FRESH fruit is usually more palatable and refreshing than cooked fruit, but it is on the whole less digestible and, of course, not always obtainable. The importance of canning and preserving is therefore obvious. Canned goods of all sorts can be purchased, but they are usually inferior to the home-prepared foods and the price of the better ones is so high as to be almost prohibitive.
Many housewives refuse to can and preserve because they always have "bad luck"; but "bad luck" in most cases means only bad management. If proper care is taken no harm can possibly befall the foods.
In canning fruits there are several points to remember. First, the preserving kettle should be porcelain-lined, and no iron or tin utensils should be used, as the fruit acids attack these metals and so give a bad color and metallic taste to the food. Second, all fruits should, if possible, be freshly picked, and it is better to have them under-ripe than over-ripe, as the fermentative stage follows closely upon the perfectly ripe stage. Third, in canning fruits the product is more satisfactory if heated gradually to the boiling point and then cooked the given time.
Scrupulous cleanliness and eternal vigilance are the price of success. The kitchen should be freshly swept and dusted so that there may be as few mold spores as possible floating in the air; the fruit should be carefully gone over and bruised or gnarled portions removed; and all jars and utensils should be thoroughly sterilized. Saucepans, spoons, jars, covers, straining bag, etc., should be put on the fire in cold water, heated gradually and boiled for ten or fifteen minutes. The jars must be taken one at a time from the boiling water, and not until the moment each is to be filled.
Never use old rubbers or lids that are bent and be sure that lids are boiled and rubbers dipped in boiling water one at a time just before using..
Fruit must be carefully picked and washed, and all stems removed, and only as much as can be cooked while it still retains its color and crispness should be prepared. If practicable pare the fruit with a silver knife. Peaches, plums and tomatoes may be readily skinned after a three-minute plunge in boiling water. Where fruit like quinces and hard pears must be first boiled in clear water, the fruit should be dropped in cold water made slightly acid with lemon to keep the fruit from discoloring.
When fruit is preserved with a large amount of sugar (a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit) it does not need to be sealed in airtight jars; because bacteria do not readily form in the thick, sugary syrup. It is, however, best kept in small sealed jars, since molds are very likely to form.
Under no circumstances should preserving powders be used. In most cases they are injurious, and in any case are the resort of the cook who is too lazy to take the proper precautions.
Canned fruits may be cooked over the fire according to the recipes that follow; but they are, on the whole, very much better if cooked in a water bath. Prepare fruit and syrup as for cooking in a preserving kettle and cook the syrup ten minutes. Sterilize the jars and utensils; fill the jars with fruit; then pour in enough syrup to fill the jars completely. Run the blade of a silver-pointed knife around the inside of the jar and put the covers on loosely.
Have a wooden rack, slats, or straw in the bottom of a wash-boiler; put in enough warm water to come to about four inches above the rack; place the filled jars in the boiler, being careful not to let them touch. Pack clean white rags or cotton rope between and around the jars to prevent their striking one another when the water begins to boil. Cover the boiler and let the fruit cook ten minutes from the time the surrounding water begins to boil.
Draw the boiler aside and remove the cover. When the steam passes off, lift out one jar at a time and place it in a pan of boiling water beside the boiler; fill to overflowing with boiling syrup; wipe the rim of the jar with a cloth wrung from boiling water; put on rubbers and cover quickly; stand the jar upside down and protected from drafts, until cool; then tighten the covers if screw covers are used, and wipe off the jars with a wet cloth. Paste on labels and put the jars on shelves in a cool, dark closet.