Authors: Registered Dietitians
(HealthCastle.com) Thinking about preserving the best of this year’s harvest? Preserving is fun but can be intimidating. Using the right equipment and following specific steps can result in a delicious end product that is safe to eat.
1) Have all tools clean and ready – There are some basic materials that are important to have on board when home preserving.
- Clean jars, screw tops and new one-time use sealing lids.
- Sharp knives – there is nothing worse (and unsafe) than working with a dull knife.
- Cutting board – have a large surface for your ingredients.
- Tongs – to help get your jars in and out of the water bath.
- Ladle – for pouring the preserve into the jar.
- Stock or canning pot large enough for jars to fit in and be processed.
2) Read your recipe through ahead of time – You can see our recipe has been passed down through the generations. Reading through ahead of time allows you to confirm that you have all needed food and materials, and helps ensure that you understand what it is you are to do! It also allows you to forecast the time needed.
- We made a mustard relish, and needed to let the prepared vegetables rest with pickling salt overnight. Luckily we knew ahead of time that this was a 2-day process, starting Saturday afternoon and finishing up Sunday morning.
3) Get fresh ingredients – Preserve the best flavours of the season. From the local produce truck, we selected fresh peppers, onions, and cucumber. We went to the local store for cauliflower.
- Ensure the spices you are using are fresh! Spices lose their strength over time; old seasonings will not flavor your food the way intended. Buy spices in smaller quantities unless it is something used regularly.
- For our recipe, we used mustard seed, dry mustard, celery seed and turmeric. I don’t use a lot of turmeric in my cooking. It has a peppery, slightly pungent taste, and contributed to the bright yellow color of our relish. Preliminary research suggests that turmeric may have special health benefits.
4) Imagine your final product – It is important to envision what you will eat and how you might eat it. In this case, we had to envision what vegetable size will make a pleasant eating experience of mustard relish? We chopped our vegetables into very small, bite-sized pieces, remembering too that during processing, the vegetables cook down in size.
5) Enjoy the preparation experience – As they say, together is better. Work with a friend as you chop away. Using a combination of a paring and chef’s knife, I prepared the cauliflower while my mother in law finely diced our other vegetables, in part, with the aid of an “alligator” to create perfectly small square pieces. All the vegetables, once chopped, emitted a ...fresh, clean, pure smell.
6) Taste-test your recipe – After you have followed your recipe instructions, taste test before further processing. Scoop up a small amount of your recipe, drop onto a tasting spoon and sample – are you happy with the taste? In this case, I found that more mustard and sugar were needed for my taste preference.
- Add additional spice and ingredients slowly. You can always add more ingredients, but it is difficult to take away. After all the preparation, you don’t want to make a flavor change that yields disappointing results.
7) Make notes on any changes or observations – You can see from our recipe, a few adaptations have been made over the years. My recipe books and cards are very messy – not only from use, but also because I make notes right on my recipe – did I add in more spice? Did I add more vinegar? What methods and techniques worked well? What did I change? Keep notes so you can build on your own success.
8) Always think food safety! Food safety is critical when doing home preserves. Your preserving strategy depends, in part, on what kind of food you are preserving. There are lots of resources available to help guide you through the steps to ensure you are being food safe.
- Wash hands and all produce.
- Sterilize your equipment.
- Prepare your food and follow the preparation method on your recipe.
- Fill and process your filled jars. In this case, we used a hot water bath for processing. In Calgary, because our altitude is high, we needed to process our jars for extra time. In this recipe, we processed our filled jars for 15 minutes in the water bath.
- Ensure your sealing lids did, in fact, form a seal to your jar.
I have enjoyed our mustard relish with ham, beef, bison, on sandwiches, in wraps, with crackers, and on a salad. Preserves make beautiful gifts for friends and family, and can be a lot of fun to make.
What is your favourite preserve to make? To eat?