Well, I finally made myself return the boiling water canner and racks to their winter home high up on the top shelf of the pantry.
I did a LOT of canning this summer, and I’m not done yet: once I can get my hands on a few bags of Meyer lemons, I’ll haul the canner back down for another round or two. (There are a few canning projects that I simply must undertake every year, and making Meyer lemon jelly is tops on the list. You would not believe how good it tastes).
I had a few canning firsts this year, including the batch of lilac flower jelly that I made in early summer (as you’ll recall in this post). I also tried lemon balm jelly, because for some strange reason I put three lemon balm plants in one of my community garden beds, and of course – cue the laughter from everyone reading this – they grew to insane proportions and tried to suck the marrow out of the universe. (I thought maybe our wonky weather would keep them down to a dull roar, but apparently they thrive on wonky. Ah, the delights of the mint family…). Fortunately, I REALLY like lemon balm tea. You also need a good pile of leaves to make jelly, so that’s one of the things I did. I used my standard recipe for making floral jellies and then when I wasn’t watching (first rule of canning: you ALWAYS have to watch!), I cooked the mixture beyond the gel point and now I have jars of jelly that you can’t spread on toast without a heavy machine operator’s license and the use of a road paver. Uh, oops. It tastes mighty fine, though…you just have to wrestle it out of the jars.
The lemon balm that ate the world. I know we’ll meet again. Next spring, probably.
Another new venture was far more successful. In July, my hubby and I went out to a u-pick farm in Lacombe, nearly 200 kilometres northeast of Calgary. You have to go out early to pick what we were after: haskaps (also known as honeyberries, the edible fruit of certain species of honeysuckle) get a bit mushy at high temperatures and become nearly impossible to remove from the branches. The farm’s owners were scrambling to remove debris from a huge hailstorm the night before and setting up several carloads of people in an adjacent field, where they were picking buckets of huge red strawberries. We were the only ones out with the haskaps, and after we helped one of the owners pull the bird netting off of a row of the shrubs, I got to work. This was my first time picking haskaps, but I was prepared for their soft texture: you don’t yank them off and throw them in buckets as you would with most berries. They have to be finessed in such a way with gloved fingers (it’s very important to wear the gloves) so that you don’t squish them and then you lay them gently in flat boxes, being careful not to pile too many on top of each other. While there are haskap cultivars with berries that are less soft than others, I found that in the building heat, they pretty much juiced themselves even with my careful preparation. I picked almost six pounds of the beauties and most of them were turned into the most incredible jam I’ve ever tasted. They have a flavour reminiscent of the best blueberries you’ve ever eaten, but tangier. And waaaaaaaay better.
I guess I was so busy “finessing” the berries off the shrubs that I forgot to take any decent photos. Sorry!
I did manage to capture a view of how easy these shrubs are to access for harvesting. You can sit down to pick the berries and there’s no need for a long reach.
We also picked sour cherries at a farm outside of DeWinton, south of Calgary. Sour cherry jam is another annual must-do project of mine, but this year I used a low methoxyl pectin and let’s just say, it is necessary to add more sugar than I did. You may be able to cut it in other recipes but sour cherries are…well…sour.
I’m reminded that I have a few containers of sour cherry pie filling in the freezer. Mmmmmmm….
The pectin fared awesomely in the Saskatoon (serviceberry) jam I made – without all that sugar, you really get walloped with the gorgeous sweet-almondy flavour. I usually make Saskatoon jam (I’d argue about being too lazy to strain the seeds out but I’m too lazy to argue) but maybe next year I’ll change it up and go with jelly.
Ho boy, now I’m thinking about the saskatoon tarts they make and sell at the u-pick farm. Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight…I’ll keep getting up to check the fridge to see if a tart has magically appeared.
Then, there were our foraging trips…one of which lasted a lot longer than intended because we got turned around and then there was some scrambling down hillsides and some swathing through heavy brush and mistakenly ending up on private property (shhhhh)….ahem. We came out of that with a big bag of chokecherries and rose hips. The chokecherries ended up in a combo with peach juice and the rosehips in a vitamin C knockout with raspberry juice, and let’s just say we don’t have any jars of those left. They were worth every spiderweb in my hair and all the scratches on my arms!
Did you do any canning this year (or are you still planning any canning projects)? Whether or not you make them yourself, what are your favourite jams and jellies to eat? What about pickles and chutneys?