peach-ginger jam

The Art of Canning: A French Revolution

Admiration! For those who know how to preserve the harvest of the season, from pickling to canning, to cheesemaking and vinegar shaking. Canning foods is a novelty to me; it isn’t a tradition in Colombia to make soups or sauces at home for canning, at least not in my family or anyone I know. The only canned foods I remember eating growing up were sardines {which I disliked very much,} tuna, marmalade, and figs in syrup – all purchased products.

I received my first gift of homemade jams a couple of years after moving to the States. “You made this?” I asked, “how? at home? or do you have a factory?” Mistrusting the gifts as ‘odd’ I re-gifted them; the following three weeks more generous canners brought their offerings.

“What am I supposed to do with jalapeño jelly?” I asked the boy, “I dislike spicy food and more if it’s mixed with sugar, that’s just weird. And what’s an apple butter? would it bother my lactose intolerance?”

Seven years ago we signed up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) with Ela Family Farms which grows peaches, apples, plums, pears and tomatoes. When the fruit started coming it didn’t stop for three plus months; we had fruit chopped in the freezer for smoothies, we made crisps, cobblers, pies, muffins, sauces and chutneys for chicken and pork, we marinated peaches in wine {delicious} and we still had fruit going bad – it was time to investigate that at-home-canning-deal.

I bought the one and only preserving book that I now own, “Small Batch Preserving,” by Ellie Topp & Margaret Howard, which I dust every summer once the fruit mounts on the counter and dinning room table. I appreciate the end product of canning but find the process tedious, like running or jogging, which got me wondering “Who figured out canning?”

Canning in specific came out from the French Revolution {another reason to love the French.} Humans have used other food preserving techniques for thousands of years, but canning, or the first version of what we know as canning now, came out of the Champagne region of France by a young chef name Nicholas Appert after the French Directory offered a 12K Franc prize to whoever came out with a better way to preserve food for the starving troops.

Appert delivered his first canned meal in a champagne bottle with a peculiar seal of cheese and lime, another proof that we should all keep champagne bottles at home {full or empty, who’s to judge.} For years, people didn’t understand why it worked as they didn’t yet know the process of pasteurization, proven by Louis Pasteur almost a century later, but they figured out that if the seal swelled up it wasn’t good to eat.

The process continued to evolve and the names on the jars we buy are also part of the history. John Mason created the first jar container for canning, the Ball brothers became leaders in the preservation jars business, and Alexander Kerr invented the wide-mouth jar and the two-part lid.

Canning expertise – I don’t have. I avoid recipes with pectin because I screw them up every time, I have never canned anything besides fruit-based products, I prefer preserves because of the chunks of fruit in the final product and because it means less chopping. I follow my pastry training intuition for sugar content and balance of flavors and keep my fingers crossed until I hear the pop!making jams and preservesI rely heavily on the canning techniques and FAQ section of the preserving book and good websites, which I reread every year; I love the easy to follow recipes from Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook by Alice Waters, and the flavor combination ideas from Culinary Artistry – one of the first books I bought before starting culinary school and one I recommend to anyone who likes to experiment with food flavor profiles. shiro plumsIn the past three weeks, we have received five flats of peaches {roughly 150} and 3 1/2 pounds of Shiro plums. We made peach-ginger preserves and Shiro plum-vanilla bean jam. Every year we try to reduce the sugar and add different spices or eau-de-vie to enhance the end product.

This year each batch of peach preserve had 5 cups of chopped pieces, 1 cup of sugar, a 2-inch chunk of fresh ginger cut in half for easy fishing-out-of-the-hot-preserve, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice; and 1/8 teaspoon each ground ginger, black pepper and kosher salt – added a minute or so before it’s finished cooking.
peaches from lea family farms in coloradoWe used all 3 1/2 lb. of plums for the jam, yielding about 6 cups of chopped fruit with 2 1/2 cups of organic sugar, 1 vanilla bean pod {pulled it out half way through the cooking,} 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice, and finished it with 2 tablespoons of apple brandy.

I can eat this jam by the spoonful or with a piece of light pound cake and a dollop of vanilla-scented mascarpone or along side an aged cheddar {and a lactose pill} with a glass of icewine made from Vidal in the Niagara peninsula of Canada, or a glass of Sauternes.

Both these Confitures are great for a cheese plate or for brunch and just as good for a grown-up breakfast or tea party.

More on history
The Brief History of Canning

What’s on your mind?

6 thoughts on “The Art of Canning: A French Revolution”

  1. I just finally started canning and I love it! Your plum jam looks sooo good. I never used to understand the whole frenzy behind canning but now I totally get it. Yes, it’s a tedious process but it feels so good when you’re done!

    1. Sarisa,
      I can see how it can get addicting, however i’m still hesitant to go beyond preserving the fruits we get from the farm. I’m not hard-wired to think “preserving for the winter” which is a shame because i’ll be the first to go down if we needed it!
      What are your favorite canning foods?

  2. Dear Paula I am always please to discover your new blog. You make everything look so easy. I am impressed about your willingness to try to cane while you have not been exposed to it.

    I grew up in Montreal with canning every year. Always a big deal and lot of planning.

    I love how you mixed vanilla bean, ginger and exotic food together.

    1. France,
      In the tropics there is little preserving to do since we have a constant influx of produce through the year, unlike Montreal; which is fascinating to me to see how people have figured so many ways to keep food for the cold months – survival!
      Thanks for reading

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