Improvised Canning

I finally canned something! Years ago, I remember canning jam with my aunt and my grandmother, but I’ve always been intimidated to try it on my own. I finally worked up the nerve to can apple butter this weekend, and it worked out just fine. We had some apples left over from a recent trip with friends to Apple Hill, so I decided to try the apple butter recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. When I had questions, I referred to the USDA Canning Guide. Here are my canning utensils, ready to go:

The only things I purchased for canning were the funnel, the “jar grabber,” and the jars/lids/rings. Everything else was stuff I already had – we even improvised the canner from thrift store finds! We used a huge pot I found at Goodwill for $9, a pasta insert I found for $3, and some coiled aluminum foil to keep the pasta insert off the bottom of the pot. John easily removed the handles from the pasta insert so it would fit all the way into the pot, and we were good to go.

It worked like a charm. The pot has a tight-fitting lid, so it didn’t lose much water at all during processing. I was surprised to find that we needed to add five minutes to the processing time, since we’re more than 1,000 feet above sea level.

I used the “jar grabber” to safely remove the processed jars from the hot water. I think this is one special canning tool that really is necessary. It’s technically called a “canning jar lifter,” but I think “jar grabber” is much more accurate.

It was so exciting to hear the cans make a “pop” noise as they sealed while they were cooling. My Mom told me this was one of the best parts of the canning process, and I totally agree!

The real reward for all the hard work is the satisfaction of enjoying my homemade apple butter on toast. The bread is homemade, too. I’ve been trying to perfect a multi-grain recipe. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m still eating and enjoying my test loaves!

This experience taught me that canning is not as difficult as it seems. There are a lot of steps that were hard for me to understand until I thought about the big picture of the canning process. It’s pretty much just sterilizing, filling the jars, and processing. I get confused when I look at the 20-step canning directions, but if I think of those three main steps on their own, it all makes sense. You don’t need very much special equipment for canning fruit jams, butters, and jellies. Don’t believe the hype! Just use what works, whether it’s the “right” equipment or not. That’s pretty much my attitude about most things, actually. 🙂

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