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Published August 11, 2010, 12:00 AM

JEFF TIEDEMAN: Preserving the summer's bounty

Enjoy home-grown goodies year-round by canning, freezing.

Preserving fruits or vegetables is a pastime that never gets old for me. I really look forward each July, August and September to “putting up” food for the winter that’s been the object of my attention all summer long.

Actually, the canning and freezing season runs into October and November for me. I often leave my Brussels sprouts in the garden until well after the first killing frost of fall before blanching and freezing them. And I always have tomatoes ripening in the basement under the cover of darkness (this helps speed up the process) — long after they’ve been plucked from the vine — for a final batch or two of salsa and tomato juice.

This summer, the fun started in late July, and as is usual each year, I tried something new. Therese and I canned eight pints of apricots in a light sugar sauce and also made six pints of apricot jam from an easy-to-make recipe from the Internet.

The jam turned out to be especially tasty. In fact, I’ve already made plans to try it as a topping for some baked pheasants, this after one of my neighbors, Pat Hell, shared a chicken recipe — and a jar of rhubarb-apricot jam — with me one day while we were exercising in Altru’s Fitness Center.

But that’s not the extent of my preservation this summer. I have nine new pints of bread and butter pickles and another half-dozen pints of fresh salsa on the pantry shelf, with a batch of turmeric dills forthcoming, using a recipe that I was given to me by Cindy Healy, Grand Forks. (“Jennie’s Dills” have become a favorite of ours, and the recipe of Cindy’s mom is one that I cherish.) I’ve also blanched and froze several bags of green beans and broccoli.

I’ve been canning fruits and vegetables for more than 30 years. It came natural to me, since it was a family tradition. I remember the pantry at my grandparent’s that was just a hole in the wall in their basement. Grandma Menard always had lots of pickles, tomatoes and tomato juice as well as jelly and jams in that little niche that harkened to the root cellars of old. And later, my mom and dad canned.

Here are a few canning tips I’ve learned:

n High-acid foods such as fruits, fruit juices, jams, pickles and tomatoes can be processed in a waterbath canner. However, low-acid vegetables such as carrots and beans must be processed in a regulated pressure canner.

n Certain small canning tools such as funnels, apple corers and cherry pitters are great convenience items, but others like jar lifters, jars, canner racks, timers and tongs are must-have tools for the canning process.

n Fruit should be at its peak — ripe but not overripe. Old fruit will taste like old fruit.

n Vegetables also should be fresh. Avoid any produce that’s old or too soft.

These days, I’m not the only one who’s keeping up the canning tradition. Home canning and preserving has regained its popularity with a new generation of home canners. A lot of it has to do with the fact that it still is one of the best ways to produce nutritious, healthy and additive-controlled foods for your family.

According to Brenda Schmidt, brand manager for fresh preserving products at Jarden Home Brands, the company that makes Ball jars and other canning supplies, home canning the last couple of years has really taken off. She said a recent study that Jarden did with Industrial Research Institute showed a younger generation is buying canning products.

I think there are a couple of reasons why so many people with (or without) gardens are turning to canning: First, it is a great way to save money by lowering the grocery bill. Second, it’s healthier. You’re getting foods with little or no preservatives.

But for me, it’s mainly about taste. It doesn’t get any better than a tall glass of homemade tomato juice, a crisp dill pickle or a piece of toast slathered with homemade jam in the middle of the winter.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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