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'Canning Kitchen' author updates tastes of preserving for modern cook in new book

06/22/2015 03:09 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Amy Bronee's goal was to blend the traditions of home preserving with the tastes of the modern home cook.

While canning never went away in rural areas, it is growing as a craft in urban centres, with people eager to buy local food at farmers markets and preserve the bounty to eat during the cold winter months.

"The farmers markets are coming into the cities and people want to buy a flat of strawberries, but then they don't want to make a whole lot because they don't have a lot of storage; they don't have a lot of room to store all the gear," Bronee said during a recent visit to Toronto to promote her new book, "The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes" (Penguin).

"They don't have a huge kitchen and so being able to make half a dozen jars at a time is more accessible, I think, to people."

Bronee, 38, has included classics like strawberry jam and dill pickles in the book, but she also developed recipes to entice people who have canned before and want to go in a new direction.

As a blogger of Family Feedbag since 2011 she takes note of flavour trends and has incorporated into "The Canning Kitchen" some that might not have made it into print in a canning book a decade ago, such as Salted Caramel Pear Butter and Garlic, Rosemary and Apple Jelly.

She introduces international flavours, another different direction for canning in this country. There are nods to south Asia with Sweet Thai Chili Chutney with lemon grass while Peach Chutney Garam Masala complements curries. Those who love Mexican food will want to try Tangy Tomatillo Salsa Verde, delicious with tacos and enchiladas or scooped with crunchy tortilla chips.

"We are taking the tradition of canning and reshaping it and presenting it in a way that addresses modern tastes and the modern home cook," said Bronee.

"I think that's how people eat nowadays. And I didn't want the book to have this old country bumpkin feel which I think canning has held for a long time. But with the sort of urban hipster, urban locavore way that we eat now I think it needed to have a little bit more of an update."

In her canning classes she finds people like to share stories about their grandmother's pickles or picking strawberries for jam, which she used to do with her father growing up in Ottawa. He made chili sauce, and his strawberry freezer jam "was just the best thing you could taste."

Her husband and two sons, aged seven and four, love crunchy dill pickles, and she makes at least 40 jars a year with cucumbers grown in their backyard.

"Pickles are memories and tradition and childhood all wrapped up into one and you just need that first bite to bring it all back."

Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Centre for Home Food Preservation say if you process filled jars for 10 minutes or longer in a boiling water bath canner you don't need to pre-sterilize jars.

After spotlessly clean jars are filled, put the lids on and then process them in boiling water in a large pot with a lid and rack.

The high temperature kills off yeast, moulds or bacteria in the jar while the contents expand, driving out air.

"And then when you take them out the contents contract. It creates that vacuum seal that you want so that no new micro-organisms get in to spoil the food, so it's shelf stable."

Bronee says common mistakes include altering the amount of sugar or pectin called for in a recipe and not boiling the mixture long enough.

Don't reduce the amount of sugar, she cautions. Recipes are carefully balanced and reducing the sugar will lead to the jam not setting.

Pectin, too, seems to have gained a bad rap. It is a naturally occurring fibre found in most plant cells, not a preservative as some think. It's activated when combined with sugar in an acid mixture over high heat. If one of the components is altered, the jam or jelly won't gel properly.

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