Experimenting with canning.

We have had a fig tree in our yard for 10 years, but have left most of the figs for the birds until this summer.  As our thoughts moved toward retirement and how and where we want to spend it, I decided to retry canning — something I have done sporadically since learning how in high school.  The figs seemed like a good place to start.

The first recipe (see link) I found is the one I used all summer, with some modifications.   With just one tree, I was making small batches of 1 – 2 pounds of figs at a time and found that I needed to add more water.  After a few batches, I also grew tired of all the chopping and started tossing the figs in the food processor and using dried lemon peel.  The food processor actually made the jam better because the pieces of fig were smaller.  (They were probably what they should have been in the first place, but that’s a lot of slicing and dicing.)   I eventually developed a routine of picking figs first thing in the morning and again early evening.  If I had just made a batch of jam, I picked figs that were still firm.  As I gathered more figs toward my ideal quantity of at least 2 pounds, I allowed them to ripen more.  Figs that were almost ripe in the morning were pecked by birds by mid-afternoon, so how long to leave the figs on the tree became a balancing act.

One day, we were going out of town and didn’t have enough figs to make a batch, but I did have apples.  Fig and apple jam is good, but I later found that fig and blueberry jam is even better!   With 10 jars of fig jam in the pantry, the addition of other flavors was a fortunate experiment.

Orange Marmelade
I was so excited over the fig jam success, that I tried my hand at orange marmelade.  It was a lot of work and peeling the pith from the inside of the skin was a far more tedious job than suits my personality.  After all that slicing, and chopping, and cooking, and cleaning, the marmelade didn’t set.  I eventually dumped it all back into a pot and added orange jello.  It still hasn’t set 4 months later, and it never really tasted the way it should.  I have thought about pouring it into a cake pan and using it in a as a substitute for pineapple in an upside down pineapple cake, but I’ve also thought about just pouring it down the drain and freeing up my mason jars!

Baked Beans
For years, I cooked beans in a crock pot, but a year ago I bought an enameled cast iron Dutch oven and have been much happier with the results.  My two favorite recipes are Carribean Black Beans and Boston Baked Beans from The Joy of Cooking cook book.  I have only canned Boston Baked Beans, and found that I need to add more water than the recipe calls for if I want to pour the beans into cans without leaving air pockets.    I also tried to substitute peppered bacon for the salt pork, but when my husband came home with salt pork, I found out that sticking to the recipe as far as that goes produces better beans!   (After 30 years in the South, I’m finally using salt pork!)

Freezing beans is easier, but regardless of the type of plastic container I have used, I always end up with some beans becoming freezer burned.  Canned beans can’t be stored for very long, but a batch of 2 pounds of dried beans doesn’t last us more than a couple of months anyway.  We don’t have to deal with freezer burn, and we don’t have to defrost the beans so it’s easier to just grab a jar from the pantry.

I have tried adding curry powder (after eating some Heinz curry beans) and red pepper flakes to the recipe, but always go back to the original, unadulterated recipe, other than the extra water.   After filling the jars, I can the beans in my pressure cooker for 75 minutes.  I can fit 5 jars in the pressure cooker, so I usually end up with a couple of jars in the refrigerator (unpressurized) for immediate use and 5 jars for longer-term storage in the pantry.

There probably won’t be any new adventures in canning until next summer when our garden and my brother-in-law’s farm start producing again.  I know for sure that I’m not going to try marmelade again!


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