We are pick-your-own fruit junkies in my house. Strawberries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, apples…we love them all. There are so many fantastic farms that offer pick-your-own fruits in CT that it’s hard not to get excited about it. The big questions is always…what to do with all the fruit? We eat a ton of it, freeze some for smoothies, but we always save some for one of my favorite family projects: canning!

I grew up with a mother who made more kinds of jams and jellies than I knew existed. No joke, we would often find ourselves on random backroads after school picking varieties of berries I’d never heard of for her latest canning projects. There were the standards of grape, strawberry, and blueberry…but we’re talking pin cherry, jostaberry, gooseberry…things you’d never find on the shelves of Stop & Shop! She won many blue ribbons and a few best in shows at the local fair, so I was hooked on canning from a young age. Now, it’s a family project at our house.

Canning is not as scary as it sounds. I approach it with the attitude of “we’ll give this our best shot and view it as an experiment”. Strawberry jam didn’t set up? Looks like you have sundae topping! It’s all part of the learning process. And today, with the vast offerings of Google searches, there is so much information out there! All you need is some fruit or juice, canning jars, a basic set of canning tools, pectin, and sugar.

I got it all on Amazon.com, but I’ve seen canning supplies at Stop & Shop, Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply, and even Christmas Tree Shop!

Then simply start googling recipes and dive in. The boiling part is best left to adults, but the measuring, juicing, mashing, and mixing can be done by all ages. This year, my almost 6-year-old “made” his first batch of grape jelly on his own. This is a great starter into canning, as jellies are easier than jams, and you can even start with bottled juice if you want as long as it’s 100% juice with no added sugars. If you have your own juicer, simply put your fruit through and use the fresh juice. We followed this recipe, and with close supervision, I let my son stir it on the stove.

With any kind of canning, the final step is called “processing the jars”, which is a fancy name for boiling them until the rubber ring inside the lid creates a seal. Different sizes of jars and different contents need different processing time, so this varies. Your recipe will tell you how long to process jars, but most jars of jams and jellies need to be boiled for around 10 minutes, then allowed to sit on the counter and rest. The jam or jelly will not be truly “set” for a day or sometimes more, so don’t panic if it still looks a little runny at this stage.

As for what to can, don’t feel like you have to stop at jams or jellies! We have canned apple pie filling, apple sauce, fruit butters, caramel dips, tomato sauce, salsa, and even pie fillings. So give it a whirl! Take a trip to your local farm this weekend, and try out canning. You may find yourself addicted to it like we are…and that applesauce made with locally picked apples will taste even sweeter on a cold, snowy day in February!

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