct times.
The result is gorgeous and as Suvir said, you will be so happy in January when you can open up a jar of berries and recall summer. I popped the seal on these blueberries when I was visiting my in-laws in Vermont. They turn out like a thin jam, with a sweet syrup, which is perfect as a sauce on dessert or just to eat on buttered toast. I served them on fresh whipped cream sitting on a lightly toasted almond dacquoise. It was a perfect summer dessert, one I will make again this winter and think of Suvir and my time at his farm. Thank you my friend for such a gift.