A while ago, I found some Kilner home canning jars on sale and bought six of them. I then resolved to lie in wait for the apple season to start and see if I could obtain some inexpensive apples to make applesauce. I had begun to contemplate which weekend to buy my apples when, serendipitously, I ended up getting a bunch for free from some friends. We went to their house for a barbecue this weekend, and they were busy gathering the apples that were beginning to fall from two big trees in their garden. Apparently, their house was built on the site of an old orchard, so some mature trees remain, of a variety that are no longer grown because the apples don’t keep well – so they are vintage apples, which is a nice detail.
Ideally, of course, I would process them on a weekend, but I was afraid to let them sit too long. So, after some nervous planning, last night produced canned applesauce! I have done some small-scale canning before, of applesauce as well as mincemeat and some plums, but my main problem with such projects is usually ‘biting off more than I can chew’. I will end up with a kitchen piled high, burns on my hands, and things spilled or broken – or simply staying up late to finish a project that was too ambitious for an evening. This time, I planned everything out ahead of time, right down to deciding where I was going to set the hot jars at each stage. The planning helped immensely!
I started at breakfast time by giving all of the apples a good wash in vinegar and water.
Thus, when it came to evening for the actual canning, I was a little ahead.
Having done this before, I know the worst part is chopping the apples. Sticky juice everywhere, peels everywhere, and those little hairy bits from around the bottom of the stem getting stuck to everything. I opted to leave the peels on and use a hand blender to puree them, to save time. I was glad of this; they were mostly small apples, hard to peel, and took about an hour to chop even without peeling. There were also a few unwanted visitors of the wormy sort, and cutting around those taxed my patience (and my nerves) as much as I had energy for!
One fussy thing about canning is the need to sterilise the jars and then keep them hot while filling them. Some sources I read advised sterilising them in a dishwasher. Alas for that. What I’ve done before is to boil them, but all my pots were requisitioned for cooking the apples, so I decided to sterilise my jars in the oven. It worked a charm because the jars need to stay in the oven about the same length of time the apples need to cook, and they can remain in the oven to keep warm as you use them one by one.
I even followed my directions down to the last detail and soaked the lids in hot-but-not-boiling water to soften the glue on the seals. Phew! The off-putting thing about canning, aside from how long it takes, is just the seeming finicky-ness of it all as you try to get everything to a hot temperature at the same time while also keeping it sterile.
The final oddity was that I realised, only that morning, that my jars were actually too tall for my pans. Ideally, the pan will be tall enough that the jars can be covered by about 2 inches of boiling water while they are processing. I decided to risk it and opted to screw my lids on tightly and then tip the jars on their side in the pan so they would be submerged. The absence of information about this method online suggests to me that I shouldn’t have done it, but by the time I realised the problem I was already committed to the enterprise and wouldn’t be deterred. (In the photo you can see the flannel I put in the bottom of the pan, again a tip I read about, which keeps the jar from rattling on the pan or being in direct contact with the heat.)
With two pots going, I could do two jars at once, boiling them and their contents for 20 minutes before removing them.
The theory behind canning is that, after being boiled, the contents of the jar are sterile and the seal on the lid is activated (it’s just glue). Once you remove the jars, they cool, and the drop in temperature eventually causes a vacuum seal on the lids. I could actually hear mine popping as they cooled and the lids popped down.
I thought I might regret trying this, not only because it’s a big project to attempt in an evening but because of the lack of proper equipment. I was especially concerned that my sideways boiling technique might not seal the jars. However, they all seem to have sealed firmly this morning.
Applesauce isn’t much of a British thing, as far as I can tell. I tried to buy it once but could only find it in a smallish jar, sold like a condiment (similar to cranberry sauce or mint jelly), and I felt it was too pricey to be worth it. So, since moving here, I’ve always made my own about once a year to use for eating (best when cold!), or else as a staple ingredient in a lot of American seasonal baking recipes. I have to say, it was making the applesauce itself that was the most harrowing part this time – I lived in fear of cutting into worms. The actual canning wasn’t difficult. If I had more space, I think it would be well worth it to do more canning this time of year, when the produce is fresh and cheaper. But I have to keep reminding myself that when I read about people who can a year’s worth of fruit and vegetables at a time, they are keeping all those jars in a nice big basement!