Most of our canned goods are either water bath or pressure canner processed. This means that the food is put into the jar and processed in boiling water (212F) or high-pressure steam (~250F) for at least 10 minutes (for small containers) or as long as 45 minutes (for some vegetables in larger containers). (A few pickles are processed longer, at or above 180F, so they don’t get as “cooked.”) Even though most of the food is put into the jars hot (212F – 235F), this processing ensures that any air in the jars is sterilized, the containers themselves (already cleaned and sterilized) are sterile, enzymes that hasten decay are broken down, any bacteria are destroyed, and a strong vacuum seal is created to keep the food as fresh as possible for as long as possible. All processing is performed in accordance with federal home food preservation guidelines.
PICKLES are prepared by several methods depending on the type, and are made with recipes dating back, in some cases, to the 1930s and before – we have a wide variety of cookbooks, tons of family recipes, and active imaginations. In addition to the heat processing, pickling also preserves through the use of acids (vinegar and lemon juice, for two), salt brine, or both. Pickling may also make use of fermentation.
We make pickles with cucumbers, zucchini, green tomatoes, peppers, onions, and root vegetables, among other things.
JELLIES, in their simplest form, are made from fruit juice and sugar. Cooking turns the sugar into syrup, and pectin* in the fruit provides the jelly texture. Depending on the fruit(s) we use, we may add various natural flavorings to complement the fruit: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, natural vanilla, lemon and lime zest, etc. We even have a jelly that contains coconut milk.
Because most of our jellies use the traditional long-boil method, we don’t generally have to use additional pectin; for fruits that are lower in pectin, we try to use natural sources where we can (underripe fruit mixed in, apple juice, etc.). A few of our jellies have added pectin commercially derived from fruit. Because the preservation process, and the activation of pectin, requires a certain acidity, for low-acid fruits, we sometimes have to add lemon juice, lime juice, or orange juice. Because we make small batches, the results can be less consistent than commercial, factory-produced preserves; batches are sometimes softer or thicker, but you can usually manage that by storing thinner jellies in the fridge, and keep thicker ones out to soften before use. (*Pectin is a naturally-occurring soluble fiber in fruit.)
JAMS are very similar to jellies in how they are made, but where jellies contain only the fruit juice, jams also contain fruit pulp or chunks, and, in some cases, the skins. For berries with small seeds, like blackberries and blueberries, they may also contain seeds, but we do make some seedless berry jams. Some jams may combine one type of whole fruit with just juice from another fruit.
Because a few of our jams have chunks of fruit that would break down with extended cooking, or ingredients that impede the action of pectin (such as coconut milk), we may use the short-boil method and add commercial pectin to get the thickness we want.
MARMALADE is jam consisting primarily of citrus fruit. The best known is orange marmalade, but we make a scrumptious grapefruit marmalade, if you like grapefruit. For marmalade, the thickening pectin is provided by the fruit’s peel, and it can provide enough pectin to allow creating mixtures with fruit that normally wouldn’t thicken, like pineapple.
CHUTNEY is essentially savory (or less sweet) jam, and often contains various spices and vinegar for tartness.
PRESERVES or CONSERVE are broad, catch-all terms for fruits processed for preservation that don’t fall neatly into other categories, as they may contain nuts, dehydrated fruits, vegetables, or even meat. (Traditional mincemeat was originally made as a way to preserve meat, spicing it heavily and adding fruit to cover for the loss of flavor from processing. Now, it consists primarily of apples, raisins, currants, and citrus rind, but traditional recipes still contain beef and suet!)
BUTTERS are fruit and vegetable spreads made by cooking fruits or vegetables slowly down to a concentrated mash, and adding sugar and spices. Think applesauce that’s cooked down until it almost has the texture of peanut butter. (And, by the way, it goes exceptionally well with peanut butter…) At present, we make butters with apples, peaches, and pumpkin, but you may also find sweet potato butter, pear butter, and others.
Gluten Free: All of our canned goods are gluten-free (with the exception of chicken stew, which we don’t sell at this time).
Soy Free: We do not use any soy products in our processing, but we do have soy products in the kitchen…
Mostly Dairy Free: Very few of our preserves have any dairy, and when it occurs, it’s negligible. Some jellies, in the cook-down process, have a tendency to boil up to a froth, and we will occasionally add a little butter to the pot to quell the foaming. When we do this, I try to remember to list butter in the ingredients. Similarly, some of the fruit butters may include actual butter for taste and texture. If this is a concern, please ask.
Tree Nuts: just as a matter of hygiene, we avoid “mixing” pots and utensils between different products as much as possible, but when things get busy, it’s not unheard of to use a spoon, paddle, or thermometer from one pot in another. However, as some of our preserves do intentionally contain walnuts, pecans, or almonds, if you are extremely allergic, please inquire. Because we date our preserves by the month of production, we can check to ensure that no nut products were processed at the same time.
As with soy products, we do have dairy, gluten, tree nuts, and peanuts in the kitchen.
Alcohol: A few of our preserves use liqueurs for complementary flavoring. While they’re generally added fairly late in the process, because they’re added to vigorously boiling jellies and jams, you can safely assume that all detectable alcohol will have evaporated before canning.
Meat: As noted above, mincemeat may contain beef. Additionally, we have a couple of experimental recipes this year that include bacon. Otherwise, except where butter is added (and disclosed), all of our preserves are vegetarian/vegan.
All preserved foods break down over time; preservation doesn’t stop time, it just slows it. How long something will last depends on what it is, and how it’s stored after processing. We store canned goods in dark places at or below room temperature. Still, over time, fruits may darken a bit. Marmalade and preserves that contain dried fruit or nuts may continue to thicken. The spices and flavorings in pickles will tend to get stronger with time, and pickles may get softer.
We routinely consume jellies, jams, and pickles that are 2-3 years old. Ball guarantees their lids to hold a seal for 18 months, and you can always tell if a jar has lost its seal if the button on the lid pops up. Never consume canned goods that have lost their seal, if they show any signs of mold or other contamination, or they smell off when you open them. We generally won’t list for sale anything that’s more than two seasons back, and most are from this season or last. (Everything listed right now should be Summer 2018 or newer.)