Canning has a reputation of being messy and difficult, with unpredictable results.
Granted, things can go wrong with a jam or jelly never setting, or turning out sticky and overcooked.
Fortunately, America’s Test Kitchen has published “Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More.” If you’ve never tried to can, this book is for you. If you’re an experienced canner, you may learn some new techniques and tips. I looked at every page in the book and plan to do some canning. Recipes calling out to me include Bacon Jam, Fig-Balsamic Jam and Red Pepper Jelly.
But for starters, I tried what has to be the easiest canning recipe I’ve ever come across. There’s no pitting or seeding fruit, or chopping up vegetables. The hardest prep you’ll have to do is remove the cork out of a bottle of wine:
RED WINE JELLY
1½ cups sugar
5 tablespoons Sure-Jell for Less or No-Sugar Needed Recipes
1 (750-ml) bottle full-bodied red wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 star anise pods
¾ cup water
1. Set canning rack in large pot, place four 1-cup jars in rack, and add water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat, then turn off heat and cover to keep hot.
2. Whisk ¼ cup sugar and Sure-Jell together in bowl; set aside. Bring wine, thyme, peppercorns and star anise to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover, remove from heat, and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain wine into bowl, discarding solids; return wine to clean pot.
3. Add water and Sure-Jell mixture and bring to boil over high heat, whisking constantly. Add remaining 1¼ cups sugar and bring to vigorous boil, whisking constantly. Once boiling, cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove pot from heat and skim foam from surface using large spoon.
4. Meanwhile, place dish towel flat on counter. Using jar lifter, remove jars from pot, draining water back into pot. Place jars upside down on towl and let dry for 1 minute. Using funnel and ladle, portion hot jelly into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace.
5a. For short-term storage: Let jelly cool to room temperature. Cover, refrigerate, and let set for 12 to 24 hours. Serve. (Jelly can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.)
5b. For long-term storage: While jars are hot, wipe rims clean, add lids and screw on rings until fingertip-tight; do not overtighten. Return pot of water with canning rack to boil. Lower jars into water, cover, bring water back to boil, then start timer. Cooking time will depend on your altitude: Boil 10 minutes for up to 1,000 feet, 15 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet, 20 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet, or 25 minutes for 6,001 to 8,000 feet. Turn off heat and let jars sit in pot for 5 minutes. Remove jars from pot and let cool for 24 hours. Remove rings, check seal and clean rims. (Sealed jars can be stored in cool, dark place for up to 1 year.)
Our assessment: A deep red jewel tone, the jelly turned out beautifully. It does indeed taste like red wine and the seasonings give it an exotic and opulent dimension. I used very inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot would work well, too. If you can’t find star anise, place a teaspoon of anise seeds in the center of a small piece of triple-folded cheesecloth, gather up the corners to form a bag and tie with string.
I made eight 4-ounce jars of jelly, and I boiled them for long-term storage. While the jars were cooling, they started popping. I counted the pops — a total of eight — so I knew all the jars had sealed.
From the book: “Foolproof Preserving: A guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen; 310 pages, $26.95. Published by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen, 2016.
What you get: Learn to can sweet jams and jellies, savory jams and chutneys, pickles, tomatoes, fruit in syrup and condiments and fruit butters with this book. It has a handy “preserving lexicon” with photos to show the difference between jam, marmalade, preserves, jelly, and so on, and offers a “canning step by step” overview, with photos. The book also recommends equipment for canning.
In their own words: “Getting started is easy — and so is canning when you have the right recipes and the right information at hand.” — The editors at America’s Test Kitchen
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