Preserving Jams and Pickles, 101

Pickled garlic and asparagus, peach thyme freezer jam, quick pickled beets, sweet pickled jalapenos, lemon strawberry freezer jam

I only really got into canning this year, but I already love it. As someone who can be a little tweaky about the passage of time it’s soothing to open up a jar of strawberry jam in August and have the smell remind you of the first crops of May. And there’s a little moment of self-satisfaction when I squirrel things away in the “larder”. If I was trapped in my building for some unknown reason, I could eat for weeks! I mean I’d be eating like 5 pints of pickled beets, but they’d be my pickled beets by god.

So let’s look at the very easy basics of canning jams and pickles.

There are three types of canned preserve techniques that are relevant to our interest: water bath, quick pickle (also known as fridge pickle), and frozen. The first creates the more resilient, shelf-ready jars that you can give to people at Christmas. Quick pickles are kept in the fridge for anywhere from a few hours to a few months, and frozen preserves are.. in the freezer.

As with any food or drink, good quality ingredients get better results, so pick whatever is fresh and in season.

How to not make yourself sick

Here are some guidelines for making a safe jar of preserved food with any technique:

1) The empty jars (proper canning jars!) should be hot to touch. 30 seconds in the microwave often works. If you’re reusing a lid ring, boil it or put it in the oven.
2) Always use a fresh lid disk.
3) Always pour in your brine when it’s boiling hot.
4) Obviously don’t stick your fingers or random items in the jar.
5) Vinegary and salty foods are way easier to keep than sweet ones.

How it will work

For frozen stuff, just stick to the above guidelines and then stick the jar in the freezer once it’s cooled. Freezer jam is basically just mashed fruit, sugar, and freezer pectin, so you don’t even have to turn on your stove. Being frozen will break down the fruit a bit which helps make the jam soft later.

For quick pickle stuff, again follow the safety guidelines and pop it in the fridge once it’s cool. Unopened jars of vinegary things like pickled beets or chutney should be good for months.

And now the tricky bit — the water bath, like how grandma made pickles back when we were kids. You will need a pot that can be filled until it covers one inch above the canning jar(s). (If you live above 1000 feet, use two inches. I know, weird right.)

You can’t put the jars right on the bottom of a boiling pot because they’ll get too much heat, so if you have nothing else (upside-down colander, maybe?) you can put a dish towel on the bottom of the pot. It’s unwieldy (we’ll get to that later) but it works. Get the water boiling, pop in the pickle jars, wait 10 minutes (for a pint), and pull ’em back out. Hopefully you’ll hear the sounds of lids popping over the next few hours.

How to make it easier

If you’re making a new recipe, try a quick pickle first before going through the time and effort of a water bath. I figured that out after a hot afternoon boiling up my first ever batch of “dill” “pickles”.

If you enjoy all this stuff, strongly consider getting a few canning tools. I picked up a basic plastic kit on Amazon for under $15, and it has a jar tongs (never get water burns again), a magnetic lid lifter, and a wide-mouth funnel among other things. Also consider getting a jar rack for your pot to save on your towels if for no other reason.

Looking for a good recipe to start? Beets are in season right now and this recipe is easy and doesn’t have any fancy ingredients.