First Canning Experience

David's picture

Finally! I finally had a chance to do some canning. This is something I've been wanting to do for a while now. I never seemed to have the produce or the supplies needed to do it before. Well, over the last couple of years we've been collecting the different bits of supplies used for canning. And now we have enough to get us going, including the produce, thanks to our garden. But even with all that, I was now having trouble finding the time to do the work.

I hate to say it but the cob construction is getting in the way of everything else. I pretty much have to work on the building every day, and any extra time I have generally goes towards other daily chores like cooking and cleaning and, of course, making sure Phoenix has a good dose of play and learning time. Needless to say, something had to suffer to make room for canning. So, I called in sick and took a break from the construction site.

So I had everything I needed, but now what am I going to can? At this moment in time, I have only a couple of options. Green beans or crab apples. The peas are all but gone, and kale does fine on it's own staying in the garden. And everything else is still busy growing. On the other hand, Dorothy's crab apple tree is loaded with ripened apples. Well, with this being my first time canning, I went with the apples because they are canned with a water bath canner as opposed to a pressure canner needed for green beans.

Great! Now, how will I can them? Apple butter, applesauce, or just simply sliced up? Being my first time canning, I figured I'd start with a bang! So I went with crabapple pie filling! Along with canning, I wanted to try my hand at pie making. And what better way to make a pie than with homemade pie filling. So I turned to our books, magazines and the internet for some recipes. Crabapples, if you don't know, are pretty tart, and are about the size of a ping pong ball (at least our are). So to prepare them for a pie are a little different than a typical apple. I found that there aren't many crabapple pie recipes around, and the ones I did find were said to be tart. I don't want a tart pie, so I ended up blending a crabapple recipe with a normal apple recipe.

That morning, with the help of Aidan, we picked a big pot of apples. I took them in, cleaned them up, and quartered them. Normally the apples would be peeled and cored, but because the crabapple is small, they are only cored. The skins stay on. I don't know how many I used but it was enough to make three jars. I wanted to make more, but we only had three of the same size jars. We have more jars, but one thing I found out at the last moment was that when canning, the water level needs to be around 1-2" above the jars. So I had to keep the jars to one size. Very disappointing. All the time I would spend canning, only to have three jars to show for it. But, at this point there was no turning back. I couldn't exactly run to the store and buy jars.

The next part of the process was pretty straight forward. Cooking the filling. All the ingredients mixed and cooking in a pan, I was ready to get the canner going. I filled it up with water, placed the jars in empty, and started boiling them. Now from here it got a little stressful. I had to guesstimate the timing so that everything was ready for the plunge. Canning instructions give time frames for different things. How critical is it to follow them? I don't know. So I figured it's best to go with exactly what the instructions say. Well, I did the best I could.

The jars need to be boiling for 10 min, the lids need to be boiled for 5 minutes, and the filling needs to be cooked and still hot when filling the jars without overcooking the apples. It sounds pretty simple, and it is. But being my first time and in the heat of the moment, I was panicky. But by the time I had the jars filled and back in the canner, all was well. I did have one hitch though. I ran out of 'syrup' for the filling. I had enough for two of the jars, but only half of the third. I quickly warmed up some apple juice (this was the base I used in my ingredients), and topped off the jar with that. Everything else seemed to go ok.

After 20 min. of boiling they were ready to come out. I dipped my jar tongs in the water, grabbed a jar, pulled it out, and tipped it over a little to drain the water off the top of the lid. Bad idea. I ended up spilling some of the syrup out. I should have known that the lids don't seal until the jars have cooled a bit. At least that's what I think happens anyway. Luckily it was the jar that came up short with the syrup. I took better care not to drain the water off of the other two. Lesson learned.

So mission accomplished, I had three jars of homemade crabapple pie filling. All the seals seemed to have set well, so that's a good sign. The jar with half of it's syrup left, I figured wasn't good for pie anymore, so the following morning we opened it up and ate the apples with a fork. They tasted great, but they seemed a bit soft. I have a feeling that when the other jars go into a pie, the extra baking will make them even softer. But we'll see. At least the flavour was nice. Not too tart, and not too sweet.

All-in-all, I feel pretty good about it. With not knowing what the heck I was doing, I'm glad to have ended up with a couple of completed jars. I wish I had an experienced canner there to guide me along though. Someone to say, "Bah, don't worry about the time. Just as long as the jar is hot.", or, "Now be sure and keep these jars upright when you pull them out because the lid isn't set yet." Tips like that would have been nice. There are still plenty of apples to try it again, maybe next time do applesauce. Of course there are still the beans and the pressure canner to try as well. I only hope to get to them before they perish on the vine.

This weekend I hope to bake a pie with my pie filling. Maybe I'll get some ice cream to go along with it.