Canning Soft Fruits and Berries
Having decided on your canning outfit, whether you are going to can in boiling water, in a condensed steam cooker, or in steam under pressure; having gathered together the necessary tools, such as spoons, knives and a funnel; having raided the storeroom and collected some jars, you are now ready for the actual work of canning.
It is rather unfortunate that strawberries should be one of the very hardest products to can with good results. The canning itself is simple—all berries are quickly and easily canned—but strawberries always shrink, are apt to turn a little brown, and, what distresses us most of all, they float to the top of the jar.
The berry's tendency to shrink is responsible for loss of color as well as its floating qualities. However, if you will be exceedingly careful to remove the berries from the canner the minute the clock says the sterilizing period is over, you will have a fairly good product. Two minutes too long will produce a very dark, shrunken berry. So be careful of the cooking time. Another thing that makes a good-looking jar is to pack a quart of berries—all kinds of berries, not merely strawberries—into a pint jar. If you will get that many in you will have a much better-looking jar, with very little liquid at the bottom. It does not hurt the berries at all to gently press down on them with a silver spoon while you are packing them into the jar.
We know we are going to get a quart of berries into every pint jar, so we know just how many quarts of berries we will need to fill the necessary jars for the next winter's use.
The first thing to do is to test each jar to see that there are no cracks, no rough edges to cut the rubber, and to see whether the cover and clamp fit tightly, if a clamp type of jar is used. The bail that clamps down the glass tops should go down with a good spring. If it does not, remove the bail and bend it into shape by taking it in both hands and pressing down in the middle with both thumbs. Do not bend it too hard, for if it goes down with too much of a snap it will break the jar. This testing of the bails should be done every year. The bails on new jars are sometimes too tight, in which case remove the bail and spread it out. After the bail has been readjusted, test it again. The chances are it will be just right. Of course all this testing takes time, but it pays.
If you are using some old Mason jars put a rubber on each jar, fill the jar with hot water, and then put the cover on tight and invert. This is a sure test for leakage. Never use a Mason cap twice unless the cover and collar are separate so that both can be completely sterilized. Fortunately the old-fashioned Mason jar metal cover to which a porcelain cap is fastened is going out of style.
If you still have some of these old covers it will be economy to throw them away. You will be money ahead in the end. After these tops have been used once it is impossible to make a fastening between the porcelain and the metal so tight that it is not possible for the liquid to seep through and cause the contents to spoil. This accounts for many failures when old tops are used. For this reason never use the old-fashioned, zinc-topped covers.
The new and safe Mason jar covers consist of two parts, the metal collar and the porcelain cap. They are for sale at all grocery or hardware stores.
If you are using the vacuum-seal jars which have a composition attached to the lacquered tops, carefully examine this rubber composition to see that it is perfect. This composition should go entirely round the top and should not be cut or broken in any place. If it is the top must be discarded for a perfect one.
Of course with this type of jar no rubber rings are necessary, as the rubber composition on the lacquered top does the sealing.
It is a wise plan to go round the tops and over the inside of all new glass jars with a heavy and dull knife to scrape off any slivers of glass or bursted blisters that may be still clinging to the jars. Those on the tops cut through the rubber and cause leakage. Those in the jars may get into the product. I often find these splinters, particularly on new straight-sided jars.
It matters not what type of jar you use. Use what you have at hand, but if you are buying new jars consider the following things before making your selections: No metal, unless it is enameled or lacquered, should come in contact with the food. The jars should be of smooth, well-finished glass. The color of the jar does not affect the keeping qualities of the food. The top or part of the top that comes in contact with the contents should be all in one piece, so as not to offer a place for the accumulation of organisms and dirt. The jars which have nearly straight sides and a wide mouth or opening are easier to wash and facilitate better, quicker and easier packing of the product.
Wash the jars in soap and water. Rinse in boiling water. Some people temper new jars so they will stand the shock of hot water or hot sirup without breaking. If you wish to take this extra precaution put the jars in a dishpan or kettle of cold water after they have been washed in soapy water; bring the water slowly to a boil and let it boil fifteen minutes. After the jars are ready test the rubber rings. This may seem a useless precaution, but it is a necessary one, for there is no one detail in the business of canning that is more important. Even in the best boxes of rubbers there is occasionally a black sheep, and one black sheep may cause the loss of a jar.
Test each rubber before you use it by pressing it firmly between the thumbs and forefingers, stretching it very slightly. If it seems soft and spongy discard it. All rubbers fit for canning should be firm, elastic, and should endure a stretching pull without breaking. A good rubber ring will return promptly to place without changing the inside diameter.
A great many women are laboring under the wrong impression that color affects the quality of a ring. Some women insist on red, and others on white. Color is given to rings by adding coloring matter during the manufacturing process. The color of the ring is no index to its usefulness in home canning.
Use only fresh, sound strawberries or other berries. There is a little knack about preparing the strawberries that few housewives know. Hull the berries by twisting the berries off the hull, instead of pulling the hull from the berry as most women do. You will have a better-looking berry if you will be careful about this. Place the berries in a strainer and pour cold water over them to cleanse them.
HOW TO ADJUST THE COVERS
Never allow the berries or any fruit to stand in water, as the flavor and color are destroyed by water-soaking. Pack in glass jars, pressing the berries down tightly, but without crushing them. Put the rubber on the jar if you are using a jar requiring a rubber. Pour hot sirup over the berries. Put the top of the jar in place, but only partially tighten it.
If using the screw-top jars, such as the Mason, screw down with the thumb and little finger, not using force but stopping when the cover catches.
If using vacuum-seal jars put the cover on and the spring in place. The spring will give enough to allow the steam to escape.
In using glass-top jars with the patent wire snap, put the cover in place, the wire over the top and leave the clamp up.
The cover on a glass jar must not be tight while the product is cooking, because the air will expand when heated, and if the cover is not loose enough to allow the steam to escape the pressure may blow the rubber out or break the jar.
The product is now ready for the canner.
If you are using the homemade outfit, such as wash-boiler or garbage pail, all berries and soft fruits are sterilized sixteen minutes; in all commercial hot-water-bath outfits and in condensed steam, sixteen minutes; in the water-seal, twelve minutes; in the steam pressure under five pounds of steam, ten minutes; and in the pressure cooker under ten pounds of steam, five minutes. Do not allow the pressure to run above ten pounds for soft fruits; fifteen pounds makes them mushy.
If you use any type of hot-water-bath outfit be sure the water is boiling when the fruit is lowered into the canner, and keep it boiling vigorously for the entire sixteen minutes. At the end of the sterilizing time, immediately remove the jars from the canner.
In taking canned goods from boiling water care is needed to see that they are protected from drafts. If necessary close the windows and doors while lifting the jars out, as a sudden draft might break them.
Examine rubbers to see that they are in place. Sometimes if a cover is screwed down too tight the pressure of the steam from the inside causes the rubber to bulge out. Simply loosen the cover a thread or two, push the rubber back into place and then tighten.
In case the rubber does not seem to fit well or seems to be a poor rubber it should be replaced by a new one, and the jar returned to the cooker for five minutes.
The jars should be sealed tight—covers screwed down, clamps put in place—immediately after they are removed from the cooker.
Invert the jar to test the joint, then let it cool. If the seal is not perfect correct the fault and return the jar to the cooker for five minutes if hot, ten minutes if the jar is cold.
Do not invert vacuum-seal jars. These should be allowed to cool, and then be tested by removing the spring or clamp and lifting the jars by the cover only. Lift the jar only half an inch, holding it over the table, so that in case the lid does not hold the jar and contents will not be damaged. Or, better still, tap round the edge of the cover with a rule. An imperfect seal will give a hollow sound.
As light injures delicately colored fruits and vegetables, it is wise to store them in dark places, such as cupboards, or basement or attic shelves protected from the light. Black cambric tacked to the top shelf and suspended over the other shelves is a sufficient protection from light. A discarded window shade can be rolled down over the shelves and easily pulled up when you desire to take a jar from the shelves.
Canned goods are best kept at a temperature below seventy degrees Fahrenheit, where that is at all possible.
STEPS IN CANNING SOFT FRUITS AND BERRIES
It might be well to enumerate the steps in berry and soft-fruit canning, or do what we called in our schooldays "review it":
1. Get the canner and all its accessories ready.
2. Test and wash jars and tops and put in water to sterilize.
3. Test rubber rings.
4. Make sirup and put in double boiler to keep hot
5. Prepare the product—hull, seed, stem.
6. Place berries or fruit in strainer or colander.
7. Rinse by pouring cold water over product.
8. Pack from strainer into hot jar.
9. Use big spoon to get a firm pack.
10. Dip rubber in hot water to cleanse it and put it in place on the jar.
11. Pour the hot sirup over the fruit at once.
12. Put top of jar on, but not tight.
13. Ready for canner.
14. Sterilize for the necessary length of time, according to the outfit you are using:
15. Remove from canner.
16. Tighten cover, except vacuum-seal jar, which seals automatically.
17. Test joint.
18. Three or four days later, if perfectly air-tight, label and store in a dark place.
These steps are followed for strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, dewberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, raspberries, and for all soft fruits, such as cherries, currants, grapes and figs.
The other soft fruits, such as peaches and apricots, which have a skin, are scalded or "hot dipped" for one to two minutes in boiling water or steam and are then plunged into cold water. These two steps of hot-dipping and cold dipping make the removal of skins a very simple operation. After the skins are removed the fruit is put into the hot jars and the process continued from Step 8, as with strawberries.
Of course you are wondering about the sirups for the different fruits. There is no set rule for making sirup. It is not necessary to use sirup in canning fruits. The amount of sugar used in the sirup will depend upon the individual taste. In a first-class product there should be enough sirup to improve its flavor, but not enough to make it take the place in the diet of a sweet preserve rather than a fresh fruit.
The sirups are made either with varying proportions of sugar and water or with the same proportions boiled different lengths of time. What is known as the California sirup is made with three parts of sugar to two parts of water, boiled gently to different concentrations.
Thin Sirup. For a thin sirup take three cups of sugar and two cups of water. Mix sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved. This is used for all sweet fruits not too delicate in texture and color, as apples, cherries, pears, or for fruits in which more sugar will be added in preparation for the table.
Medium Thin Sirup. The sugar and water should be boiled about four minutes, or until it begins to be sirupy. This is used for raspberries, peaches, blackberries, currants, etc.
Medium Thick Sirup. Boil the sugar and water until it will pile up over the edge of the spoon when it is tipped. This is used for sour or acid fruits, as plums, gooseberries, apricots, sour apples, and some of the delicately colored fruits, as strawberries.
Thick Sirup. The sugar and water are boiled until it will form a ball in the spoon and cannot be poured from the spoon. This is used for preserves.
It is possible to get more, sometimes almost twice as much, sirup into a quart jar containing large fruits, as apples and pears, than into a quart jar containing small fruits, as currants or blackberries.
There is a little knack worth knowing about combining the sugar and water for the sirup. If the sugar is sifted into the boiling water just as fine-grained cereals are sifted into water, there will be no scum formed. This is a saving of sugar.
If you wish to can strawberries for the market or to win a prize at the county or state fairs, can them as follows:
Canned by this recipe, strawberries will not rise to the top of the sirup. Use only fresh, ripe, firm and sound berries. Prepare them, and add eight ounces of sugar and two tablespoonfuls of water to each quart of berries. Boil slowly for fifteen minutes in an enameled or acid-proof kettle. Allow the berries to cool and remain several hours or over-night in the covered kettle. Pack the cold berries in hot glass jars. Put rubbers and caps of jars in position, not tight. Sterilize for the length of time given below for the type of outfit used:
Remove the jars, tighten the covers, invert the jars to cool and test the joints. Wrap the jars with paper to prevent bleaching.