As a new mom, I can barely find time to make dinner, let alone haul out the equipment and devote hours to canning sessions.
My salvation has been freezer jams and refrigerator pickles. These recipes make it so easy that I can have the satisfaction of creating homemade peach jam or bread and butter pickles in the time it takes to bake a frozen pizza. Plus, who can resist taking advantage of summer's bounty when the farmers' markets are overrun with berries, peaches and pickling cucumbers?
For beginners, these recipes are an easy introduction to making homemade pickles and preserves without all the labor or equipment of traditional canning. That's exactly what inspired Durham, N.C., native Pamela Bennett to write "Jams & Jellies in Less than 30 Minutes."
"I wanted to take the intimidation factor out of canning," Bennett says. "I think a lot of people love the idea of canning but see a grandmother with a water bath canner and paraffin."
Bennett's book focuses on jams and jellies that will last about three weeks in the refrigerator or a year in the freezer.
Most of her recipes couldn't be simpler. They have only four ingredients: fresh fruit, sugar, pectin and an acid, such as lemon or lime juice. The most you have to do with traditional pectin is combine it with water and boil for a minute before adding it to the fresh fruit and sugar. (With instant pectin, you don't even have to turn on the stove. You combine the pectin with sugar and add fresh fruit and acid.) After three minutes of stirring, pour it into straight-sided plastic containers. After 24 hours in the refrigerator, you have homemade jam or jelly to stash in the freezer or enjoy immediately.
Refrigerator pickles are just as simple. Make a brine with vinegar, water and seasonings. Heat the brine to dissolve the salt or sugar, pour that over your sliced cucumbers or other vegetables, and after 30 minutes to 24 hours, pack the jars and stash them in the refrigerator. In a few days, you have homemade pickles for your hamburgers and hot dogs or potato salad.
And there's a whole world of recipes for freezer pickles, relishes and salsas, which take no more time.
"You get a very quick sense of accomplishment," says Judy Harrold, consumer affairs manager of Jarden Brands, which owns Ball brand canning supplies. "It gives you more confidence to move on to the next step."
It's good to know that homemade pickles and preserves are within reach until you are ready for that next step, whether it happens next growing season or when your child can bake her own frozen pizza.
A glossary and more resources
Pectin is a natural substance found in ripe fruits and vegetables that is used as a thickening agent in homemade jams, jellies and preserves. Look for it near canning supplies in the supermarket. Instant pectin is designed for no-cook freezer jam, which means it does not need heat to activate the pectin.
Low or no-sugar pectin allows home cooks to make jams or jellies with less sugar, no sugar, honey or sugar substitutes, such as Splenda. Be sure to follow recipes included with the product to ensure success.
Pickling salt is recommended for pickle brine. Table salts have non-caking substances that may cloud the brine.
Ball makes plastic jars for freezer jams. But you can use any straight-sided plastic container suitable for freezing.