I’m scared of several things, most of them pretty standard, you know, snakes, heights etc. Well and one more, something involving hot boiling water and a very precarious process; canning. Despite living in Seattle and being friends with the Canvolution movers and shakers, until recently I wasn’t part of the play group. I take that back, I was an observer/student. Last summer Tea showed Sandra and I how to make delicious peach jam while eating Paseo sandwiches in her kitchen. I took home a jar of jam and thoroughly enjoyed it on toast, but still a bit hesitant to venture on my own. Then I pickled this fall with the ladies of canvolution: Jeanne, Kim and Leslie; they thoroughly directed step by step letting me help with various tasks. I left with a few jars of pickles and a book on preserving, which I leafed through then set on the coffee table to be a glaring reminder that I was going to do this on my own. Post pickling, Patricia of Cook Local offered for me to join in canning tomatoes, so we processed many jars of local tomatoes. I happily assisted, pealing them and adding the lemon juice, consequently taking home pint-sized jars to enjoy throughout the year. Oh and another canning book. You see the trend? I’d yet to venture on my own canning adventure.
I did do a quick pickled red onion, but I don’t think that counts. There’s no sterilizing and the other oh so cumbersome steps in my mind. However, I knew what I wanted to make this winter, something I fell in love with on toast this summer. Marmalade. And then this Californian transplant’s favorite came into season, the infamous Meyer Lemon. It was time. I had to face my fears of solo canning. When mentioning my plan to my friend Chelsea, she remarked that she too had also wanted to try canning, but was afraid.
So this past Friday, we embarked together in her kitchen to make marmalade; facing our fears of canning together. She had the tools having purchased them on Craigslist awhile back. I found a recipe, bought Meyer Lemons and small 1/2 pint-sized mason jars. We set forth, discussing and questioning each step. Me, I copiously studied that back of the jar box. Do we boil the lids? I racked my brain for a reminder from previous canning experiences. I drew blanks. How do we keep the jars warm while we prepare the lemons? Post washing we used her oven at a low temperature to keep the sanitized jars warm (inspired by the Blue Chair Fruit method). As predicted, the simple “two-hour recipe” for these novices wasn’t exactly accurate. However we proceed to complete each step with a heavy dose of hesitation and precision. Chelsea and I are both bakers, we like the strict guidelines of a recipe. We blanched the rind wondering if there was too much membrane remaining, impatiently watching the water boil. Next we added the sugar and water, wondering if the thirty minutes wasn’t enough time to process and how thick should it be? About an hour later, we decided it was ready to be added to the jars. Afterwards I realized we missed the step to help remove any extra air bubbles. But that’s ok, it all turned out.
I put the jars in the hot boiling water using the special canning tongs. This is the step that scares me probably the most. I dislike emptying pots of boiling pasta water, so pretty much this is akin to a HUGE pot of boiling water. Plus what happens if the jars fall- my skepticism in these tongs even with their plastic grip remains. Regardless, one by one, I added our five jars of marmalade to the pot. We set the timer and waited impatiently. Again, what’s the golden rule of cooking? Don’t watch water boil. After about 15 minutes we heard a pop, they were ready. I failed to mention one other canning experience that wasn’t so good, a demonstration that the jars didn’t make that popping sound. Anyways, I again removed the hot jars from the pot and placed them on the towel. And they all popped, like popping corn, a sound I’m very familiar with. I touched the lids to make sure they were hard which they were. Hurrah! We high-fived each other to celebrate our accomplishment. We had successfully canned on our own. To date this was my best canning experience. You know why? I had completed it without the help of friends who I let take the lead. Actually it was me taking a bit of the lead. This felt good. I knew I could do it. And when I open that jar of jam to add to yogurt or spread on a thick slice of brioche, I’ll know this was my creation. I overcame my canning fear. Next up, I will have to purchase my own canning supplies and tools. Then it’s official, I won’t be able to turn back. Facing your fears feels good. It feels silly seeing that so many peers do this all the time, but for me it was real. Thanks to all of my canning friends for the help along the way- without you, I’d probably still be avoiding preserving my own food. Or rather making excuses as to why I don’t need to can.
What have you avoided doing that you finally conquered your fear? Is there a kitchen task you avoid like the plague? I’m interested to hear others stories.