The bad news is that some years ago a private capital company created CanGro to buy all Kraft's fruit canneries in Ontario, then they did the leveraged acquisition thing and closed them after they got what they wanted out of them – the brands. So, now that there are no canneries buying Ontario peaches and pears, and people will buy imported fruit rather than support local farmers, the government is helping farmers pull out their clingstone peach trees so they can plant profitable crops. This means we should support them while the trees are still there buy buying lots of baskets of peaches and pears next August and September and can enough to last us all winter. If we don't want to buy canned fruit from China (i don't!) then it's up to us to support our local farmers.
A well-rounded, cheap and green diet in northern latitudes presents us with the problem of how to have fruit and vegetables every day without buying stuff that's flown halfway around the world. I've come to the conclusion that it means buying fairly local produce in season and canning it. This wasn't much of a leap for me, because I lucked into my canning experience in the seventies, when we bought a house that had a mature Bartlett pear tree in the back yard. And my in-laws had two peach trees in their downtown Hamilton yard. My father-in-law had grown them from seed. And my mother-in-law had worked for years in a canning factory, sorting peaches and pears from the nearby 'golden horseshoe' of Niagara. Bushels of free fruit will inspire anyone to start canning.
How to buy peaches and pears fruit in season
When there are big stacks of baskets in the grocery store and the price is advertised in the flyers, it's time to buy. The stores stretch the seasons by refrigerating some for later. That fruit costs more and it will not ripen in your house.
Isn't canned fruit full of sugar?
Right. What's changed for me this time is I'm not interested in floating chunks of fruit in even a 'light' sugar syrup. I'm not going to drink the syrup and I would imagine it has leeched a lot of the goodness from the fruit. When I moved to the bush I decided to break the rules and try lightly stewing biggish chunks with just enough sugar to get the juice flowing. Then I hot-packed the jars (heated in a warm oven) and submerged the sealed jars in a boiling water canner for ten minutes. That's really not very much cooking and hardly any sugar. And the fruit tastes deliciously fresh. I'm not providing complete food safety instructions here, since you'd do well to find the official USDA instructions for canning acid food like fruit. I will show you pictures, so you can see it's pretty easy.
Peaches need to be blanched (immersed in boiling water for about one minute) before you peel them. I do about six at a time and the skin just slides off in your hand if the fruit is ripe enough, which means they're juicy, not crisp. Pears must be peeled like an apple, which is a bit harder than peeling a blanched peach, but then you have a wider range of ripeness where canning pears is successful. Too ripe means it quickly cooks down into almost a sauce. Too hard means you'll need a bit more sugar to get them to make juice. Don't be afraid to add a little boiling water to under-ripe pears. It's better than over-cooking them.
2. How much do you buy?
Buy seven 3 litre $3 baskets of peaches to get enough ripe at once to can 14 pints (that's the eight quart pot full to within an inch of the rim with stewed fruit).
Buy 8 three-litre $4 baskets of ripe pears to make 24 pint jars.
You see that although pears are a third more expensive per basket that peaches the yield works out so that a quarter of a jar of peaches or pears costs about 38 cents.
3. Jars - a capital investment
Then there are the jars. For some reason there are two brands and one, BerNardin is much more expensive than the other. Get lots of replacement caps when you see them on sale in late summer. They can only be used once. You don't need to replace the screw-on rings. Garage sale jars are fine as long as the rims aren't chipped, you'll just need new lids.
4. The equipment
If you think you can use quart (litre) jars of fruit, you'll use half as many lids, which cost at least ten cents each. If you know you can't, then you only need the small canner, not as high as the big one, it holds pint jars (250 ml). It comes with a rack to lower the filled jars into the boiling water and lift them out. If you're short one jar of fruit, put in one full of boiling water because if the jars have room to move, they WILL BREAK. You need a canning funnel. It hugely cuts down on the mess of ladling the hot fruit into the jars.
Now (2015) I'm not canning fruit from Niagara any more – it's too heavily sprayed with pesticides. I've lucked into loads of berries the last few years – elderberries and wild blackberries. Both very high in antioxidants. Since I got a home carbonation stand I've enjoyed making syrup from these seedy berries as well as throwing them in the freezer. A tablespoon of syrup goes a long way. And my rhubarb patch is fully mature and produces many pounds for the freezer. I make sauce with not too much sugar and use it in my thick yogurt.
If you got this far, you may be hard core enough to be interested in canning vegetables. First of all you have to actually like (or not mind) eating canned veggies. We're spoiled from stores full of 'fresh' (imported) greens, stir-fry dishes, and salads. Myself, I grew up on canned veggies heated by a Newfoundlander mom who grew up without fresh fruit or veggies in the winter.
Food safety is a serious issue here. Fruit and tomatoes have enough acid to prevent botulism. Vegetables do not. They need long steaming in a pressure canner. You can't do them in a boiling water bath canner unless they're pickled. When you read the processing times for canned vegetables it sounds like they'll be totally boiled into a grey mush. Canned green beans are in the pressure canner being steamed for seventy minutes. When you use them they only need to be barely heated in their liquid and I'm careful to use the liquid in cooking, since it's full of goodness.
I did some homework on pressure canners. I came to the conclusion that the $99 Mirro I got at Canadian Tire would be just fine. The ones like mine that come with three weights for the valve are easier to monitor (with your ears) than the ones with a dial gauge (you have to watch it like a hawk). And I decided I trusted the seal of a replaceable rubber gasket more than milled cast aluminum rims with screw-down clamps.
This video takes you right through the process of pressure canning green beans. It's what inspired me to go out and buy a canner. My opinion is that raw-packing green beans means fewer beans per jar, but they're cooked less and it's an easy process.
I canned some kale, mostly as an experiment. The liquid was absorbed by the kale and it's a bit worrisome to me that there is a lot of space above it. It's nice and tender, good in miso soup. But I think drying kale might be a better way to preserve it. And I inherited a small chest freezer this year, so blanching and freezing kale and green beans was a snap. I wanted to can pumpkin but according to USDA that is very clearly a no-go. It's too thick and there could be air pockets in the product.
Just enough fruit On Desserts Baking – Yes you can!
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