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An Equipment Guide for Making Preserves

Back in the day, it was common to see steamy kitchens full of women from several generations laughing, talking and sweating together to prepare a whole harvest's worth of fruits and vegetables to get their families through the scarcity of fresh produce that winter brought.

These days we're lucky to find five minutes to chat in the jelly aisle at the local supermarket, but it doesn't have to be that way. Because fresh produce is available in most places year round, you can make preserves because you want to, not because you have to. Smaller batches mean less work overall, but you still wind up with fresh and natural preserves to savor yourself or give as gifts.

You don't need a lot of complicated equipment to make homemade preserves. Most kitchens already have measuring cups and spoons, wooden spoons for stirring and trivets or dish towels where hot jars can rest while they cool, but there are a few other items that are essential to anyone making preserves at home.

Glass jars are best for storing preserves because many fruits and vegetables are acidic and glass is non-reactive. Jars need to have tight-fitting lids. Pickles and chutneys have a high vinegar content, so your lids need to be plastic-lined. Jars and lids both need to be sterilized, though there are two methods for doing this. If you're using the oven method, all you need is a sturdy baking pan or cookie sheet. If you're boiling the jars, you need a jar lifter to get them safely out of the boiling water.

The next most important piece of equipment you need is a preserving pan. Most pots are either wide enough or deep enough for making preserves but not both. Many preserving pans come with a rack that fits snugly inside, making it easy to lift the jars out after boiling them.

Some preserves require being heated to a certain temperature, so a jam thermometer is a smart purchase for anyone making preserves.

Lots of fruits, like strawberries and blackberries used in jams, jellies and preserves, have numerous small seeds. A fine-mesh strainer is necessary to make sure that you can remove them all, because smiling at your loved one across the breakfast table isn't quite the same with seeds in your teeth.

A funnel helps you get your preserves into the jar without any messy spills. This may not sound important, but when you're working with hot fruit, you don't want to get any on your skin. A funnel helps control the flow of fruit into the jars so that it is less likely to splash or splatter.

Labels are not just decorative; they are needed to make sure that you use preserves while they are fresh and safe. They can also serve to remind you of fruit gathered at a particular time or place that has meaning.

Jar covers may not be technically necessary, but they add a flash of panache to jars that are lined up on open shelving or given as gifts. These little squares of cloth secured to the jar tops with elastic or pretty ribbon put the finishing touch on your preserves.

Whether this is your first time making homemade preserves or you've been at it since way back in the day, the experts at suggest that you consider purchasing several different sizes and shapes of preserving jars so that you'll have the exact type you need on hand the next time you stumble across a wild blueberry patch or suddenly discover a passion for jam flavors not found in your local supermarket.

If you think you might like to work as a chef for your career, maybe you should look into it. Cooking classes and degree programs are offered at culinary schools in big cities across the country. It isn't always the easiest job, but it might be right for you. Learn more.

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