I’ve been having a busy and stressful couple of weeks, so I’m not sure if this counts as art, but I feel like it does, so it’s going to have to do.
I’m not an expert at preserving, but it’s something we’ve been doing since I was a kid, when we would spend hot mornings at the U Pick farms, and long afternoons putting up jars of strawberry and raspberry jam.
When I moved to Toronto, I left most of my canning tools at my Mom’s house ((along with my favourite baking dishes!)), because I moved in a hurry and wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying. So last year I didn’t do any canning at all, and very little baking.
My summers are generally very busy, since I run Summer festivals and events for a living, but I almost always find time to do some preserving when the produce is cheap and plentiful. The trick is really to have all of the things you need ready to go, so that when you see a bushel of red peppers going super-cheap, you can take is home and be canning Roasted Red Pepper-Tomato Ketchup that evening.
So last weekend I noticed that flats of mangoes were pretty cheap, and I finally got around to buying one of those Bernardin home canning starter kits, which includes the giant pot, funnel, and jar tongs (as well as some other random stuff, like a DVD on canning.). You don’t need to buy one of these, but it is a handy way to get everything you need in one shot. It even comes with four one-cup mason jars, though that won’t get you very far.
Like a lot of older skills, people think it’s super-complicated to make preserves (or bake), but the main activities are washing – the ingredients, the tools, your hands – and peeling/cutting up the ingredients. Then you stew them up in a pot, add a few preservative ingredients like sugar and vinegar, et voila! You have jam, or ketchup, or chutney!
Yes, after that you move on to the canning process, which is usually another half an hour, and is super-anti-climactic if you think canning is complicated, but generally it means pouring your preserves into sterile jars, covering them with sterile lids, and then submerging them in boiling water for 20 minutes or so. ((This is a rough description, by no means a recipe – always check a canning site like Bernardin for proper directions! They’ve also got tonnes of really good recipes for all kinds of preserves.))
I’ve made this mango chutney a few times; it’s a recipe I cobbled together a few years ago when I made an impulse buy of a carton of over-ripe mangoes for $3. You can find it over on my personal website; don’t mess with the spices, unless you’re adding a little extra coriander, which is my favourite bit. Everytime I get a bite of chutney with a coriander seed, it’s like heaven.
The best part of the whole process is really that bit at the end, when you’re pulling the jars out of the boiling-water bath, and setting them somewhere to settle for the night. Not only do you get the pleasure of seeing those lovely jars all lined up with delicious food that you made, but there’s that pleasing “Thwok!” as the lids suction down, sealing the jars.
I really like this recipe; it tastes amazing on fried foods like latkes, samosas, or a grilled cheese sandwich (seriously, try it!). And it feels good to finally have the tools to preserve things in my own house again!