Canning · DIY · Food · Frugal · Gardening · Preserving · Summer

When in doubt…pickle.

The bees are busy and buzzing in our backyard this time of year! We have a full garden with lots of blooms for them to visit. Not to mention we have a yard of clover that we purposely do not spray with chemicals just for their well being. I try to take care of them and they take good care of our garden plants and fruit trees. In particular this time of year we rely on them to pollinate our cucumber plants. There’s nothing quite like the smell and taste of a cucumber straight out of the garden. Those waxy specimens you get at the grocery wane in comparison. When the cucumber bounty is coming in, we are using them every way we can think of; in salads, as crackers and of course we make pickles! In our house we love little jerkin pickles. The beginning of the growing season is the best time to get the most “little”cucumbers all at once. You can do whatever size you like, spears, slices or whole pickles. The process for all of them is the same. If you’re a beginner canner I highly recommend trying pickles first. They’re so easy to make and they help you understand the process you need to do in order to can.

Canning can be done using a water bath canner or a pressure cooker. When canning pickles, jams, jellies, fruit butters, tomatoes, salsa, pretty much any fruit or vegetable that is acidic a water bath canner is safe to use, but for meat and starchy vegetables like green beans and corn you need to use a pressure cooker to ensure the temperature gets hot enough to eliminate any harmful bacteria that can spoil your food. However, tomatoes of any kind can be canned in both a water bath or a pressure cooker, a pressure cooker just shortens your processing time from about 45 minutes to about 15 to 20 minutes. For pickles you will always use a water bath canner, a pressure cooker would cook the cucumbers and they’d be very soft and soggy. Because of the vinegar used in pickling, making them acidic, a water bath canner is the preferred method to canning pickles. The same is also true for jellies, jams, and fruit butters in that a water bath canner is the easiest and generally preferred method of canning. In the pictures below is my water bath canner on the left and a pressure cooker on the right. I do have one, but they’re super heavy and I didn’t feel like digging it out for a photo shoot.

Ok, so first things first, you pick your cucumbers and give them a good cleaning in the sink. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of clean jars. Go ahead and halfway fill your canner with water and put your jars in to have them sanitizing in hot water. A canner holds 7 jars so I usually try to have at least 8 jars ready. Now, back to the cucumbers, start slicing or preparing them based on what kind of pickles you want (slices, spears, whole, etc…). Remove your sanitized jars from the canner using a jar lifter and carefully place them on a kitchen towel. Hint: hot glass is temperamental and can crack and break easily. You can then begin stuffing the jars as tight as possible with your cleaned and cut cucumbers. Try to get the jars as full as possible so you don’t have to use as much pickle brine and also so there is less air in the jars which can lead to shorter shelf life.

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Now, once jars are full of cucumbers, you start getting your pickle juice cooking on the stove. I use a pickle mix, Mrs.Wages kosher dill mix. You do not have to do this, I just love the quality, convenience and consistency of the mix. There is directions on the back for the measurements of water, vinegar and pickle mix. It’s pretty straight forward you combine all the ingredients and bring it to a boil. Once your brine is boiling, remove from the stove and place near your stuffed jars. One by one using a ladle and canning funnel fill your jars within a half inch from the top rim. Once all jars are filled, wipe the rims to remove any spilled liquid and then cap the jars with your heated ring and lids. Put them on together and just hand tighten, don’t over tighten or your jar can bust in the canning process.

Alrighty, jars are filled with cucumbers and hot brine and they’ve also have lids. The next thing to do is get your jars into the water bath canner. Using your jar lifters, one by one carefully place the jars into the rack inside the canner. When all 7 jars are in canner, put the lid on canner and double check the heat is on high. You want to get the canner up to boiling as quick as possible so that you have good and crunchy pickles. Once you see steam coming from the lid you can begin counting your processing time, which for pickles in pint size jars is 10 minutes. Once your 10 minutes is up remove your jars using jar lifters again and place the jars one by one onto a kitchen towel. You do this because placing them on a cool countertop can bust a jar. Always, always use towels on the counters when canning. The pic below is a typical jar lifter used in canning.

Before long, probably within a few minutes you should hear the magnificent sound of your jars “popping” and therefore sealing. Woo-how you did it! Easy-Peasy!! Just repeat this process until you run out of cucumbers and brine. Your pickle loving self/family should have tasty pickles for the year to come. This whole process only takes about 2 hours. It’s a great way to get your feet wet in canning. If I can do it, you can do it. Good luck on your canning adventures. Here’s batch 1 of 2 for me from last Saturday!

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Canning · DIY · Food · Gardening · Preserving · Summer

We Be Jammin’

Oh the sounds of summer: kids playing, pools splashing, late night music, frogs croaking, crickets chirping and jars sealing. You gotta admit those are some good times…yep, I really said jars sealing. Growing up I spent many summer days and nights helping and watching my Mamaw can green beans, tomatoes, pickles, and jams. I grew accustomed to hearing those jars pop all night long as they were cooling off and sealing.  That was the sound of sweet success!! Now that I’m grown with a family of my own, and my grandmother has long since left this world, I can’t wait for my first canning every year. To hear those familiar pops takes me back to my Mamaw’s kitchen. How I’d love for her to see me canning like she did.

Nowadays in our home, my babies get excited each time a jar pops. They know all our effort is paying off. I think they also know that the strawberry or blackberry jam is gonna be awesome for breakfasts and on their PB&J’s too! These moments are the ones I cherish, and I can only hope they will too.

If you’ve never canned before, in my opinion, jam or pickles are the easiest for getting started. I’m just gonna give a brief run down of the basics to canning strawberry jam from start to finish. For any of you out there who are kinda skittish about canning, or maybe think it’s too much trouble, I hope this brings clarity to any questions you may have.

First things first, wash and cut your strawberries. Try to have good, firm, ripe berries. You really don’t want bruised or over ripe fruit. (Canning rule of thumb is: high quality in = high quality, long-lasting canned goods.)  Once you’ve washed and cut berries into halves or fourths, then you smash or crush them. I use my meat masher thingy from Pampered Chef to get them good and crushed.

From there you follow the recipe on the pectin box or container. I use Ball brand fruit pectin. It gives you exact measurements for your strawberries, pectin, and sugar. I’m pushing my recipe to the max (be careful when tripling or quadrupling jams/jellies) with 8 cups crushed berries, 8 TBSP pectin, and 9 cups sugar. Add strawberries and pectin first to the pot with 1Tbsp butter. Bring this mix to a full rolling boil. Once it can’t be stirred down, add all of your sugar to the pot. Bring this mix back to a full rolling boil. Let it boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.


While all that’s going on, have your jars heating (sanitizing) in the water bath canner. You also need to have your rings and lids heating up in a smaller pan. This way once your jam is finished boiling, your jars and lids will be ready to go as well. Ok, rolling boil has done it’s minute, now your ready to jar and lid your jam. Simply ladle your mix into your jars, be sure to use a canning funnel. Fill each jar within a 1/2 inch from the top. Fill up all your jars, wipe the top edges of each jar to remove any loose jam, then top them with the hot lids and rings. Once all the jars are topped, use a canning lifter to place jars gently in the water bath canner. Put the top on the canner and wait for the boil to come back. When it begins to boil again (you’ll see steam coming out of the lid) that’s when you start your timer. For jam, processing (boiling) time is 10 minutes. After 10 minutes of processing, remove jars with jar lifters and place on a kitchen towel. Let them sit here to cool and seal. You’ll hear them within a few minutes start popping, which is the evidence of sealing. It’s a wonderful sound…I love it!

Let the sealed jars continue to cool overnight without moving if possible. You can eat immediately, but I generally recommends letting them cure for a week to ensure full setting and flavor. After all of your effort, you now have some amazing jam to last you throughout the year. Just a little added hint: homemade jams and jellies make great gifts.

Good luck…and happy canning!

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encouragement · Gardening · Scripture · Spring

Tending the garden…or is it tending the soul?

This time of year at our house there’s all the normal hustle and bustle of life, but in addition to that we’re planning, prepping and working to get our garden going for this year. I love this time of year, I see the sparkle in my husband’s eyes as he’s getting in the dirt and starting seedlings to transplant to the garden. There’s an excitement for the harvest that’s still in the planning stages.

There’s something spiritual about getting your hands in the dirt, feeling it, moving it and planting in it. Somehow being a part of the whole gardening process makes me more aware of God’s presence. Although it’s difficult to fully explain, I’m going to attempt to correlate gardening and God in our lives and how I believe you can meet God right smack in the middle of your backyard.

The hardest part of gardening is getting it going, kind of like getting yourself to church and the altar, especially if you’ve never been before or you’ve been out for awhile. Starting your garden begins with tilling. Which quite simply is breaking new ground, bringing out all the hidden stuff underneath, getting it out in the light and letting the air purify it. Tilling looks easy, but to those who have done it, know it’s harder than it looks, especially the first time breaking the ground. Tilling does get easier year after year, but it is still necessary after cold harsh winters for seeds to be planted and to bear fruit. When tilling the garden every year I’m amazed at how once the new dirt is pulled up how fresh and rich it all is, under all that hard, clumpy, gray mess is this soft, moist, fertile ground just waiting for you to plant seeds. Think for a minute, think back to the times in your life when you needed to be “turned over” or get back to God, and especially that first step towards Him in accepting Him as your Savior. You were hard, worn out and maybe even stagnant, but when you turned it all over to Him, you, much like dirt getting tilled, were unearthing all the hidden stuff in your life, bringing in out into the light and letting God purify it.

Still God’s not finished yet and neither is the gardener. All those unearthed, hard and messy things that needed to die in your life have a purpose in your future, just like your leftover unused fruit and vegetables from your garden can greatly enrich the soil of your garden when you compost. Let me say that again. The dead things that came out of your garden before are now fertilizing the soil to enrich it in order for new seeds to grow. Do you feel it? All the “things” that needed to die in your life can now be used for a greater purpose…..God’s purpose. Nothing goes to waste!

Now on to the good stuff….seed planting time!!! When you’re planting you’re holding these little treasures of possibility. It’s amazing that a large plant with huge yields of fruit can come from this tiny seed. It’s so exciting to sew these seeds, knowing the possibility of what’s to come. While at the same time it’s also a little intimidating because your just not 100% positive their gonna grow, but that’s where faith comes in. When you have opportunities in your own lives to sew seed into something or someone, that same uneasy, not sure feeling can creep in, but trust God with your seed and he will Bless it. Galatians 6:9-And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we not faint.

I’m not going to candy coat it, gardening isn’t always sunshine and roses. Most every gardener experiences some kind of frustration and aggravation nearly every year. Some of these nemesis are for sure the weeds and various pests that like to devour and poison your lovely garden. Weeding, is a must or the plants will get choked out and die from the lack of sunlight and/or the lack of sufficient water. The weeds steal the light, soil and water from your precious garden plants. You have to get to the root of the problem….aka the weeds and pesky bugs or they will just keep coming back and will eventually take over your whole garden. In our lives these nuisances can be distractions and even temptations that can “make or break” us. Only through prayer and discipline can you get through these trials. I have learned, that just like I have to research how to attack a problem in the garden, I also have to research the Bible and scripture to find my way through life’s diversions.

Pruning, this one I honestly wouldn’t have known the significance if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself. Removing green, growing and even thriving parts of a plant are hard to do, but when you see the benefit later of a larger more fruitful plant it is definitely worth it. It’s so obvious that we all need a good pruning as we grow into the people God made us to be. We go through situations and times in our lives that just plain hurt. At first we don’t grasp any reason at all for this pain or loss, yet later, maybe even years down the road we can see how these seasons made us better, stronger and hopefully wiser. Finding a good body of believers as well as an honest, wise Pastor to help cultivate you and raise you up to your calling is such an essential help in your life. John 15:1 ” I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”.

After some tough times of pruning, weeding and pest control your just about ready to throw your hands up! But wait! There’s light at the end of this tunnel. Just when you’ve had enough, the first fruits come in and man oh man, it’s hardly believable, but they were worth all the sweat, tears and prayers! Because you know the effort and sacrifice it took to get these amazing veggies here, they taste better than any you’ve ever had!! And rightly so, there’s no comparison of the taste of store bought produce to that of home grown produce. I refuse to even eat tomatoes from a store, I just can’t bring myself to do it after being spoiled with sweet, heavenly tomatoes from my garden. Let’s not forget about all the toils, hard work, prayer, tears and loss we’ve gone through in our own lives. All the prepping, feeding, protecting, defending, and pruning of ourselves is so worth it all. God can and does work for our good. Jeremiah 29:11 says- For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This only scratches the surface of how much He loves us, He truly knows what we need to be the best version of ourselves.