Monday, September 26, 2011

Canning Conundrums

My husband and I are so ridiculous.  Every time we drive home (a very pretty wooded drive along a lovely river) or sit out on the porch swing (left by our predecessors!), we just stare at the lovely landscape and say things like, "Wow, it's so pretty here."  Over and over.  I assume we will outgrow this with time.  Maybe.

The thing is, Oregon seems like the kind of place where people are just supposed to  live.  The ground is just bursting with life, begging you to plant things and, please, buy a cow to eat all that extra grass.  This is in stark contrast to our previous home, which, while lovely, requires more of a hunter-gatherer mindset to live off the land, rather than an agricultural one.  You have to fight to live "traditionally" in our part of Colorado, while this area of Oregon just invites you to plop down and start up a farm.

Isn't this field just begging to be inhabited by a cow and some chickens?

Anyway, all this agricultural bounty is a very welcome addition to our lives.  In particular, we're enjoying the mature orchard out in our garden, especially the ripe blackberries and prunes (not plums...) that are ready right now.  

I am very motivated to use as much of this fruit as possible.  But I am running into the age-old problem of how to keep it around and fresh for longer than a few days!  We have limited freezer space, and moving across the country has left no room in the budget for a fancy new dehydrator.  What we do have is a canner.  And lots of jars.  Perfect solution!  Kind of.  

After spending a good half hour tearing through boxes marked "books," desperately searching for my Ball Blue Book, I found the darn thing right on the cupboard shelf where I put it when I unpacked it last week.  Problem is, the good folks at Ball don't seem to have a problem with packing themselves (and their recipes) full of sugar, and I do have a problem with that.  Their recipes are so clearly laid out and easy to follow that they are a good place for a beginner canner like me to start, but I don't think plum jams that are more sugar than fruit are a good staple to have in my family's pantry.

So far, these have been my solutions:

  1. Canning "fruit in syrup," using large chunks of fruit and either the "extra light" syrup or diluted fruit juice.
  2. Making normal, very sugary recipes with the intent of giving them away as holiday/hostess/whatever gifts, rather than consuming them ourselves.
These lovely jars of prune jelly (I will probably call them plum), are just begging to be given away as gifts!

Does anyone have any good ideas for reducing sugar in canned goods, or a great recipe resource with lower-sugar alternatives?  Really, I'd love to hear any ideas for preserving my garden bounty!

Posted at Monday Mania


  1. Honey. You can actually can everything using it. It will only last six months to a year so you have to use it within that time period. If you google honey canning there is actually a lady who has a blog on how to can using all natural sweeteners like honey ect. It is very informative and has directions for almost everything you would need.

  2. Hi, Mariah,
    Thank you SO much! That is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to find! Have you used honey for canning and had good success?

  3. Today we are canning fruits with honey, lemon juice, and vanilla beans. We are not adding water so the consistency is that of a conserve or loose jam. Also today we have made peach butter with a little honey although that is not necessary unless you are used to sweeter store bought foods. Throw in a green apple if you want the fruit butter to "set" some.
    I no longer use commercial pectin or sugar of any kind.

  4. One year I used the special low sugar pectin with fruit juice concentrate. Have you tried that?

    My husband and I were in love with our surroundings the same way when we lived in Divide. I guess we weren't there long enough to outgrow it because we still pine away for it. So glad you're loving OR. Can't wait to hear more about it!

  5. I had just checked out a book at the library - "Canning and Preserving without sugar" by Norma M. MacRae, R.D. - and she discusses, and gives recipes, for canning with fruit juices, and honey, and a variety of other items. She worked through much of it, and also mentions pitfalls to be aware of and such.

    Really nice book - might help?


  6. I have the same issue, and really no good solution yet. I have exactly 2 recipes that use honey.

    In the meantime, I've started using the low-sugar pectin until I can find recipes that work for us. At least with the low sugar pectin, I can use 4 cups of sugar rather than 7. Still a lot, but better.

  7. Mary, that sounds like it's just what I'm looking for. Are you using recipes, or just kind of winging it and using your own experience as a guide?

    Lisa, I have some low-sugar pectin, but haven't tried it out yet. I'm still looking for a good recipe to use, since I'm not quite ready to make my own up!

    Kerstin, I will definitely be looking for that book. Perfect!

    Barb, I'm so glad I'm not alone in this pursuit! Thanks for your encouragement and ideas.

  8. storing fruits in a freezer only requires a minimum of blanching or sweetening. You can make jam of any sweetness level and keep in the freezer until needed, it will still keep for a while in your fridge once thawed and opened. Also of course, dried fruits require no sweetening. Prunes dry well, of course!

  9. Thanks, Jared. My main issues right now are lack of freezer space and lack of a dehydrator, making freezing and drying slightly trickier options! Those are, of course the obvious ways to preserve without sugar, though! I hope to have the space/supplies to pursue these methods next harvest-season.


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