When I think of canning, I remember daring excursions into my grandparents’ dark and dusty basement on Burr’s Lane. Even when playing hide-and-seek, nobody dared to hide in their basement. It was a scary place – except for the few occasions when my grandfather was hatching baby chicks in his old incubators. The room was surrounded by the crumbling walls of their old stone foundation. Ancient, dust-covered mason jars were scattered haphazardly on shelves, on tables and in windowsills. As kids, we would inspect the jars – touch them if we dared, hold them up to the faint light that filtered through the dirty, cobweb-encased windows. Hideous shades of yellow and brown – part liquid, part solid. The contents were unrecognizable – and certainly inedible. The sight of these long-forgotten canning efforts convinced us we should never eat our vegetables. And since those childhood days, I never had the desire to can.
All those thoughts changed this weekend! Our lone apple tree has an abundance of apples this year. On Friday, after mowing the lawn for the umpteenth time and seeing all the apples on the ground – I made applesauce! I picked up some of the less-bruised fallen apples and persuaded my youngest son, Weston, to climb up a ladder to pick some more. A few delicious batches of applesauce later, I was trying to think of other ways to use our bountiful harvest.
It was easy to freeze the applesauce, but I knew canning was the only way I could really use a lot of apples. However, I had never canned before. Saturday was a rain-out, but on Sunday I recruited Weston to help me pick some more apples. After researching instructions on canning and finding some decent recipes for apple jelly on the internet, I went to the store to buy my supplies. When I returned, Weston had 52 beautiful apples displayed on the kitchen table. Yes, he counted them! We have no idea what variety of apple they are.
The thought of peeling, coring and slicing that many apples seemed daunting. I asked Weston if he wanted to help to make the jelly and he agreed. Thank God! Weston was not fond of peeling, but made quick work of the coring and slicing with a handy little apple corer and wedger. We developed a nice assembly-line system and had the apples ready for cooking in minimal time. The 52 sliced apples filled my biggest stainless steel pot and seemed like enough for two batches of jelly, according to the recipe. Though the recipe never mentioned what the yield would be. I had a dozen pint-sized jars and just hoped it would be enough.
So the thought came to my mind, “why do they call it canning?” Any canning I have ever seen is done in jars. So, I did some research – click here for the link!! Did you know that Napoleon is owed some credit for the canning / preserving process that is used today?? He offered an award to someone who could invent a way to preserve food for the French armies during the Napoleonic Wars. Prior to canning, the troops could fight only during the months of summer and fall. The original method of canning involved cooking food inside a jar. But the commercial method employed tin canisters, shortened to “cans”, so that transportation was easier – hence, the term canning. It was another 30 years before the can opener was invented – so soldiers needed to use rocks or bayonettes to open the cans. I love this stuff!!!
So here are the images of Weston and my efforts. The preceding photo shows Weston peeling the apples. Then we cored and sliced them and removed any bruised or spoiled spots. The steps pictured below, from left to right – 1) boiling the apples; 2) straining the apple juice and; 3) making the jelly.
We were able to strain ten cups of juice from the apples – two cups shy of what we needed. We added two cups of store-bought apple juice to complete the second batch of jelly. As we stirred the first six cups of juice, pectin and sugar, we started thinking we would be lucky to fill more than one jar with jelly. We were warming six jars, but abandoned them when we became convinced that we only had enough jelly for one. However, we didn’t realize that the liquid was dwarfed in my 12-quart pot. Thankfully, we filled five jars and were ready to start another batch. We finished the white sugar and needed to use half brown sugar to complete the second batch. That resulted in a beautiful dark amber color for the final five jars of apple jelly. End result – ten jars of beautiful and delicious homemade apple jelly!! Thank you, Napolean. The wars precipitated by the French Revolution helped our canning adventure to be a success!!