Tag Archives: canning

If Life Gives You Lemons, Make…Baked Beans?

I didn’t grow lemons. I grew tomatoes. And I made lots of them into tomato jam, thinking I would give it away as gifts.

However, this year the jam did not set! I don’t know why – perhaps I used the wrong pectin? Or the wrong variety of tomatoes? At any rate, I didn’t give the tomato syrup away (for the most part – I think I gave some to Melody anyway, because they are CRAZY for it). I gave away the strawberry jam, the raspberry jam, and the salsa, and left the tomato jam in the giant metal filing cabinet where we store the home-canned goods and empty jars.

So what to do with it? I used some on English muffins, like I did last year, but it really didn’t work well.

Then, one day, I decided to make baked beans. And I didn’t have enough ketchup for the recipe, so I used tomato jam instead. It was delicious! So I laid in a supply of canned navy beans, and we’ve had baked beans several times since. You could probably make a decent barbecue sauce out of it as well.

Tomatoey Baked Beans

  • 3 15-ounce cans navy beans or other white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 8-ounce jar of tomato jam
  • Molasses
  • Ketchup
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Chopped onion
  • Bacon (cooked and crumbled/chopped) or hot dogs or other meat product if desired

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In the bottom of a baking dish (I use a round pyrex thingy), mix together the tomato jam, a drizzle of molasses, a drizzle of ketchup, and a smaller drizzle of yellow mustard. Yes, I said drizzle. I make a loose spiral around the dish, starting in the center. Adjust the amounts to your taste.

Add the chopped onions, beans, and meat if desired. Mix well. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes (mixture should be bubbly and meat should be heated through).

You could also make this in a slow cooker, or turn the oven down and cook it longer. I haven’t tried this yet – I’m more the “it’s 5:30 and I have to make dinner, STAT!” type.

Hints for Making Your Own Jam

Saturday, I went to the farmers’ market and got a half flat of strawberries and a half flat of blueberries for JAM! I’ve already made the strawberry jam, as well as some blueberry pancakes.

You can get exact recipes and instructions for making and preserving jam in lots of places. My favorite is PickYourOwn.org. I won’t be giving you the step-by-step here.

However, I did come up with a few tips:

Amounts: You need a half-flat, or six pints of berries to make one batch of jam, which will be eight half-pint jars or four pint jars. You really do want to stick to this quantity, both because it’s a manageable amount and because this helps the jam to set properly. Don’t try to double or triple the recipe! Just make another batch on a different day.

You can, if you wish, make smaller batches of jam without pectin. I’ve done this before — if you have just two pints of berries, you can still make two or three jars of jam! Marisa at Food in Jars is doing a series of posts on Urban Preserving, specifically for those who want to preserve in smaller amounts, and she’s got some great recipes so far.

Time: It took me less than two hours to process a half-flat of strawberries, including sterilizing, washing, hulling, cooking, filling jars, and boiling the finished jars. Some people can probably do it faster; I am not particularly fast. My point is that it will not take all day! I actually fit this batch in between getting a child packed for camp and going to a dinner party. I’ve also been known to run a batch through the canner in the evening after work and dinner.

Equipment: I have a 21.5-quart canner, because I do full batches of jars. If you’re only doing a few jars at a time, you could use a smaller pot, even one that you already have. You just need some kind of “rack” in the bottom, which could simply be a small towel, and you need enough room to have at least 1-2 inches of boiling water above your jars. You’ll also need a jar funnel, jar tongs, and a magnetic lid lifter. You can get these things in the canning section at the supermarket, or as a handy set from Ball.

To cook a full batch of jam, you will also need a four to six-quart pot. This may seem odd, because you’re only going to end up with two quarts of jam! But when I made jam in my three-quart pot, it overflowed every time it came to a full boil, and you have to bring it to a full boil.

Get a helper: In the time-honored tradition, I use my kids. Or, you know, I train them in life skills by letting them help! You could also try a spouse, partner or friend. I had a child cutting the tops off of the strawberries (we just slice with a knife, rather than trying to pull the hulls off) while I was getting jars and equipment ready. We finished them up together, and then I let another child mash them.

Multitask: I filled the canner and put it on to boil first, because that takes the longest. I washed a couple of pints of berries, got the kid started slicing, and then put my jars and rings in the dishwasher and started them sterilizing. Then I washed more berries, and we worked on slicing the tops off together. You don’t want to end up waiting for the pot to boil, or for the jars to be ready!

If you’re not ready to jump into canning, you might like to try freezer jam instead. It’s even easier, and you get a fresher berry taste because you don’t cook the berries. Either way — it’s berry season! Go take advantage of it!


End of the Season + Canning With Kids

It looks like we’re near the end of our canning season. I still have pears in cold storage, waiting to be processed, but the tomatoes are done! Altogether, we’ve done applesauce, tomato sauce, tomato jam, crushed tomatoes and pear jam. I still plan on making pear sauce and/or pear butter. It’s not a complete winter’s supply of food, but it’s a start!

Today I have a guest post about canning with kids up on the What’s Cooking Blog. It also includes my recipe for tomato jam. I’d love it if you’d go have a look! Thank you. :-)

Easy Preserving: Tomato Sauce

The tomatoes. Sigh. Due to unseasonably cool weather, our garden didn’t produce enough tomatoes for canning, although we have had plenty to eat.

So last weekend, I bought 40 pounds of tomatoes from a local farm store. And then I promptly became ill, so I didn’t get them all canned right away. Instead, I whittled away at them by making small batches of tomato sauce, as well as a batch of tomato jam (which is a story for another time).

Tomato sauce is just as easy as applesauce. It just takes more time to cook down. Thus, to use my time (and our electricity) wisely, I’ve been cooking the tomatoes in the crock pot.

We have only a three-quart crock pot, which holds about five pounds of tomatoes. This produces one quart of sauce. So this is not the method to use if you want to make a large amount of sauce. But if you just want to make sauce in small batches when you have a chance, this works. You can divide your quart into smaller jars if you wish. A half-pint jar is equivalent to the smallest cans of grocery-store tomato sauce, and a pint jar is almost the same as a medium-size can.

Also, hat tip to Betsy Richter, who tipped me off on the crock pot technique. Betsy has a wonderful recipe for roasted tomato sauce, which I’m not using because it includes onions and peppers, and the USDA recommends using a pressure canner if you’re adding anything besides tomatoes. I definitely want to try it sometime, though!

Crock Pot Tomato Sauce


  • Knife
  • 3 quart crock pot
  • 3 quart saucepan
  • Food mill
  • Rubber spatula
  • Ladle
  • Canning funnel
  • Magnetic lid lifter
  • Jar lifter tongs
  • Water bath canner w/ rack
  • Jars: 1 quart jar OR two pint jars OR four half-pint jars
  • A metal ring and lid for each jar.


  • 5-6 pounds Roma tomatoes
  • Salt (optional)
  • Bottled lemon juice

Wash the tomatoes. Scoop out the stem end of each (I use a tomato shark). Cut off any bruised or bad-looking spots (they can make your sauce spoil). Cut the tomatoes in half the long way. Squeeze/scoop out excess seeds and juice (I don’t work too hard at this. There will still be seeds in there for now). Leave the tomato skins on.

Put all of the tomatoes into the crock pot, and cook them on low for 10-12 hours. You can leave them to cook overnight, during work, whatever. If it goes past 12 hours, that’s fine too.

Place your food mill over the 3-quart saucepan. Run all of the tomatoes and juice through the food mill and into the pot, until all that remains is a seeds-and-skin sludge.  Scrape that into your compost bin.

You’ve probably got something that looks more like tomato juice in your saucepan. Bring it to a full boil, and let it boil down to the consistency you want. I keep it on medium-high for a while, and turn it down to medium if I’m walking away. Stir it once in a while. The total time will vary, depending on your tomatoes, your stove, and your taste (I’d say 20-40 minutes).  You may add up to 1 teaspoon of salt if you wish. Keep the sauce hot until you are ready to fill the jars.

While the sauce is cooking down, fill your water bath canner (or just a large pot) with enough water to reach one inch above the tops of your jars and bring it to a boil.  Make sure you have some kind of rack in the bottom — the jars should never sit on the bottom of the pan. Put the empty jars in it, letting them fill with water, and boil them for ten minutes. Put the lids and rings in a smaller saucepan and boil them for ten minutes, too (then keep them in the pan on low until you need them). You can also sterilize jars by running them through the dishwasher, but for one or two jars? It’s probably not worth it, unless you’re running the dishwasher anyway.

Remove the jars from the pot, dumping the water back into the pot. Add lemon juice to each jar: 1 tablespoon per pint or two tablespoons per quart. This increases the acidity of the tomato sauce so that it can be canned safely in a water bath canner. Fill the jars with tomato sauce, leaving 1/2-inch headspace between the sauce and the top of the jar. Stir with a butter knife or narrow spatula to distribute the lemon juice and eliminate air bubbles. Wipe the rim of each jar to remove any stray sauce. Place a lid on each jar and screw the rings on finger-tight (not too tight).

Use the jar tongs to place the jars back into the boiling water. Return to a full boil if necessary, and begin timing when the water is at a full boil, 30 minutes for half-pints, 35 minutes for pints, 40 minutes for quarts. If your altitude is greater than 1000 feet, you’ll need additional time — check the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

Remove the jars from the canner promptly, and let them cool without touching each other. You should hear the ping of the lids sealing fairly quickly — tomato products seem to ping faster than applesauce does. If the lid still pops up and down in the center after the jar has cooled, then that jar is NOT sealed properly. You should put it in the refrigerator and use it as soon as possible.

If anything here isn’t clear, or you have other canning questions, the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is a great resource, as is PickYourOwn.org.

The canning process can seem cumbersome, and it probably will be at first, but you’ll catch on after the first batch. You’ll learn how to time things so that you have the canner boiling at the same time the sauce is ready. And you can let other people help — my daughters, ages 10 and 8,  have now learned to do all of the raw tomato prep, so I can concentrate on other things.

You may notice that canning your own tomato sauce doesn’t necessarily save you money. You can often get four 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce for a dollar at the grocery store. This recipe makes the same amount of tomato sauce, but you’ll pay at least $2-4 just for the tomatoes. If you grow your own (and have a good crop), you might do better.  And if you can get a good price on organic tomatoes (or grow your own), you can probably beat grocery store prices for organic tomato sauce. I bought local/non-organic tomatoes for $.85/pound, but could also have bought organic heirloom tomatoes through a buying club for $1.05/pound.

Canning my own sauce does, however, help me avoid the BPA-lined cans from the supermarket. And yes, it is satisfying to produce it myself.

Easy Preserving: Applesauce/Pear Sauce

After picking apples with the Portland Fruit Tree Project, I had enough apples (19 pounds) to make seven quarts of applesauce. Applesauce is super easy, especially if you have a food mill. I followed the instructions at PickYourOwn.org (my canning bible, since I don’t have a Ball Blue Book). However, I had to make the applesauce in two batches, because I couldn’t fit all of the apples into my 12-quart stockpot at once. Having two stockpots would help.

So what’s easy about applesauce? With a food mill, you don’t need to peel and core the apples. The first time I ever made applesauce, I peeled the apples and then cut them with an apple slicer before cooking them. This is a LOT of work, even with help. But with a food mill, you can just cut the apples into quarters and throw them into the pot to cook. When the apples are soft, you run them through the food mill, which mashes the apple and leaves the skins and seeds behind.

If you don’t have and don’t want to get a food mill, Marisa McClellan of Food In Jars suggests another method: quarter the apples, remove and discard the cores, and cook the apple pieces. Then, fish the skins out of the cooked sauce with tongs.

You can freeze the finished applesauce in freezer containers (that’s what I did my first time), or can it in a water bath canner. PickYourOwn has excellent canning instructions; you can also check with your local extension service. We canned our applesauce in quart jars; you can also put it in smaller jars if you wish.

Today my eldest daughter and I picked pears, so we’ve got a bushel of those to put up as soon as they ripen a bit. At least some of them will be pear sauce, using the same method!

Disclosure: Some of the links above lead to products on Amazon.com. If you buy through those links, I get a little bit of money.

Fall, the Garden, the Canning

Fall is officially here. It was off to a chilly start in Oregon, but now we’re getting temperatures in the 70s and 80s again. We’re still harvesting tomatoes from the garden — plenty to eat and cook with, but still not enough to preserve. We’ve got a fall crop of lettuce in, but the peas I planted at the end of July just never took off. Today I harvested about two pounds of green bush beans. The pole beans hadn’t managed to produce anything, but now the warm weather is making them blossom. I doubt they’ll have time to develop beans, but I’m letting them keep going for now.

I bought 40 pounds of tomatoes from a local farm store last weekend, and promptly came down with a bad cold, so most of them are still sitting in the kitchen. I did make a couple of pints of sauce, though, using the crock pot to cook the tomatoes overnight. I’m also planning to make tomato jam and canned diced tomatoes, if the tomatoes haven’t gone soft on me.

I just wish I could have done all of this over the summer! Instead, most of the harvest around here comes right when school starts for the kids and work starts for me.

Photo by visualdensity on Flickr, used via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Canning in Literature

I canned applesauce the other night. I’ll probably tell you more about it later, but for now, I’d like to share a chapter from one of my favorite books, Then There Were Five (affiliate link), by Elizabeth Enright. If you’re familiar with the Melendys, this is a Melendy book. And in this chapter, the Melendys are canning!

The viewer below should be showing Chapter 10, “Women’s Territory”; if it doesn’t you can navigate there with the scroll bar or arrows, and if THAT doesn’t work, well, you’ll have to buy the book or visit the library! Of course, I recommend reading the whole thing anyway. The canning goes on into the next chapter, which isn’t all available in the preview.

There’s a slew of great lines in this chapter. For instance, “A clear case of vegetable homicide!” Whether you’re reading it for the first time or you already know and love it, why don’t you share your favorite(s) below?

Kettleman City and Choosing Organics

I’ve been to Kettleman City, California. Sort of. I’ve been to the part at the junction of I-5 and Highway 41, which is where we would turn off to go and visit my grandparents in Lompoc. It’s a cluster of fast food restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

Shamefully, I’ve never thought about any people who might be living nearby, or about whether there was anything more to Kettleman City.

Kettleman City proper is about two miles north of the freeway exit. About 1500 people live within the Kettleman City area (it doesn’t have city limits; it’s just a census-designated place). According to the 2000 census, over 90 percent of the residents are Hispanic/Latino, and speak Spanish at home.  Median household income in 2000 was $22,409.

Some residents work in the businesses at the freeway stop. More than half are farm workers. There’s also a Waste Management faciility nearby, and it’s not just a garbage dump — it’s a hazardous waste facility.

Why am I finding out about this now? I read an article today from Mother Jones Journal: What’s Killing the Babies of Kettleman City?

Yep. “Of 25 births over a 14-month period, five babies were born with cleft palates and other serious birth defects. Three of the five babies died.”  20 percent of the babies born in that time period were born with serious birth defects.

There are between 30 and 64 births each year in Kettleman City. In 15 of the 22 years since California’s public health department began tracking birth defects, all babies in the town were healthy, and in five other years, only one birth defect occurred. But in the last two years and 10 months, residents say, at least 11 babies have been born with serious birth defects.

There are a number of possible contributing causes: chemically-contaminated well water, diesel fumes and automobile exhaust from the freeway, chemicals from the hazardous waste dump, poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of health care.

One additional source of contamination caught my eye: pesticides used on farm fields.

More than half of Kettleman City’s labor force consists of farmworkers who are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides, and residents can smell the chemicals sprayed on the fields that border the town on three sides.

This reminded me of an often-forgotten reason for buying organic. It’s not just to protect ourselves and our children from those chemicals, it’s to protect the farm workers as well.  When I’m at the grocery store, wondering whether I really need to pay twice as much for local and/or organic tomatoes, I often don’t consider the human cost of the cheaper produce.  Am I getting tomatoes at 99 cents per pound or 59 cents per can because somebody’s husband, wife, brother, or sister picked them from a pesticide-contaminated field?

Once again, this makes a good case for knowing where your food comes from. Ask the farmer at the farmer’s market about pesticide use on his or her farm. Or buy the organic, so that you know the grower has followed certain standards.

I’ve got these tomato plants outside still, so obviously we know where our tomatoes are coming from right now. Cooking with and eating the fresh tomatoes has been great, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have enough for canning. If we rely on canned tomatoes from the store, I’ll have to either buy organic (expensive) or use cheap ones that may have come from contaminated fields. And then there’s the whole BPA issue with canned tomatoes. The commercial cans are lined with bisphenol-A, which is even more likely to leach into tomatoes because of their acidity.

So what I’d like to do is buy tomatoes to can, or get some pick-your-own tomatoes. Labor-intensive, but I think it will be worth it.