Tips for canning and preserving fresh produce ahead of New Hampshire’s unforgiving winter months

  • —Courtesy

  • —Courtesy

  • Fresh raspberries and raspberry-peach jam made from scratch by Hillary Nelson of Canterbury, who spoke with the Monitor about best practices for canning and preserving. Sometimes raspberry jam becomes raspberry sauce, Nelson said, which is good because sauce is great on ice cream. Photos by HILLARY NELSON / Courtesy

Monitor staff
Sunday, August 21, 2016

In a few months time, icicles will replace the bounty of fruit hanging from New Hampshire’s berry bushes, and lovers of summer’s rich produce will be longing for that fresh, sweet taste.

The good news is they may not have to look beyond their kitchen pantry or freezer to satisfy their deep hunger cravings – if they preserve the taste of summer fruit in a jar.

The process of canning fresh fruits, vegetables and other goods can intimidate beginners, but veteran food preservers say there is no harm in giving it a try. What’s most important, they say, is to find a trusted recipe and follow it exactly.

“Once you deviate from those approved recipes no one can tell you that it’s safe to eat,” said Jessica Sprague, a food safety field specialist at University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. “It really is true that when in doubt, throw it out.”

Hillary Nelson of Canterbury has canned produce for roughly 30 years and said to this day she still makes mistakes. She said every year, she ends up with as much raspberry jam as she does raspberry sauce. The good news, though, is that sauce is fantastic on ice cream, she said with a smile.

Although canning can be tricky, both Sprague and Nelson agreed there are best practices that all should follow to help ensure a safe and edible product for them and their families.

Some basic tools to have on hand are: a rack to hold the jars, jar lifter, funnel, kitchen timer, measuring cups, canning lids, scale, food labels, an enameled or stainless steel-clad metal saucepan and clean towels.

For those new to the craft, begin with high acid fruits that are also high in pectin, which naturally helps set jams and jellies. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are safe bets, whereas fruits with pits like plums, peaches and cherries have lower levels of pectin. Recipes will often require a person to add pectin, which can be bought at the grocery store, or made at home with tart green apples.

If you’re working with food that is low in pectin, like vegetables, there’s a greater risk that more can go wrong, Nelson said. Although rare, foodborne botulism is a concern, and can cause death. Both Nelson and Sprague said when preserving vegetables the safest bet is for people to use a pressure canner, but that advanced technology is expensive and therefore meant for avid canners.

No matter what type of food you’re preparing to store away, clean tools and a sanitized workspace are essential, experts say. While glass jars can be reused, the tops used to seal the preserves should be new – and both need to be sanitized in hot water. The lids need to vacuum seal to the jars and cannot do so properly if there is residue on the jars’ rims.

Jars also won’t seal if there isn’t a correct amount of space between the top of the food and the top of the jar. That space, referred to as headspace, varies depending on the type of produce inside, and it’s important so food can expand as the jars heat up.

“If the space is too big, it might not vacuum seal. If you have too much product, it’ll leak out the sides,” Sprague said.

Canned food is good for about a year and should be stored in a cool dark place such as a cupboard and not on kitchen countertops. A bulging lid or a leaky jar is a sign of spoilage.

There’s no right or wrong time to start your summer canning, just make sure the produce you’re using is ripe or near ripe.

“Whenever the food is beautiful, use it,” Nelson said. “Whatever is in season, go for it.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)