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7.16.2011

My Kitchen Essentials: Canning Jars

Sauerkraut in the jars ready for cold storage (not processed!).
 If I had to live with just one single item in my kitchen (it would have to be SEVERAL of one single thing) it would be canning jars.  They are the single most useful item I own.  I use them to store all of my dairy ferments.  I use them when I can foods (obviously).  I use them for long term storage of my vegetable ferments.  I use them to store condiments.  I could use them to store leftovers. 
Homemade ketchup, apricot butter, and gingered carrots.
 Lots of people ferment their veggies right in the jar- it's a convenient, cost effective alternative to expensive crocks or airlock fermentation jars.
Cream top yogurt, fermented right in the jar.

Sweet-tart rhubarb refrigerator pickles.

Jam, ketchup, and two jars of mustard.
I don't know what more to say about jars- they are simply amazing.  They come in sizes from 4 oz (super cute, hard to find, and probably not that practical...) up to half gallon (not really recommended for canning anything other than fruit juice, but super useful... I use mine for my sourdough, I keep tea in one, and plan to use a lot of them for storing sour pickles... also harder to find than typical pint and quart jars).  You can find them new at most big box retail, grocery, hardware, and farm stores.  My farm store carries the best selection- I can almost always buy half gallon and four oz. there.  However, unless you're in immediate need of a lot of them all at once I would highly recommend trying to find second hand ones.  If your grandma or mom or aunt or best friend can (or better yet, USED to can), particularly if they have scaled back recently, ask them if they have any extra jars.  Look at garage sales, thrift stores, and craigslist.  The only health concern I am aware of with old jars is the old zinc lids (ie don't use them).  Also, make sure you use TRUE canning jars, as the lids are threaded properly for the canning rings, otherwise you're not likely to get a good seal.

Here's another jar tip- certain commercial brands of sauce are sold in canning jars, so save those jars and reuse them.  The most commonly mentioned in my reading is Classico- often found in 24 oz, 36 oz, and 10 oz. (pesto), but often smaller specialty brands do as well.  A good tip I read on a message board was to bring a canning ring to the store with you... I'm not sure how effective this would be since you can't take the lid off and see if the ring fits, but perhaps it would be enough just to see if the opening is the right size.

Oh, and one other thing I like to do with jars; I save all plastic containers that pass through my house, so even though I haven't bought that green can of Parmesan cheese for years I still had a few stored away.  Turns out the lids from those cans (the newer screw top lids, not the old green cardboard container) fit nicely on regular mouth canning jars.  I use them to keep spices in, and the parm. lid makes a nice spice lid for big flakey things like dried basil, since the "sprinkle" holes are fairly large and there is also a larger side for measuring out of.  Not that I would buy parm. now just for the lid, but if you have a few on hand they're nice.

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