Friends don’t let friends can alone

It’s canning season.

You know what that means, don’t you? It means that, all across the country, people are taking perfectly good fruit, cooking all the nutrition out of it, adding unconscionable amounts of sugar, and putting it in cute little jars.

Count me in!

It’s a sickness, canning. The lure of a pantry full of jars with home-grown ingredients and home-made labels is irresistible even when there is a perfectly good freezer just one flight down. Even when you still have a goodly supply of last year’s jam, or chutney, or relish. We all know that no home is complete without enough maraschino cherries to see you through Armageddon.

There are some people in the great state of Washington who understand. They’re the Washington State Fruit Commission, and they are guilty of fostering an epidemic of the canning sickness. A while back, they got in touch with me and a bunch of other people already diseased and asked us if we wouldn’t like a nice box of perfect Washington State stone fruit in return for spreading the contagion.

Oh, sure, they didn’t call it ‘spreading the contagion.’ They called it ‘being a Canbassador,’ and they set up an entire website with tasty recipes to suck you in. But you and I know it comes to the same thing.

Count me in!

Filling that big pot with water and cleaning all those jars puts you at the top of a very slippery slope . If you don’t keep the impulse in check, pretty soon you find yourself in the kitchen for the third straight day, unshowered, canning anything that’s stopped moving. And then, when you finally do come up for air, you find you could keep the Indian subcontinent in plum jam for at least a year.

This is why friends don’t let friends can alone.

When I got my box of peaches, nectarines, and plums, the first thing I did was call my friend Christl.

Those of you who come here often know that Christl is the best gardener of my acquaintance. She’s of my parents’ generation, and grew up in southern Germany during the Second World War, when food wasn’t so easy to come by. She and her husband, Al, have done a lot of the things Kevin and I do, and she knows what it is to raise chickens, keep bees, or grow mushrooms.

And she knows how to can. In fact, she and Al know how to do just about everything food-related, and Kevin and I barter with them all year. She grows our tomato seedlings, we bring them fresh fish. We keep them in eggs, they keep us in asparagus. She gives us pickles, Kevin picks them out some oysters.

Christl is always game for a trade, and when I asked if she wanted to come help can in return for a portion of the proceeds, I knew what she’d say.

Yes, of course.

There is a world of difference between canning by yourself and canning with a friend. There is someone to help with all the cleaning, peeling, and slicing. There is someone to suggest that it would be better with a little more allspice. There is someone to say, “Enough!” before you get to that three-day mark.

You break out the canning equipment when you have a lot of something. And your friend breaks out the canning equipment when she has a lot of something. Something different from what you have, usually. So you can stay at your house, can alone, and eat nothing but peach preserves all year while she stays at her house, cans alone, and eats nothing but cherry compote all year, or you can can together and split the proceeds.

Really, now, is that a difficult choice?

The Washington State Fruit Commission box was at least twenty pounds of fruit, plenty to go around. Christl and I made a big batch of, if I may say so, beautiful spiced peaches and nectarines (recipe below). Then Al used the few peaches that were left to make a syrup that he combined with brandy. I cooked the plums, tossed in the peach solids that Al had drained from his syrup, and made jam. Kevin sampled and supervised.

After Al and Christl went home with their share of the spoils, I cleaned up the kitchen, stowed the canning supplies, and took a shower.

Yes, I can can responsibly.  I just need a little help.


Spiced Peaches
(Makes about 6 quarts)

15 lbs peaches and/or nectarines
10 c. water
5 c. sugar
12 allspice berries, crushed
10 cloves, crushed
1 t. ground black pepper

Sterilize 6 quart and 12 pint jars (or a combination) and lids. I do this in boiling water, but you can use a dishwasher. (There are excellent, detailed sterilizing instructions on the Washington State Fruit Commission site,

Peel the fruit by blanching it in boiling water long enough to loosen the skins, and then transferring it to a bowl of cold water. The time it takes varies; try thirty seconds and, if that doesn’t work, try a little longer until you find the right time. Slip off the skins. (This step is optional for nectarines.)

Prepare a bowl of cold water with about a tablespoon of lemon juice in it. Cut the fruit into halves or quarters, and put them in the lemon water so they won’t discolor. Discard the pits, of course.

Combine the water, sugar, and spices in a bowl (the 2:1 water:sugar ratio is a medium syrup), and bring to a boil.

Drain the fruit and pack it in the sterilized jars. Pour the syrup in (use a strainer to catch the spices), leaving about ½ inch of headspace. Put the lids on, and boil in water bath – 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts.

18 people are having a conversation about “Friends don’t let friends can alone

  1. Mmm. My husband needs to be on their list!

    A couple of weeks ago, he got sucked into doing a canning class for a bunch of Brownies – and our own child has never been a Brownie or a Girl Scout. He lectured them, and taught them how to skin peaches, and walked them through all the how-to stuff, and sent them each home with a jar of peach butter.

  2. I’m about to can with a friend who’s actually done it before. I have not, and am nervous after attending a canning seminar that left me certain that we’d all die of botulism if I didn’t do everything just exactly right. So my friend is going to come help bring me back to reality. We’re tackling applesauce. My sister and I picked and then shared about 125# of apples and the freezer is already full of sauce and there are still easily 40# of apples still sitting on my counter. Time to can the rest.

    • Cat, the canning “experts” like to make it sound like canning without an advanced degree in science will result in death for you and everyone in your immediate family, whether they eat the food or not. Canning is not a dangerous activity, and anyone who can operate a stove without burning down their house is able to learn to do it safely. Many of our fore-bearers (at least the skirt-wearers among them) safely canned food on wood burning stoves in kitchens that lacked many of the amenities, like running water and refrigeration, that we take for granted.

      What I am saying is, don’t let these people steal your joy in putting up healthy food for your family by making you afraid of a tried and true preserving process. Sure, there are important rules to follow to make sure that the process is safe, but the same can be said for cooking over an open flame on a natural gas range. Millions of people are cooking as I write this without blowing up their homes, and millions of people put up good food every year without poisoning anyone.

      • My brain tells me you are right, of course, Laura, but if nothing else she can teach me the tricks she’s learned along the way.

  3. Haha, it really does become a compulsion doesn’t it? It is so satisfying to suspend reality and keep the things we work so hard to grow! My favorite is making huge batches of sauce. And in climates like yours and mine where being snowed-in is inevitable from time to time, those preserves are an asset. One of my snowed-in creations I’m most proud of was a chicken tagine with cherry and dried chilies. What else does one do with a frozen chicken, cherry preserves, chilies, and rice? I would like to can with Christl, someone with her experiences is irreplaceable!

  4. I have been canning since I was a small girl. My mother and grandmother were both avid canners and I would always be there to help out. My pantry is quite full right now. One thing I have never tackled though, and is this weekends project, is fermenting cabbage. Anybody have any pointers???

    • I’m a firm believer that once you start fermenting, canning loses its shine. Fermenting is pretty easy but also better for you. Sauerkraut is the easiest way to get started. All you need it cabbage and canning salt. You could go on about crocks, etc but really,as long as you can keep it someplace dark, its fine. I use a glass crock and cover that I got at Ikea for 7$, and just wrap it with a dishtowel. The most important thing about fermenting is that you need to check it and remember its about limiting exposure to air.

      So. Take your cabbage and a big bowl. Slice the cabbage into thin discs, no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Break up the cabbage and put an inch or two into the bowl. Now sprinkle in the canning salt, trying to make sure you sprinkle it all over the cabbage. More cabbage, more salt. Occasionally toss it well and punch it down. The idea is to really make contact with the salt and cabbage. That’s it. Now pack it into your container and I mean PACK IT. punch it down, get as much in there as humanly possible. The salt is going to start drawing out liquid from the cabbage, which is exactly what we want. Once you’ve packed as much cabbage as you can in, there should be SOME liquid in the container from smooshing the cabbage. Now you’re going to need to fill the rest of the container with more of this “brine”, which is about 5% canning salt to water. You MUST keep all the cabbage submerged, ALL the time. The best way I’ve found is a chef’s trick: use onions. A few slices of onion make a great cabbage weight.

      now, you have to remember to let the thing breathe. So, I merely cover with a clean dishtowel and put it in a dark closet. I check it daily. Add more brine as neccesary. Remember, it must stay under water.. contact w air is what breeds bacteria and fungus. Unlike canning, it’ll be super obvious if you fail cause we’re talking fuzzy green fungus, not invisible and questionable fungus.

      After 5 days, you can put the lid on without worrying about it. After 2-3 weeks, you’ll know its time to start eating your kraut. At that point you can move the container to the fridge which greatly slows down the fermentation process. You could also can it at that point, processing it. This is the action I take. But… it kills the good bacteria of the fermentation process and that bacteria is why eating sauerkraut is good for you.

      As an added tip: I do half green cabbage and half red cabbage to end up with a nice overall pink kraut.


      • Thanks Amanda this is super helpfull. I love sauerkraut, but the thought of leaving something out for days or weeks even and then eating it…. wicked scary. But I am sure that if I get a good result I’ll be all in. Wish me luck..

      • Ever notice how the people who actually know how to do things don’t bother publishing a blog? It works for me, since everyone has to come to MY site for AMANDA’S sauerkraut instructions.

        PS – I love a recipe that uses words like “fuzzy” and “smoosh.”

  5. I have been canning since I was a small girl. My mother and grandmother were both avid canners and I would always be there to help out. My pantry is quite full right now. One thing I have never tackled though, and is this weekends project, is fermenting cabbage. Anybody have any pointers???

  6. See! I’m not the only one.

    Cat, fear not. Start with only high-acid foods like jams and pickles. The worst thing that can happen is that they get moldy. Botulism is the only really scary thing, and it only grows in low-acid situations.

    Trish, the only time I’ve done fermenting is one ill-fated batch of cucumber pickles, back in New York. But Amanda’s done quite a bit of it, and swears by it. There are lots of people on the fermentation bandwagon, so a little Googling should take you a long way.

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