Periodically, I'll be adding a variety of tips and tricks on this tab. Some will do with basic safety and others will just be great tips I've picked up along the way that may help beginners and experienced canners perfect their "craft." Please drop me a note at any time if there are issues you'd like me to cover in this area of my blog.
Freezer Jell Test:
Sometimes it's harder to tell if you're achieving the proper jell consistency when you cook jams and jellies. This can be especially tricky if you're using alcoholic ingredients such as wine or beer. In these cases, the spoon sheeting test isn't always accurate. If you're unsure of your jell, try the freezer jell test instead. To do this, put a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes until cold. Put a drop of your jam or jelly mixture onto the plate and put it back into the freezer for a minute or two. Take it out and gently push at the edge of the drop with your fingertip. If the surface of the drop "wrinkles" when pushed, your jell should be adequate.
Mineral Deposits in Your Canning Pot:
If the inside of your canning pot is starting to look a little scary, with a nasty white film covering the surface, you're probably dealing with hard water stains. To get that pot looking as good as new, pour two cups of white vinegar into the pot, then fill it the rest of the way with water. Put the pot on your stove, bring it to a boil and let it simmer for five to ten minutes. It doesn't smell great, but it does an amazing job breaking down those mineral deposits. When you're done, dump the vinegar/water mixture down the drain, rinse out your pot and dry it out. Your old pot will be sparkly clean again in no time!
Mineral Deposits on Your Canning Jars:
If your canning jars and lids come out of the canning process with spots or a film, that's also due to hard water stains. You can avoid these entirely by pouring about a half cup of white vinegar into your canning pot before bringing it to a boil. This method works in a boiling water bath canner as well as a pressure canner. Doing this every time you can will also help you avoid the above-mentioned pot film as well.
Getting Pieces of Peppers or Fruit Suspended in Clear Jelly:
Thanks to Debbie for asking the question of whether or not she could put jalapenos into a jelly she wanted to make with store-bought juice (per my recipe for making jelly from juice here. This brought up the issue of how to get pieces of peppers, or even fruit, suspended throughout what would otherwise be a clear jelly. The problem here is that without a little intervention, it's likely that the pieces would either settle at the bottom of your jars or float to the surface. Here's a tip that should be helpful.
Note: You should only try this with jelly jars that are 8-ounces or smaller and have been water bath processed for at least 10 minutes. This method would be considered unsafe for larger jars or unprocessed recipes as it would interfere with proper final processing.
Process your jars as normal in your boiling water canner (at least 10 minutes). After the jars have been removed from the canner, cool them (always upright!) for 15 to 30 minutes. Essentially, you want to do this right after the lids have "popped" but before your jelly has really set. As soon as each lid "pops," gently tilt and twist it to get the solids to disperse throughout the jar. Don't shake or turn the jar upside down! Then return each jar to it's regular upright position to continue to cool and set.
I've seen some information on the internet that says you can stir your jelly for awhile before putting into your jars to accomplish the same thing, but doing so can damage the final set of your jelly and I don't recommend it.