After three years cooking in fast-paced restaurants like Toronto's Drake Hotel and Ruby Watchco, Julian Katz decided to make a go of selling his jams, chutneys and pickles at farmers' markets instead. Now the 26-year-old runs Stasis Local Foods, where his Ontario onion chutney and pickled green walnuts share shelf space with other artisanal products, like small-batch kettle-dried salt from Vancouver. Here, Katz gives his top five tips for upping your canning game.
1. Buy fresh and local When you buy things in season, they taste the best, they have the best nutritional value and you really get to understand and appreciate the seasonality. When you're buying berries at a farmers' market in the summertime, you know that they were probably picked the day before you bought them and maybe travelled 20 kilometres from the farm. When you're hard up and it's the dead of winter, there's nothing better than opening up a jar of raspberry jam that you made in the summer.
2. Be creative within your boundaries Rather than looking at vanilla and grapefruit as your flavouring elements, look in your own backyard. If I'm making a strawberry jam, I'm going to look to rhubarb and maybe sumac or maybe something like thyme. We make a really nice spread out of Ontario pears and roasted Ontario garlic. It's a lovely savoury chutney that works well with meat, works well on vegetables and is great on a brie sandwich with sunflower seeds. Nova Scotia is known for blueberries, and the Fraser Valley is known for raspberries and Alberta produces amazing honey: It's all about looking at what's around you.
3. Use a mix of ripe and underripe fruit The ripe fruit is going to give you a lot of sweetness and sugars, and then the underripe fruit is going to give you acidity, balance and generally more pectin. Plums of varying ripeness work well for this.
4. You don't need the freezer test When most home cooks are cooking down their jam, they'll usually put a plate of it in the freezer and wait for it to cool to see if it has set. Instead, just take two metal bowls, fill the bottom one with ice water and put the hot jam in the top bowl. Start stirring the hot jam and you can cool a tablespoon down in 30 seconds instead of 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Be creative with your failures If something doesn't set properly, you can usually just add pectin or sugar and boil it again, and it'll set. Obviously, if something spoils and lids start poppingon you, just throw it out. But you can always think of creative solutions. If something's not as thick as you wanted it to be, you can use it as a syrup for a cocktail instead of a jam. If it's too thick, you can always add more liquid and let it out.