I now realize that I learned a lot about canning before I even attempted it by myself for the first time. And a lot of what I learned was practically through osmosis and has been handed down from one generation to the next starting with my Italian grandmother...and perhaps even before her.
These tips and tricks have been good to me and my preserves, so I thought I would share:
1) Quality ingredients really do count
Just because you are preserving the ingredients, doesn't mean that the quality of what you start with does not matter. I have heard people say that for preserving they ask their local supermarket for the bruised fruits and vegetables they can't sell because it reduces the cost of their preserve. If what you put in wasn't top quality, what you get in the end won't be either. In fact under ripe or over ripe fruits and vegetables can affect the flavour, colour and even texture. If you want an excellent preserve - use excellent product!
2) Brown sugar
I love brown sugar. I use it in my tea, on my porridge. In fact anywhere that I used to use white sugar, I now use brown. Everywhere that is except in my preserves. My nona would have thought it a sin...that was reason enough for me :). But the real reason is the ingredient that makes brown sugar brown. Molasses! Molasses can overpower some of the more delicate flavours of fresh fruit, etc.
3) Doubling up recipes
Want to make more of your favourite jam and don't feel like doing it in batches? Well suck it up! Why? The reason is simple, the ingredients have been measured carefully to ensure that the correct amount of liquids will evaporate. Double them up and the surface area won't be big enough to allow the required evaporation. This means a runny end product. Be patient. The end result will be well worth the price of patience
4) Never re-use jar lids
It sounds silly because sometimes they look like they are in perfect condition. But you want to seal out all the air and after even just one use the sealing compound may be imperfect and you can end up with product that spoils too quickly or worse - makes someone sick
5) Prepare everything beforehand
It will save you time and frustration if you get all your ingredients and supplies ready before you begin. Complete your prep work and review your recipe thoroughly so that you don't make mistakes mid way through because you are doing too many things at once. Chopping ingredients while something else is on a rolling bowl and needs to be stirred constantly is difficult to do with only 2 hands.
6) How old are those spices?
No - you can't use the spices the pickling spices in the back of your cupboard just because you shook that layer of dust off. Even though spices might not have a best before date, doesn't mean they last a lifetime. Replace them every year to ensure your preserves have the best chance of coming out tasting delicious. And make sure to use whole spices rather than ground if you want your liquids or syrups to remain clear and not get cloudy
7) No plastic please
You can use your plastic measuring cups elsewhere if you must. But keep to metal and glass for your preserves. Plastic measuring spoons or cups can keep the flavour from previous spices and taint your preserves. Do you really want the lingering flavour of mustard seeds in your raspberry jam? I think not.
8) Share the love
One of the joys you will get out of preserving is passing along the goodness. I make preserves to give as gifts at Christmas, birthdays, etc. It is a wonderful feeling to know that something you made (potentially from things you grew in your own garden) are being enjoyed by more than just yourself. I make up little ingredient cards so everyone knows what is inside the jar and each of the ingredients included in case of allergies. But I also include some tips on how to use the preserve. I have found that sometimes, something like a tomato jam which to me has a million different uses, can perplex someone else. Make it easy for them to enjoy!
Now go can something!