by Cristina Sciarra
On September 12th, a group of would be canners — ranging from the intrepid beginner to the seasoned pro — gathered at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York to hear celebrated preserving author and expert Sherri Brooks Vinton talk about what she knows best.
Over the course of the evening, Ms. Brooks fielded questions about general cannery, troubleshooting pH levels, and the various methods of fermentation. She guided the audience through a demonstration on how to make and can blackberry gastrique which, happily, the crowd then got to sample.
Her enthusiasm, as well as her straightforward approach to the subject, was persuasive: canning is not as difficult as people build it up to be! Here are seven tips from the evening:
1. You do not need a special cannery pot in order to get canning. All you need is a pot with a lip that is three inches taller than the tallest jar you're using.
2. In fact, the only two tools you really, really need? Canning jars and canning tongs. Everything else can be jerry-rigged.
3. Don't have a designated canning rack? No problem. Simply use a round cake cooling rack, or a layer of jar lids. The goal is simply to get the jars off the bottom of the pot, so that water can circulate underneath them.
4. Make sure to respect the headspace! — or layer of air left at the top of the jar. Too little, and the contents of your can might expand too much in the hot water. Too much headspace, and the extra air in the jar will prevent a proper seal from forming. Follow the recipe, and all will be well.
5. For those fermenters: adding an oak leaf to your fermenting jar will help keep pickles crisp.
6. It's all about the pH level: as long as what you're canning has a pH level of 4.6 or lower, it's totally safe to can using the simple water method. The best way to assure this? Follow a recipe from a respected source.
7. Blackberry gastrique is delicious, and not at all difficult to make. Enjoy with cheese, or over vanilla ice cream...the list goes on. Find Sherri Brooks Vinton's recipe for gastrique in her book, Put 'em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook.
Related link: SherriBrooksVinton.com
Cristina Sciarra is a writer and a cook with an MFA in Fiction Writing from The New School University and culinary degrees from Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris, and The Institute of Culinary Education, in New York. She has served on the Slow Food NYC board since 2013.