So, it turns out that mason jars have other uses besides decorating tables at Pinterest-inspired rustic-themed weddings or drinking “Southern” style drinks at chain restaurants.

That’s right, folks, I’m talking about their original purpose — canning food to preserve it for later.

Canning is a family tradition, specifically on my mother’s side. My great grandmother had an enormous garden and spent all summer canning. She might have burned my grandmother, Millie, out on it, because when my mom was growing up, Grandma only canned tomatoes and froze sweet corn. Her mother-in-law, though, was quite the canner, and had a victory garden during World War II (she would lose her son, Russell, when his plane went down over France). Perhaps talent skipped a generation, because my mom returned to the ways of her forebears, and turned half of our back yard into a vegetable patch.

When I was growing up, every summer was a cornucopia of fresh vegetables. Mom was always in a rush to can and preserve everything before it went bad, or, it seemed like that to me. Our house was built in 1899, and heating and cooling it wasn’t always efficient. To save money, we didn’t run the AC often, and when Mom canned, the kitchen got pretty hot. So as a selfish kid/teen, this always really annoyed me. If I complained, though, my mom would say something like, “So in the winter, you don’t want any garden green beans, then?” Canning, while making the kitchen a sauna, was preferable to the day she dried all her basil in the microwave to keep it for the rest of the year. Something about that drying herb smell, mixed with a little burning, made me want to puke.

In hindsight, my complaints were pretty silly, considering the amazing things my mom was doing. Think about the hard work — growing your own vegetables, tending the garden all summer, and then preserving the harvest, all so your family could eat healthy and save money. Yeah, the woman was (and still is) a total superhero. I remember sitting at the kitchen table drawing, or doing homework (at the beginning of the year) while she watched endless marathons of Law and Order, or her soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and canned canned canned all day.

While I can’t have a garden (I live in a condo) I am attempting to keep the tradition alive. I’m proud to call myself a fourth-generation canner! Today I got five pallets of tomatoes at the farmer’s market and I’m ready to preserve.

I’ve decided to do two pallets of plain crushed tomatoes (can be made into anything), two pallets of spaghetti sauce (we went through all of last year’s) and one pallet of extremely hot salsa (just for me, nobody else likes it that hot!).

Step one is to wash all of my cans, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Next, I’ll put four quarts of water in my pressure cooker and start gently heating it with the empty jars inside. You need the jars, food, rings, and lids all hot at the same time.

I’m going to do the plain tomatoes first. When I do crushed tomatoes, I don’t like skins in it, so I’ll need to remove those. I gently boil the tomatoes until the skins start coming off, and then I squeeze out the inside of the tomato into one bowl and put the skins/cores in the other. You can get this neato device called a vittorio strainer that removes all the skins, stems, and seeds for you, but I don’t have one. I don’t mind seeds in any of my tomato products, and neither does my family, so no worries.

When I’ve de-skinned all the tomatoes, it’s time to ladle them into hot quart jars, and put the hot lids and rings on them. Then, I cook them in the pressure cooker at 11 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.

For pasta sauce, you can remove the skins if you like, but it’s not required. I cut up and sauté whatever veggies I have laying around (onions, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, bell pepper, mushroom, etc) and then create a pasta sauce using the diced tomatoes or crushed, skinless tomatoes. Make sure to give it some spices, like salt, pepper, garlic, basil, etc. I also love to throw in kale, because unlike some of the other veggies, it’ll keep its texture through the canning process.

My spaghetti sauce is pretty runny, so when I use it in the winter I sometimes mix it with some tomato paste. I also make it vegetarian so I can add the meat later if I want to. If you decided to do meat, you will have to adjust the canning time and pressure. It takes a LOT longer.

Vegetarian spaghetti sauce should be canned at 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.

Last but not least, hot salsa! I use a recipe (with variations) that I found in the little booklet that came with my Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker.

ZESTY SALSA

  • 10 cups chopped, cored tomatoes (about six pounds)
  • 5 cups chopped and seeded bell peppers (about two pounds)
  • 5 cups chopped onions (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 2.5 cups chopped and seeded hot peppers (about a pound)
  • 1.25 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cilantro
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • hot sauce optional

Combine all ingredients in pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process at 10 lbs pressure for 10 minutes.

I’m pretty loosey-goosey with recipes, so if I don’t have enough of something, I’ll add something else. I’ve been known to put diced zucchini and summer squash in my salsa as well. I also really like adding corn. As long as you don’t put any meat-related things in it, you should be able to add whatever you want, veggie-wise.

I started canning today about 1:00. It’s 2:30 and I haven’t even put anything in the pressure cooker yet. I’m still skinning tomatoes, and writing this while I wait for them to cool. It’ll probably be 7:00 or 8:00 before I’m done.

Edit: more like 9:00!

I’m sure my daughter thinks it’s annoying that mommy can’t play right, now, and she definitely thinks the kitchen and stove are “too hot” (which is fine with me for safety reasons). However, I hope she’ll grow up and take on this family tradition. I’m writing down all my recipes and even making some videos so she’ll have my help, just like my mom is there to share her tips and tricks with me.

Well, this is has been fun. I hope you consider taking up this, I guess, hobby yourself, because it’s a great way to have veggies in the winter, save money, and have some fun experimenting.

I feel connected to my family as I slave over a hot pressure cooker, and it’s a priceless feeling.