Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reflections In The Canning Kettle

Reflections in the canning kettle

I learned to can as a little girl in my grandmother's kitchen.  We shared pleasant conversations about all the goings on in the world at the time and she would patiently and methodically work through what ever fruit she was canning.  There was always something that I could help with and she would tie one of her aprons around my waist as we would get underway.  She never whipped out a recipe book, she just knew how to do it.  So calm in her process, laughing, assigning me little was all great fun.  Showing me how she sieved the apples to make applesauce, how she measured the sugar carefully, how she worked the fruit over to make sure that only the very best was going into the recipe.  I watched as she carefully wiped the rims of the jars before she screwed on the lids, so many little things that you just absorb over time, watching year in, year out.  My mother, for me, had a frenetic energy and since I was a kid with my own frenetic energy...we kind of clashed, but with Gram, I always felt calm and wanted to learn everything she knew.  I wanted to hear all of her stories, even if I had heard them hundreds of times before.  She was an amazing story teller.  Every time I can, to this day, I am reminded of those sweet times we shared together, of how much she taught me, not just about canning but about life in general.

Gram, as we called her, was born in Sheffield, England.  She told a story about a sign her dad saw shortly after the 1906 earth quake in San Francisco.  They desperately needed plumbers and skilled labor to rebuild the city.  And so Great Grandpa Desmond came to America and shortly sent for his family.  They lived in Oakland for a bit and one day took a buggy ride to the Merced area, fell in love with it and moved there.  Gram was an only child, her father leased out irrigation equipment to folks in the valley, he would come with his pipes and set up to irrigate their fields.  Later he went to work for Standard Oil.  

Gram married a man much older than she, they moved away to Paso Robles and she had two daughters during the Great Depression Era.  The marriage did not work out and she found herself divorced with two young girls.  She, along with many women during that time, learned to be very frugal.  Those things that we take for granted...a jar of jelly, were a luxury.  Sugar was hard to come by.  Gram did what she needed to in order to get by, she took in boarders, she mended and ironed clothes and worked in a dress shop.  She eventually remarried and moved to Sonoma.  Our Pop was the only grandfather that I ever knew.  He adored her and they were a beautiful example to me.  Married over 50 years!  And both lived well into their 90's.

Back to the lessons of canning.  I was taught not to waste.  If you had an abundance of fruit, you would put some by for winter time.  Jellies, Jams, Canned Fruit, Sauces, Pie Fillings...they would all serve as a source of security if times got hard.  Along with your beans and rice, you would always have a little fruit put up.   The jars once emptied, were carefully saved for the next seasons harvest.  

Fresh Ripe Bing Cherries

So this week I was given a large box of beautiful, perfectly ripe sweet Bing cherries!  My weekend was laid out for me.  Now, where did I put that cherry stoner???  I know I have one!  Frantic rummaging through cupboards, finally...Success!  I mean, you could remove the stones without a cherry stoner, but you might be there a month of Sundays and have your fingers cut and black from the process...LOL.  John was fascinated by the cherry stoner and so I put him to work, pitting the cherries.  I need 2 quarts pitted for this recipe honey!

Some people like their jam smooth, or even prefer jelly.  I am not one of those, I like to see the fruit in the jam.  Some of the cherries were left whole and most were cut in half.  It's a simple recipe really.

2 quarts pitted cherries (cut in half)
1 pkg MCP pectin or Sure Jell
juice of one lemon
1/4 tsp butter
7 cups of sugar.

Mix the fruit, pectin, lemon juice and butter in a large non reactive pan.  Bring to a full rolling boil ( a boil that cannot be stirred down) Add your sugar and bring to a full rolling boil again, boiling it for 1 minute at sea level, 2 minutes at 1000-3000 ft, and 5 minutes over that.  Ladle into clean jars and seal.  

What you get is a jeweled jar bounty!  Waiting quietly in your cupboard for that cold rainy winter day.  Waiting to be spread on a piece of hot homemade bread, freshly toasted.  Mmmmm.  Yes, it's worth the effort!  So tie on your apron, organize your canning supplies, calmly and methodically put up your abundance.  You are creating space for summer in the dead of winter and you, my friend, will be well rewarded for your efforts.

Be sure to write what you canned on the lid with a permanent marker, along with the month and year...this way, you can rotate your canned goods and you will know at a glance, is that Boysenberry or Cherry Jam?

Well, of course, I had to make a fresh cherry pie tonight, so I am off now to have a piece with my husband and watch a little TV together.  Tomorrow I might have to make some french vanilla ice cream to go with this!


  1. What could be more delicious than homemade goodness? - especially that cherry pie!!!! Oh that is just so gorgeous. What a fun read. -Letty

    1. Thank you Letty! You are a sweetie pie!

  2. That all looks so amazing! I'm sort of inspired to hunt out some jam recipes now but it's 23:27 here so it will have to wait till the morning lol