Canning is our second biggest food preservation technique. Quantities vary year to year depending on the size of our fruit crop. On our really big fruit years, canning often lasts until late at night and sometimes into the early morning. Mostly we can using the steam bath method which works really well for tomatoes, pickles and fruit. For the pressure canner we stick to meat and dry beans which are long cooking items so don't tend to mind the extended canning time required for preservation.
I started canning when I was twelve. Pickles were my training ground, with three forms of preservation: salt, vinegar and canning, they never go bad although keeping them crisp is a bit of a trick.
Tip: add grape leaves to your pickles to help keep them crisp. Also, be careful to not can them to long.
In 2005 we got the most bountiful plum harvest I can remember. (This year we didn't get any.) All three of our 'canning' plum trees bore abundantly. Canning plums are not very good to eat fresh so we can all of ours. We get plums so rarely and in such small quantities (usually) that they are a real treat when we do have them.
Apple sauce- First we had to pick the apples, I was too small to climb the trees but I helped from the ground. In the house we peel them. Sometimes we have a contest to see who can peel the most apples in an hour. I peel very fast and make marks on my paper to keep track of the number. I have not won yet but maybe next time I will! After they are peeled and chopped we put the apples in lemon water to keep them from turning brown. Then we put them in a pot and cook them slowly for several hours until the sauce turns sweet and pink. One of the older girls or Mom will can the apple sauce when it is all done. Sometimes we cook it even longer in the oven until it turns into apple butter.
Though some years we don't get many tomatoes, this year we had an abundance. Other than for fresh eating the only thing we do with tomatoes is to can them. Because of our over abundance, we canned a lot so that we would have them for this winter. We like to add garlic and basil to our tomatoes.
Since our tomato plants often die early we pick the tomatoes that are close to being ripe and set them on our porch rails to finish ripening while the plants use the rest of their energy ripening the still green tomatoes, which will later also sit on the rail. Though our tomatoes usually don't do very well, when they do do well, they really come in and this was one of those years.
For many years we didn't have enough fruit coming in to be able to make much jam. As our blueberry bushes and fruit trees matured, we have had an abundance with which to work. We have a basic recipe that we use for all fruit but as time permits I like to try out other interesting and more elaborate fruit spreads. When we get above and beyond what we need for our usual purposes, we turn to our shelf of recipe books for new ideas of how to use the excess. By working with what's on hand, we've found some specials we'll enjoy year after year. Little by little the pantry shelves fill up with a summer's crop of blueberry, grape, raspberry, peach and pear jams and preserves and sometimes a new one like pear-cranberry chutney, dry peach conserve or green tomato mincemeat. Over the rest of the year, we can enjoy our summer's bounty from the Lord on our toast and waffles.
We usually have three peach trees that are producing. They bear really well about once every three years. We pick big bowls full of juicy peaches. When ripe, their skins peel off very easily. After picking, we work them up as soon as we can, slicing them into a bowl of lemon water to prevent them from turning brown. They are so succulent that juice runs all over, down our knives, onto our hands and drips upon the table cloth. It's a sticky job! Once dipped in lemon water the peach slices are pulled out and packed into jars for canning. Into each jar goes about 1/4 cup of apple juice (to help the peaches retain their flavor) plus all the water needed to fill the jar. Sometimes I can them; Sarah cans a lot of the produce as well. Hannah used to do most of the canning but now she does very little canning. (Before Hannah learned how, Mom did it all.) I think canned peaches make a nice snack during the winter.
Each year, in about the middle of February, we hang up the maple sap cans in our maple grove. After the sap starts to run, we gather it with five gallon buckets, emptying these in turn into a fifty-five gallon drum which is in the back of the truck. On normal days we follow this procedure twice a day, on bad days once and on good days three times. It takes about one hour per trip. After we have gathered about 100 gallons we start boiling the sap down, for this we use a big stove in an outbuilding. Every six hours Dad or one of the older boys puts in about fifteen more gallons. It takes around 48 hours to boil down 100 gallons of sap.
For every 40 gallons of sap we boil down, we get one gallon of maple syrup. When the sap is very close to being syrup, we bring it into the house so that we can watch it closely so that it does not boil over, this makes a big sticky mess. We are grateful that this does not happen often. When the syrup is all done, we can it for the coming year.
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