Food: U of I educator shares canning tips

Judy Buchenot
For Sun-Times Media
June 26 1:37 p.m.

The classes

Who: Laura Barr of the University of Illinois Extension will offer canning demonstrations at the Aurora farmers market through September.

When: Classes are at 9:30 and 10:30 am. on the following schedule: Making pickles, July 19; tomato canning techniques, Aug. 9, and TBA Sept. 27.

Where: Aurora’s farmers market, 233 N. Broadway, Aurora

Laura Barr’s mantra is “yes, you can” — especially when it comes to preserving the fresh fruits and vegetable of the season.

The nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension will share her canning secrets during a series of four monthly sessions at the Aurora farmers market. The first one was set up Saturday amid baskets of freshly picked deep-red strawberries sweating and ripening in the sun.

“Food preservation skills have skipped a generation, but now it is up and running as a way to make your own food and avoid highly processed foods,” she says.

The classes come courtesy of a grant from Jarden Home Brands, the company that makes the familiar Ball Brand canning supplies.

“Aurora was one of 50 farmers markets across the country to receive the grant,” says Dale Hazlewood, Aurora special events coordinator. “It is one of three markets in Illinois to offer the classes, which makes sense since this is the oldest farmers market in Illinois.”

In addition to the monthly classes, Jarden Home Brands will provide three gift baskets to be given away in a free drawing each month.

Although canning is a simple process, Barr says there is a learning curve.

“It is best to start with jams and jellies, because they are the simplest,” she says. “You don’t even need a lot of equipment.”

She explains that most canning is done with either a hot-water bath or a pressure canner. The hot-water bath is simply a large pot with a rack inside for holding jars so they can be lowered into boiling water for the designated number of minutes. A pressure canner is similar but uses steam to reach a higher temperature.

“Water bath canning is used for high acid foods like fruits and jellies, and pressure canning is used for lower acid food like green beans or corn,” Barr says.

During her recent demonstration, she outlined the steps for making strawberry jam using berries from Wolf Farm in Michigan, which participates in the Aurora market.

“You want to use the best fruit you can find,” she said holding up a green basket filled with firm fruit ripened to the very tips.

She explained that preparation is the key to success. Before beginning, she suggested filling the canner with water and starting it to boil. The jars should go into a separate kettle of water to get sterilized along with the lids. The berries should be mashed and measured. Sugar needs to also be measured and ready to go in a bowl.

“Canning is a science,” she said. “The amounts need to be exact, and if you follow the directions, it will turn out.”

She said only three ingredients are needed to make strawberry jam. “Strawberries, sugar and pectin. That’s it,” she said.

The berries and pectin are brought to full boil and then sugar is added all at once. After the mixture comes to a boil again, spend a minute stirring and boiling the mixture, and it is ready to go into jars. The jars are filled, sealed and processed in the water bath canner.

Barr offered a few tips for beginners during the session.

“You need to bring everything to a full rolling boil to be sure it will jell and leaving the proper amount of head space is important when filling the jars,” she added, referring to the amount of room between the lid and the contents of the jar.

Leaving a space allows for expansion during processing. She also pointed out the importance of checking the rims before placing a lid on the jar. A dab of jam on the rim can keep the lid from sealing properly.

Although they aren’t necessary, many helpful gadgets can help in the canning process. Barr showed a notched ruler that made it easy to check head space depth. She also had a filling funnel that had head space marks on its rim to assist with filling the jars. A wand with a magnet made it easier to pull flat jar lids from the boiling water, and a jar lifter was useful for moving filled jars.

“Once the jelly is done processing in the canner, try not to move it too much,” she said. “Allow it to cool before moving the jar so that the jar seals and the mixture jells.”

Future sessions will explore making pickles, salsa and other home-canning options.

Barr stresses the importance of using tested recipes for successful canning. Find recipes at or

Barr is willing to work with groups in DuPage, Kendall and Kane counties that are interested in having a canning demonstration. To explore this option, contact her office at 630-584-6166.

Blueberry-Spice Jam

2-1/2 pints blueberries

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon

5-1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup water

1-3/4-ounce box of powdered pectin

Sterilize jar and lids. Measure sugar into a bowl. Wash and crush berries and place in a saucepan. Add lemon juice, spice and water. Stir in pectin. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off foam. Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head space. Place lids and process in boiling water canner for 5 minutes.

Pickled Mixed Vegetables

4 pounds of 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers

2 pounds small onions

4 cups cut celery

2 cups cut carrots

2 cups cut sweet red peppers

2 cups cauliflower flowerets

5 cups white vinegar (5 percent)

1/4 cup prepared mustard

1/2 cup canning or pickling salt

3-1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons celery seed

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Sterilize and heat 10 pint jars. Cut off 1/16 inch of the blossom end of the cucumbers and discard. Wash and cut cucumbers into 1-inch slices. Peel and quarter onions. Cut celery into 1-inch pieces. Peel and cut carrots into 1/2-inch pieces. Wash and cut peppers into 1/2-inch pieces. Break cauliflower into flowerets. Combine vegetables. Cover with 2 inches of crushed ice, and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours.

In an 8-quart kettle, combine vinegar and mustard and mix well. Add salt, sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, cloves and turmeric. Bring to a boil.

Drain vegetables and add to hot pickling solution. Cover and bring to a boil. Drain vegetables, saving pickling solution. Pack vegetables into pint jars leaving 1/2-inch head space. Add pickling solution, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Cover jars with lids and rings. Process in boiling water for five minutes. Remove jars and allow to cool.

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