Anyone who's met Beth Miller recognizes her can-do spirit. The canning guru preserves a staggering amount of summer's bounty, including jams, jellies, peaches, pickles, potatoes and her favorite, zucchini-pineapple.

'It is unexpectedly delicious,' raved the master food preserver for the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension. 'Nobody expects this recipe to be as tasty as it is.'

The secret: lemon and pineapple juices.

'It allows home canners to process zucchini safely in a boiling water canner without resorting to the use of a quick-process pickling recipe,' Miller explained.

Never tried canning? There's no better time to start. Saturday is International Can-It-Forward Day.

'I think canning is amazing,' described Berks County food blogger Rachel VanDuzer of Rachel's Farm Table. 'There are so many good things about it.'

For one, she enjoys the camaraderie of canning with family and friends.

'It's always fun to open a can of bruschetta or salsa and remember who you were canning with,' VanDuzer said.

'It's kind of like building memories. I think it's just a nice thing to do,' agreed chef Art Roman of The Kitchen Workshop in Paoli, who'll teach four canning classes later this month.

'A lot of people are afraid of it because they don't know how to do it,' he said. 'We just whet people's appetite, and then they take it from there.'

As he talked, Roman prepared strawberry jam with a Ball brand FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker, which he called 'my new favorite kitchen gadget.'

With the machine stirring and whirring away, Roman set out crackers and opened a jar of carrot cake jam.

'It's just so versatile. I've used it as a jam or a jelly and also on grilled salmon, chicken,' he suggested. 'Even with cream cheese, it's just really good stuff.'

Enjoy carrot cake jam now, save it for later or share it anytime.

'It makes a great gift,' Roman added. 'People really do appreciate it - anything homemade. You take a special interest in them if you can for them.'

Zucchini-Pineapple4 quarts cubed zucchini

1½ cups bottled lemon juice3 cups sugar

46 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice

Hot Pack: Peel zucchini and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Mix zucchini with other ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes. Fill hot jars with hot mixture and cooking liquid, leaving 1/2-inch headspace in jars. Remove air bubbles with plastic bubble freer or plastic knife. Wipe jar rims with clean moist cloth. Adjust lids and secure screw bands fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water bath, 1/2 pints or pints, for 15 minutes (altitude of 0 to 1000 feet).

Recipe source: USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving

Carrot Cake Jam1½ cups finely grated peeled carrots

1½ cups chopped cored peeled pears

1¾ cups chopped pineapple, including juice

3 tablespoons lemon juice1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

6 tablespoons Ball brand Real Fruit Classic Pectin

6½ cups sugar6 (8-ounce) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside. Combine carrots, pears, pineapple with juice, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (that cannot be stirred down) over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot carrot cake jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until it is fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed. Makes about 6 (8-ounce) half pints.

Art Roman's additions: 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Recipe source: Ball brand home canning recipes

Canned Bruschetta 20 cups peeled chopped plum tomatoes

20 large garlic cloves, minced1 cup loosely-packed basil, chopped

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic or white wine vinegar will work if they are at least 5-percent acidity)

4 teaspoons salt4 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 cups tomato pasteWash tomatoes thoroughly in a solution of 10 parts water, 1 part vinegar. Only use blemish-free produce in canning. Chop tomatoes and basil; mince garlic. If desired, drain tomatoes. Combine tomato and basil with all other ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, simmer 5 minutes. Follow water bath canning instructions. Makes 5 quarts.

Water bath canning instructions: Sterilize jars by washing them in the dishwasher just prior to canning. Fill canner with water (approximately half full) and allow water to heat to boiling. Place jars at the top of canner (not submerged) to allow steam to warm them. This will prevent jars from breaking when filled with hot liquid. Place lids and caps into a separate pan of hot (not quite boiling) water. Keep hot until ready to use. Pack hot bruschetta into jars allowing 1/2-inch headspace at the top of the jar. Wipe tops and threads of jar. Place caps on the jars, screw the jars closed tightly. Place jars into canner. Water should be 2 inches above jars. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat, holding water at a gentle boil. Start timing process after water has reached a boil. The USDA recommends processing quarts of tomato sauce (bruschetta) for 35 minutes. Remove jars from canner. Set jars upright and allow to cool (24 hours). Test to be sure each jar is properly sealed. If lid center is down and will not move, jar is sealed.

Rachel's note: I have tested this recipe and found that it falls well within safe pH levels. However, since pH levels vary, the USDA recommends using 2 tablespoons of vinegar per quart of tomatoes. I recommend testing the PH of your sauce to make sure it is at 4.5 or below. Use other precautions, such as washing your tomatoes in a vinegar-water solution, using only blemish-free tomatoes and processing for the recommended amount of time.

Recipe courtesy of Rachel's Farm Table

Canning workshopsPhoenixville Farmers' Market, Saturday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m.

Free presentation by Jarden Home Brands, makers of the Ball brand home canning products.

Montgomery County Cooperative Extension, Thursday, Aug. 28, 6 to 9 p.m.

The pressure-canning workshop costs $20 and includes hands-on instruction. Call 610-489-4315 to register.

The Kitchen Workshop, Sunday, Aug. 24 and 31, 8 to 11 a.m. and 12 to 3 p.m.

Four hands-on classes, costing $30 each, range from canning 101 to jams and marmalades.

Top 10 canning tips1. Learn the difference between high-acid and low-acid foods, and follow appropriate canning procedures. High-acid foods can be processed in a boiling water bath canner and low-acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner.

2. Search out and follow only research-tested recipes for safe home canning. Sources include USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving (2009 edition), publications from Ball Corporation and literature from cooperative extensions.

3. Select only mason jars (like Ball brand jars) for canning. Commercial single-use jars (commercial pasta sauces and/or fruit products) are less likely to seal properly and are more likely to break, especially in pressure canners. Also, sealing lids (referred to as flats) may not fit single-use jars.

4. Use proper head-space in jars: 1/4 inch for jams, jellies and relishes; 1/2 inch for fruits, tomatoes and pickles; 1 to 1½ inches for meats and vegetables. Refer to a research-tested recipe for precise headspace directions. Too much headspace results in a lower vacuum and a poor seal. Too little headspace may force food under the lid, causing siphoning or breaking of the seal.

5. Use a new flat every time; do not re-use flats.

6. Tighten screw bands only fingertip tight; over-tightening prevents air from exhausting from the jar.

7. Store jars upright with screw bands removed in a cool and dry place out of direct sunlight.

8. If you own a dial-gauge pressure canner, get the gauge tested every year. Montgomery County Cooperative Extension gladly will test your gauge for free.

9. Attend a canning workshop, even if you are a seasoned veteran canner. You may go home with updated information.

10. Have fun and be empowered! You are taking control of your own nutrition and food source.

Courtesy of Beth Miller, master food preserver Montgomery County Cooperative Extension

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