Judy's Pickled Squash Photo: Cedric Angeles; Styling: Buffy Hargett

Hello readers, and welcome to The Dutch Oven, a mixture of Q&A, tips and information about our wonderful Southern culinary culture. What you learn here should produce one, or all, of these comments: I should try that! I didn’t know that! I can do that! Lift the lid and see what’s inside today.

Q: The fruits and vegetables showing up at the market are so beautiful I can’t resist buying way too much! What can I do with all this goodness?

A. Spring always welcomes warm temps, sunshine, and an abundance of rain that ensures two things: a profusion of fresh produce and a stirring of the pioneer spirit to “put up” and preserve the season.

Not too long ago, farmers HAD to harvest and can fruits and vegetables in the warm weather months if they wanted to feed their family when the weather turned bitter cold. There was no choice but to spend long hot days shucking corn, snapping beans, cutting okra, and cooking pots of fruit jam in order to fill the pantry shelves with nutritious foods for the coming winter.

Today, we choose to pickle and preserve for different reasons. Some like the ability to control the ingredients that go into a food item. Others enjoy using produce from their own gardens or local curb markets. And still others relish the nostalgia and wistfulness that comes from recreating moments from our childhood summers: the feel of a cold bowl on your bare legs as you settle on the porch to snap beans, the ripping sound as you peel the husk from an ear of corn, (anticipating an encounter with a fat, juicy worm!) and the stinging scent of vinegar in the air that lets you know Mama’s been pickling.

Whatever the reasons, a canning revival is bubbling across the South and the new generation of canners is hungry for information: which produce freezes best?  How do I sterilize jars and lids?  What is a water bath?

 

Here are a few items you will need to get started:

Water-bath canner - a large pot with a lid and rack.  You will use this to sterilize your jars and, later, to process and seal the filled jars.

Wide mouth canning funnel

Jar-lifter - safely lifts jars out of the water-bath canner

Lid wand - this tool has a magnet on one end to safely lift lids out of the pan of simmering hot water

Bubble-remover-headspace tool - allows you to remove air bubbles and measure headspace (the room between the lid and top of the brine)

Canning jars - buy jars specifically designed for canning - do not reuse pasta sauce or mayonnaise jars

Screw bands and lids - flat lids have a sealing compound around the edge; always use new lids

Plastic freezer jars with twist-on lids - these are ideal for making freezer jams.

 

Frozen Strawberry Freezer Jam Photo: William Dickey; Styling: Cari South

If it grows in a garden, you can pickle it. Regardless of the recipe you choose, there are three simple steps to follow: Sterilize. Prepare Recipe. Seal and Process. Print this Guide to Puttin'Up and keep it handy this season, and pick up a copy of this book for fresh ideas on preserving the season from the South's most trusted kitchen.

Are you new to canning? What do you enjoy about the process?  Leave your comments and questions below; I look forward to hearing from you!

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