Summer brings a bounty of delicious produce, and you can save a bundle by growing your own, picking some at a local farm or buying it by the bushel from a farmer's market. Cut costs further by preserving fruits and vegetables in jars and cans. Here's how to enjoy the best of the season all year long at the lowest possible price.
What You'll Need:
• A round metal rack that fits in the bottom of your pot (such as a canning rack* or cooling rack)
• A large pot with a lid, at least 3 inches taller than your canning jars (such as a canner,* pasta pot or stock pot)
• Canning jars and canning tongs*
• A heavy-bottom, nonreactive pot made of a material such as enamel-coated cast iron or stainless steel
• A small, heatproof bowl
• Two or more clean kitchen towels
• A wide-mouth funnel*
• A ladle
• A bubble tool,* chopstick or wooden skewer
• Soft-tipped tongs or a lid lifter*
*Available at hardware and grocery stores
Whether they're great summer values, especially easy to prep or just decidedly delicious this time of year, some fruits and vegetables are particularly great to preserve. Try our picks:
What to make: Jame, jelly, pie filling
If you want speedy prep, blueberries are the way to go. All they require is a rinse and a few minutes spent checking for stems. Better yet, you'll be set for the holiday season: A jar of homemade blueberry jelly is an inexpensive, thoughtful gift.
What to make: Pickles, relish
Converting cucumbers to be pickles is a great project for first-timers (no watching out for the gel stage!). Snatch up the Kirby variety of cucumber when you see them: petite, mild and with very few seeds, they make perfect pickles.
Blackberries and Raspberries
What to make: Jam, jelly
It's easy to go overboard when buying these jewel-like fruits. In summer, they can cost up to $6 a pound less than they do in the off-season. Still, these goodies don't last long, and when you make your own jam, you'll lock in the flavor—without any corn syrup, which is a common ingredient in commercially available varieties.
What to make: Pickles, hot sauce
Chili pepper plants produce a lot of fruit. And unlike, say, zucchini, it's hard to pack many into one meal. Even if you buy chiles from the market, they're worth pickling. You can enjoy their summer heat—as well as a variety of flavors and colors—year-round.
What to make: Apple butter, applesauce, pie filling
During apple season, you can buy a lot for a little—especially if you opt for seconds, or slightly bruised apples. Experiment with different preparations, spices and varieties.
Don't be intimidated: Getting the right seal to keep food fresh is as easy as boiling water.
Put the rack in a large pot. Arrange empty jars, open side up, in a single layer. (Arrange a full layer, even if you are planning to use only a few, to keep jars from tipping over.) Add cold water to the pot until there is at least 2 inches of water above the jars' rims. Set the pot over high heat, cover it and bring water to a boil. Put lids, white side down, in a large bowl.
Prepare recipe as directed up until the ladling step (keep hot until ready to place in jars). Reduce heat under the pot so water is hot but not boiling.
Using canning tongs, remove a jar of hot water from the pot. Pour it over the lids in the bowl. Set the jar on a clean kitchen towel. Remove 2 more jars, pouring the water back into the pot, and set them on the towel.
Insert the funnel into the first jar. Carefully ladle the hot food into the funnel, keeping the headspace—the distance from the top of the mixture to the top of the jar—indicated in the recipe.
Swipe a bubble tool between the mixture and the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles, adding more of the mixture if necessary to achieve the proper headspace. Repeat with remaining food and jars.
Use a clean kitchen towel dipped in hot water to carefully clean the rim of each jar. Use soft-tipped tongs, a lid lifter or your fingers to retrieve a lid from the bowl and center it on the jar. Screw the ring on the jar with your fingertips, taking care to make it tight enough to stay centered but not so tight that you won't get a vacuum seal. Repeat until you have filled the jars.
Use canning tongs to lower filled jars into hot water. Be sure jars are covered by 2 inches of water. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Begin counting your processing time when the water is boiling. When the time is up, turn off heat, remove pot lid and allow the jars to rest for 5 minutes.
Using canning tongs, remove the jars to a towel-covered surface. Let rest for 24 hours. To test the seals, remove the rings and gently push up on the lids. If they stay in place, the food is safe to store for up to a year in a cool, dark place. If the lids don't stay put, refrigerate the jars and eat the contents soon.