Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Canning with Kids

Hello, folks!

Well, yesterday I took the day off doll making in order to do some canning. Max, my 4-year-old, helped so I thought today I'd give you guys my tips on canning with kids.

Now, Max loves to cook. The measuring, mixing, and resulting goodies are all right up his alley, though the waiting, being careful, and more waiting are less his thing. As a result, all of our most successful cooking ventures are like specially choreographed dances. I do a bunch of prep and setup, call him in for his favorite parts, then send him off to play (trains, usually) while I clean up the kitchen and set up for phase 2 (if there is one) or for tasting (if there's not).

Canning is no exception. He loves to be involved, taste, and take credit, but doesn't have quite enough interest to stand around for the whole thing. So below is my process for letting him feel the joy of cooking and canning within his current attention span. Note, I'm not going to give you a tutorial on making jam or canning, because there are tons of those all over the web. Instead, take your favorite recipe and use it with these tips. To start, I'd highly recommend buying the low-sugar pectin and following the recipe on the jar.

First, get your kiddo to help you with getting the raw materials. We like to go to a local U-pick farm and spend a good part of the day picking. This may actually be Max's favorite part of jam making! He runs up and down the rows, eats his weight in berries, and sometimes even gets some to stay in his bucket. On Monday when we went to the farm he also spotted a bird's nest, made friends with a caterpillar, and saw some beautiful spider webs. The farm we go to has a barn where you can visit the animals as well, which is always a hit. Here's some of our haul:

Next, Max helps get all the jars in the dishwasher for sterilizing. Then I get all of our supplies; the pot, measuring cups, potato masher, spoon, sugar, pectin, etc. We make low-sugar pectin-added jam ourselves. What's your favorite?

Then I wash and prep the fruit. I also have to keep a tasting bowl of berries available. : )  
Once I get the fruit and water in the pot, Max comes in, washes his hands, and gets to use the potato masher to squish up all the berries. Then he measures the pectin, the sugar, and helps get out and count the jars. Once we're to the stirring and waiting part he disappearing to check on his trains. Here's him mashing the strawberry jam:

Once I'm pouring it into the jars he shows back up to counts how many jars we made. That, and he knows it's almost tasting time! Once the full jars are in the water bath canner he gets to do the taste testing. This is his second favorite part. : D
Usually he sits around in the kitchen once the jars come out so he can hear them ping! as the seals set.
There you go! As far as Max is concerned he made all the jam and he had a great time; I have a dozen jars of delicious homemade jam, and the house is still in one piece. I love getting him involved in the kitchen, but my sanity requires that I do this prep work. 

One other note: there are a lot of canning gadgets out there, many of which I think are silly and unnecessary. There are two, however, that I highly recommend. First, jar tongs; nothing else holds the jars securely and there's no bigger bummer than dropping a jar of fresh jam for want of a pair of tongs. Second, a canning funnel; I was amazed at how big a difference this made. My counter is pretty jam-free and there was very little rim cleaning needed. For a total of about $10 these make the whole process much nicer. 

But most important: the fished product! Store-bought jam just doesn't hold a candle to homemade. And I love that we took it from farm to shelf ourselves; it makes every slice of toast and PB&J just a little better. :)

Do you have any cooking or canning with kids tips to share? I'm always happy to hear new ideas!


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