Sorting through preserving recipes is like planning a garden, and selecting those you want to make akin to choosing what seeds to buy. You juggle the reality of last year’s production with dreams of the season to come. It’s a pleasure that takes me back to childhood and the arrival of the Sears’ Wishbook catalogue each fall (and doesn’t that date me?). I can still remember the sweet and lingering anticipation of what Santa might bring as my brother and I devoured its pages.
I’m also a self-confessed organization freak. I come by it honestly from 15 years of teaching and keeping large numbers of young people moving in a somewhat orderly fashion and similar direction. Add to this an appetite for stationery, pens, highlighters and coloured markers that rivals my appetite for food—a trip to Laywine’s as exciting for me as going to a great restaurant—and it’s no wonder my preserving plan unfolds as a colourful and structured outline in a notebook (Rhodia only, please).
I do this as a means of inventory-taking that’s both practical and wishful. There’s still plenty of room for spontaneous straying—mine is not an OCD obsession. Tempting recipes often present at peak season begging to be tried. Some things will get made, others won’t. Not everything on my childhood wish list made it in to the sleigh.
For instance, I know from last year’s production that I need to double up on some favourites—peach and rosemary compote, Shinn’s pickles and Spy applesauce—that disappeared from my shelves far too quickly, but chili sauce I have in abundance so can strike it from this season’s list. A new preserving book and a handful of recipes from online sources help to fill out the wishful part of the plan.
If you look closely at the image above—and can decipher my Gothic script—you’ll see a lot of entries for jam. Despite its occasional tough lessons, I love making jam and love it even more on toasted rye bread at breakfast. I can’t recall my last purchase of the store-bought stuff and I’d like to continue that way. I’ll definitely be making Bernardin’s carrot-cake jam because it scores me big—albeit fleeting—points with my nephews, who adore it. Many people swear by freezer-jam recipes, particularly for strawberries, but I confess I don’t like their flavour or thin gel, no matter the ease.
The appearance of strawberries at the market coincides with the arrival of canning supplies in the hardware store. I roam that section to stock up on equipment. I’ve never made a jelly and it’s a task whose time has come, so I’m looking forward to purchasing jelly bags and a holder. While I’m at it, I need a new magnetic wand for fishing the disposable inner lids out of the bottom of a pot of boiling water—an ingenious invention. Incidentally, my most prized possession is a Maslin preserving pan from Lee Valley that my dad gifted me. It’s the perfect size and cooks like a dream.
I also haunt hardware stores to see if any new shape or size of jar has arrived. I’m partial to 500-millilitre jars (1 pint for you imperialists) but I also like getting an assortment of jars for gifting. There’s a lovely squat jar, sold in a four-pack, that costs a bit more but makes a beautiful presentation. Several years ago I was totally smitten by a display of Weck jars (traditional European canning jars with glass lids) at San Francisco’s Ferry Market.
I also love beautiful labels and search art galleries and specialized stationery stores for particularly lovely ones. It’s worth noting that I now only buy labels that adhere to the disposable inner lids because I hate soaking and scrubbing glue from jars. I’ve also dropped much of the external gussying up of jars because with preserves—as with people—what’s really important to me is what’s inside.
This year, I’ll be using a new-to-me ingredient because several recipes I want to try call for calcium hydroxide. It’s sold in pharmacies, I’m told, and ensures crispness, one of the most desirable qualities in a great pickle.
Speaking of which, pickled onion rings are a new addition to this year’s recipe list, just for James. He loves onions and I love him. Enough said.
In laying down my preserving plan, a seasonal pattern is revealed—things get much busier in late summer and early fall. That’s an ancient fact as reliable as the feeling that accompanies it: so many preserves, so little time.
What will begin it all, this very week, are rhubarb and strawberry jam and strawberry syrup. James doesn’t love maple syrup (yes, you read that right) and I need something for his weekend breakfast pancakes. I’ll then have a short respite until the Niagara cherries appear.
The truth is that the advent of a new season has me chomping at the bit. I’m full of enthusiasm and preserving gusto, and want to flex muscles that have been on winter break. I can hardly wait for the satisfying ping of jar lids sealing, and to set my own stores for another season.