Canning with (little) kids
In the past few years, I’ve taken on canning foods in season and making our own jams, juices, salsas, etc. I look at it like a hobby that happens to also be delicious, health(ier), and cost effective. With the addition of 1 and then 2 kids, I was determined to not give this up because I genuinely enjoy it and in effort to survive this whole parenting business, I need to maintain my own interests to maintain my sanity. However since I rarely find myself without at least one kid, I wanted to share my tips for canning with a “little helper.” It’s a bit of a silly/simple post but hopefully it will show you that its possible to do, and help to make the process go smoothly.
Start with a PYO farm or a Farm Stand
The cherries in this entry I picked up from a local farm stand. 5lbs was enough for me the get the “bulk price discount” ($13.50/5lb), make thirteen 8oz jars of jam, and have a bowl full left over for snacking.
The following week I took the girls to Pick Your Own farms for blueberries and another for raspberries. To my surprise, my hyper toddler LOVED picking blueberries. Much like her new-found love for playing with and watching bugs, she was completely absorbed in picking ripe berries. She filled her bucket with more than she ate. In hindsight, she’ll sit in a field of flowers and pick away for awhile, so blueberries were a similar task. Raspberries however, were a different ball game apparently. She picked about 5 and then wandered about finding sticks and bugs (so still not so bad).
The recipe: A quick note that I get most of my canning recipes from “The Complete Book of Home Preserving” (by Ball) edited by Julie Kingry and Lauren Devine. When it comes to canning I stick with books and strictly follow the directions (more than a little paranoid about poisoning my whole family and misinformation on the internet). Talk about mouth watering and inspiring. There are sooo many recipes in here that I can’t wait to try. This one was their Sweet Cherry Jam. If you want to get into canning, or want to expand what you can, then I recommend this book!
I picked this recipe specifically to do with my daughter because it used pectin, so I knew I would only be at the stove a few minutes instead of 30+ minutes for the natural no-pectin jams.
Time: With kids, time is not on your side. The first thing I did was set my one year old down to nap and then it was go, go, go (which is the speed my toddler operates at anyway). From start to finish, canning one batch of Sweet Cherry Jam took 1 hour and 22 minutes. My one year old woke up from her nap at 1 hour and 26 minutes…Pretty lucky eh?
Step 1: Have EVERYTHING set up beforehand. Pre-measure out the sugar and lemon juice, set out any spices and measuring instruments. Don’t forget extra towels and utensils and places (like cutting boards) to set hot items. If canning using the water-bath method, then turn the burner on now to begin heating the water while you work. *Also, have a movie or independent activity queued up for when it’s time for you to be at the stove and it’s not safe for the mini-you.
Step 2: Give your toddler a job. Evelyn was ecstatic to help so I talked up her super important job of washing all the cherries. I gave her a bowl with a small amount of water (didn’t want to clean up that mess) and the bag of cherries with the instruction to individually drop cherries into the water, swirl them around, and then dry them off. Is drying necessary? Heck no, but it bought me about 2 seconds for every cherry which I needed because they’re tedious to cut up!
Step 3: Cutting up and buying time. You have to work fast. The best method I found for pitting and chopping the cherries was to rotate a small knife around the pit to cut the cherry in half. Then do the same again to the halve with the seed and pop the cherry pit out. Once you have a large pile of halves and quarters, grab a big kitchen knife and go through the pile several times to chop them up. You’re working fast because it won’t take long for your toddler to get bored of single cherries and want to wash and hand over handfuls, then you fall behind, and chaos ensues.
I slowed Evelyn down by working on her counting skills. I asked her to hand me a specific number of cherries and bought lots if time coaching her through counting and recounting slowly. When I got to a pause for chopping, we picked a song to sing together (ABC’s) and when the song was over she resumed washing/drying/counting and I cutting. Additional time was bought with her scaveging the bag of cherries for ones with stems and pulling them off. For some reason this was great fun for her. The occasional runaway cherry bought me a full extra 30 seconds as she climbed down her chair to retrieve and re-wash it.
Step 4: Once the chopping was done Evelyn helped me pour everything into the cooking pot. After that she was “done” since the stove would be much to hot and dangerous for a fidgety toddler. She ran off to play and I learned the hard way that I should have put on a movie or had an independent activity waiting for her. Working with cooking sugar and fruit it’s hard to leave the stove and Evelyn found plenty to get into and unravel around the house in just 15 minutes! Once the jars were in the water-bath it was smooth sailing. I washed all the dishes immediately to avoid spending twice as long soaking off sticky jam later. Then as if she knew, my youngest woke up from her nap. Overall it was surprisingly successful!