Since the harvest season has got underway I’ve been doing quite a bit of canning. Canning in a small, claustrophobic apartment kitchen can get a little gnarly at times but I actually enjoy the process quite a bit. I feel like I’m getting one over The Man with every jar that seals. I always appreciate the effort come winter and have been surprised to find myself sitting on the floor on more than one occasion fondling the multi-colored jars of this and that tucked into the bottom shelves of a kitchen cupboard. As a kid I never could have dreamed it would come to this. That so many years later I would become someone who grows food AND puts food by. And who understands the meaning of the term. And uses it in sentences. I haven’t reached that hyper-perfectionist Fall Fair level yet but I can see giving it a go one day in the future. For the kicks!
My first forays into canning began about a decade or so ago with dill pickles and has since expanded into chutneys, jams, jellies, ketchup, salsa and just about anything that is safe to preserve in a regular boiling-water-bath canner. I don’t have a pressure canner but I’ve found myself day dreaming about getting one recently. I just don’t know where on earth I would put it! The big canning kettle is taking up enough space as it is.
This year I decided to splash out and buy some fancy canning jars. Why are all of the standard hardware store brands so UGLY? I especially dislike the cluster of fruit motif stuck on most small 1/4 pint jelly jars. You can cover the lids but those designs are debossed right into the glass. Any proper home canning jar will get the job done but aesthetically pleasing jars are just a little bit more satisfying to behold.
And so I looked around for the prettiest jars I could find, settling on a couple of boxes of expensive but gorgeous German made Weck jars. And they are gorgeous. But boy are they hard to come by. I was only able to find them online at Lehman’s, a store that sells all sorts of incredible old fashioned gadgetry. The catalogue is really fun to browse. Just yesterday I found myself getting excited about a bottle capper even though I don’t drink soda. It caps bottles! Imagine that.
Anyways, back to the Weck jars. The frugal in me refused to chance expensive shipping rates and so I tried looking around locally for a time instead. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything in the city but when I went back to place an order canning season was already in full swing and they had sold out of some of the sizes and shapes I had hoped for. Lesson #1: Get your canning supplies WAY before canning season starts. Every year I say I will do this and then every year I underestimate how much I will need when the time comes which inevitably leads me to run out to my local hardware store where they have jacked up the rates preying on desperate canners and where the selection is down to the tackiest jar designs. Lord I am picky.
In the end I managed to purchase 4- 1 litre deco jars and 4- 1/2 litre tulip jars. I really wanted the petite jars for my jellies but only now realize that Lehman’s had them in stock but I overlooked it on the site. Dang it!
My jars arrived yesterday afternoon. They really are beautiful. My first thought was to determine what was good enough for them. They’re so special and I only have a few. I wanted my inaugural canning session with them to be something special that will be best suited to the shape and size. The goal of canning couldn’t be more practical yet I’ve gone and shifted it into the realm of vanity making what goes in the jars less important than what looks GOOD in the jars. That’s one step closer to anal retentive Fall Fair ribbon winner.
I eventually decided to try canning up another batch of heirloom tomatoes in the larger 1 litre jar. I figured that the rich color and simple pear shape of ‘Japanese Black Trifele’ Tomato would be beautiful through the glass, matching the curves of the jar. I also thought it best to do my trial run with something I’ve got some experience with so I can make comparisons. I have some fidgety old blue glass Masons that I’ve been using for years but the Weck system is still a bit different. There is no screw lid. The entire jar is glass, including the lid. It is sealed with a rubber gasket which is held in place with two metal clips throughout the heat processing steps. The clips are then removed once a vacuum seal has been created inside the jar, leaving you with a very sleek and simple shape devoid of any metal that can potentially rust on the shelf.
The canning procedure wasn’t unlike canning with old glass Mason jars but it was a bit trickier. I found the shape of the jars and the lids harder to pick up with my standard jar lifting equipment. The jar mouths are a lot wider, which is great for cleanly getting food into the jar but not so great for lifting. The deco shaped jar was especially difficult because it did not have a real lip for the jar lifter to grab onto. The jars did not fit into my standard size rack so there was a lot of worried fumbling with jar lifters and tongs getting the jars into and out of the hot water bath. Like the vintage glass Mason jars I found it difficult to determine if a proper seal has been achieved. With no two part metal system to make that familiar POP, you can only really go on intuition, the position of the rubber lip (which should face down) and the strength of the lid once the clips are removed.
For those reasons I would not suggest these jars for beginners but I think the smaller petite jars would be easier to manage. Still, if you’re new to canning and are nervous about safety I would recommend sticking to the metal lid jars. And if you’re an intermediate or advanced canner the only other issue is the prohibitively expensive cost. I figure I will have to can with these every year for the rest of my life to get real value from them. Canning isn’t just about saving money but that’s certainly a pretty big factor and at over $6.00 a jar plus shipping these are not what I would consider a frugal or thrifty choice. They would make nice gifts although I have to say I think I will be saving these for myself.
What foods are you putting up this year?