Archive for the ‘Canning’ Category

Success with Low Sugar Jams

More than ever before, customers have been in the shop asking about low and no sugar jams. I’m glad they’re doing their research, because jumping into low-sugar jams involves a little more than simply cutting out sweetener. Sugar isn’t just in jam for the flavor, it serves a very real role as a preserving and thickening agent. When heated, the sugar actually binds with water and pectin, thickening the texture. If you’ve ever tried converting your favorite old-timey recipe by skipping the sugar, you know that the result is anything but gelled.

IMG_2036The classic product that we carry for low and no sugar jams is Pomona’s Universal Pectin. This company has been around for over 30 years, and creates a great product with no preservatives that is certified GMO free.

Though I’ve made classic jams, I hadn’t dabbled in low-sugar recipes before. I needed to give this stuff a try. I had heard there was an extra step of mixing up “calcium water” (provided with the pectin) to provide gelling assistance. Would be complicated to work with two ingredients? I whipped up a quick batch of strawberry jam at the shop to find out, and I’m glad to say that I’m completely happy with the results.

Each pack of Pomona’s comes with directions inside. These directions are also available to download for free on their website. The recipes aren’t fancy, but they allow you to make jam with the bare minimum ingredients. I chose strawberries, as we’re nearing the end of the first flush here in the Portland area. The directions give clear ingredient lists for whichever type of fruit you choose. I followed the following recipe, but skipped the water bath at the end. This test batch will be gone soon!


Ingredients (for a 4 cup yield):

4 cups of strawberries, hulled and mashed

1/2 to 1 cup of honey OR 3/4 to 2 cups sugar

2 tsp pectin

2 tsp calcium water*

*From the Pomona’s packet, put 1/2 tsp. white calcium powder and 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with lid. Shake well. Lasts many months in refrigerator. Freeze for long-term storage. Do not discard unless settled white powder discolors or you see mold. Shake well before using.


1) Wash and rinse jars (4 oz up to 16 oz); let stand in hot water. Bring lids to boil; turn off heat; let stand in hot water. Wash screw bands; set aside.
2) Prepare fruit or juice. Measure fruit or juice into pan with lemon or lime juice (if called for in recipe).
3) Add proper amount of calcium water from jar into pan; stir well.
4) Measure sugar or room temperature honey into separate bowl. Thoroughly mix proper amount of pectin powder into honey or sugar.
5) Bring fruit or juice to a full boil. Add pectin-sweetener. Stir vigorously 1-2 min. to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to full boil. Remove from heat. For Jello: pour into bowl(s); cool; refrigerate until jelled. [Note: I wasn’t making jello, but I did refrigerate my jam to cool it quickly to a spreadable consistency].
6) Fill jars to 1/4” of top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 min. (add 1 min. more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level). Remove from water. Let jars cool. Check seals; lids should be sucked down. Eat within 1 year. Lasts 3 weeks once opened.


If you’ve got the basics down and want to try a more involved recipe, Pomona’s has many delicious versions on their website (Sweet Cherry-Rhubarb Jam is next on my list). If you’re more interested in a book on the subject, we carry Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin, filled with additional recipes and tips for working with low sugar recipes, or using honey, fruit juice, or other alternatives to sugar.

Converting the Asparagus Skeptic

Fresh asparagusI hear a lot about asparagus this time of year, and for all you asparagus lovers out there, I ask your forgiveness. This post isn’t an ode to your favorite spring-time vegetable, but rather a tale of an asparagus skeptic. Yes, I love spring. Fresh greens, radishes, spring raab…But asparagus? I can’t seem to muster the same excitement for this vegetable, despite it’s ancient credentials.

Asparagus packed into jarsAs manager at the Portland Homestead Supply, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and practice many skills over the past year and a half. Water bath canning is one of them. Two weeks ago at the Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market, I decided it was time to start brushing up on my canning skills. I (gasp) picked up several bunches of the most tender asparagus I’ve ever seen, took them home, and pondered their fate.

While I may be skeptical about asparagus, I wholeheartedly love spicy. After looking for a spicy pickled asparagus recipe, I adapted this recipe from Marisa who writes for Food in Jars. I found that the two pounds of asparagus I brought home fit into three jars rather than the two she recommended. I also increased the amount of pickling liquid (and spices) because the amount listed wasn’t enough to fill my jars.

Many of the recipes I found called for blanching the vegetables before canning, but these spears were so thin that I worried blanching would be too much for them. If you start with thicker asparagus, be sure to blanch them for 60 seconds in boiling water, then rinse with cool water before canning.

After waiting a week for the flavors to mingle, I dug into the first jar. And, I’ll admit it: (pickled) asparagus is delicious.


  • 2 lbs asparagus, trimmed to fit jars (Ball’s 24 oz Pint & Half jars are designed for asparagus)
  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 3 Tbs pickling salt
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper






  1. IMG_0191Prepare a boiling water bath canner. Add three 24-ounce jars to sterilize them before adding asparagus. Place lids in a small pan of water and bring to a bare simmer.
  2. Combine apple cider vinegar, water, salt, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Wash asparagus and trim to fit in your jars.
  4. Remove jars from the canning pot and drain. Pack asparagus spears into jars.
  5. Stir pickling liquid to evenly distribute spices, then pour over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Tap jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return headspace to 1/2 inch, if necessary.
  6. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
  7. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.
  8. Let them cure for at least a week before eating.