I'm really interested in the Culinary Arts certificate, which can be earned by taking 9 classes and completing a final showcase to display the skills you've learned through the program, but I wanted to take a class to feel out the program before I make anything official. Canning, Preserving, and Freezing seemed like a wonderful place to start since I've always wanted to learn how to do it and regret not learning how every year when I buy way too many apples at Graves Mountain. I'll make a pie, a crisp, a cobbler, and then I'm appled out, but I'll still have 10 apples in the fridge. Happens every time. You'd think I'd wise up and stop buying so many apples, but that would be logical and would mean I couldn't tell the cashier "I'll take a 1/2 bushel." "I'll take these 6" doesn't quite sound as cool, right?
Anyways, we used 5 recipes during the class, but in teams. I picked the recipe that didn't require me working with someone, because I was feeling especially anti-social that night (I warmed up a little after 30 minutes or so). Unfortunately, the recipe I chose was the ONLY one that was not actually canned - frozen strawberry preserves.
You think I'm going to say that because of that, I didn't really learn how to can, eh? Wrong. My strawberry preserves were also the quickest recipe, so I finished first and got to observe all the other groups and the instructor. I think I got the best of both worlds.
I started by hulling 12 cups of strawberries (1 1/2 huge strawberry containers from the grocery store). Once they were fresh and clean, I mashed them a bit, blended them until they were a little chunky but a lot runny, and mixed them with 12 cups of sugar.
Then I mixed 3 boxes of powdered fruit pectin with 2 1/2 cups of water and brought it to a boil - let boil for 1 minute and immediately pour it into the strawberry-sugar mixture.
It's that easy! The instructor said you can jar this recipe, but since we were making so many other recipes, she wanted this one to be freezer-ready, which means no jars allowed. So once my preserves were ready, I put it in 12 individual freezer containers - 1 for each student in the class and a few leftovers.
For the other 4 recipes, we used 2 different methods. First, we have the paraffin method, which should only be used for jams, jellies, and butters. In class we used this method for blackberry jam and peach butter, which she said could be made with the same amount of apples to create apple butter. I have the recipes but I missed the part where the teams were mixing up the ingredients. Once the blackberry jam was ready to be jarred and the paraffin wax was melted, the instructor showed us all what to do next. She whipped out this handy dandy preserving tool kit that includes a funnel, spork/knife for evening out the contents of the jar, a magnet for lifting hot lids onto the jars, and a jar lifter. She used the funnel and a large ladel to get the blackberry jam from the hot saucepan into each jar.
Once all the jars were full she poured the melted paraffin on top to seal in the fruit. She poured it until it was just about even with the top of the jar - as the paraffin started drying it was easier to see any flaws or potential air pockets, so she added a little more to each as necessary.
She told us to leave the lids off the jars for 24 hours to allow the paraffin to completely dry.
Here's the pre-paraffin peach butter:
The third preserving method is the hardest most time-consuming. Once the food has boiled and simmered, you ladel it into the jars the same way as the jam or jelly, but then put the lids on loosely and put the jars on the rack. Add the rack back to water, making sure the water is at least an inch above the tops of the jars, and bring to a boil again for several minutes, varying based on the recipe.
We made country corn relish and spicy apple chutney using this method. Once the jars have sealed themselves (after 24 hours and there is a divot in the top of the jar), you can tighten the lid all the way.
I had a great time and learned a lot. Of course I wanted to go to Walmart on the way home and pick up a bunch of canning supplies and start making jelly, but I decided to wait a week for all the knowledge to set in, and then I can make a decision on whether or not I should make the investment. Preserves can be made with just buying the fruit, pectin, sugar, and some GladWare, but the others need more tools, like jars, racks, etc., and that can get expensive. We'll see :)