The age-old art of can­ning still has a place in the pantry aboard a mod­ern voy­ag­ing sail­boat. By Heather Fran­cis

Cruising World - - Contents - BY HEATHER FRAN­CIS

What do you do when you find your­self with an abun­dance of man­goes (or other pro­duce) aboard? Can­ning is an easy way to add tasty treats to the larder that are ready for the long haul.

For as long as peo­ple have been ex­plor­ing the world by boat, we have de­pended on pre­served foods to sus­tain us on jour­neys. It’s be­lieved that the an­cient South Pa­cific sailors car­ried poi, a fer­mented bread­fruit dish, on board dur­ing their epic voy­ages. Salt fish, hard tack and dried fruit were reg­u­lar fare on the great nau­ti­cal ex­pe­di­tions of mod­ern times. And Cap­tain Cook, one of the world’s most cel­e­brated mariners, is fa­mous for trick­ing his crew into eat­ing sauer­kraut, suc­cess­fully ward­ing off scurvy.

Although mod­ern re­frig­er­a­tion is ef­fi­cient and de­pend­able, and ba­sic pro­vi­sions avail­able at all but the most re­mote des­ti­na­tions, I be­lieve there is room on a modest sail­boat to pre­serve some of our nau­ti­cal tra­di­tions by up­hold­ing the art of can­ning.


Like most things in life, can­ning things such as jams, pick­les or chut­neys is much eas­ier than it looks. There are four ba­sic steps: mak­ing the pre­serves, ster­il­iz­ing the jars, fill­ing and seal­ing the jars, and pro­cess­ing them in a boil­ing-wa­ter bath. A mound of fruit, a sharp knife and few other pieces of equip­ment, likely al­ready at work in the gal­ley of a typ­i­cal cruis­ing boat, are all you need to get started: • 2 large non­re­ac­tive pots • A trivet that can be sub­merged in boil­ing wa­ter

• Large spoon, la­dle or mea­sur­ing cup (op­tional wide­mouth fun­nel) and a wooden skewer. All spoons and other uten­sils used should be wooden, plas­tic or stain­less steel, again to pre­vent un­wanted changes in fla­vor or color. • A pair of tongs or jar lifter • Clean tea tow­els • Can­ning jars and lids In­vest­ing in proper can­ning jars is a must. Com­monly known as Ma­son jars, they have been the stan­dard in can­ning for more than 100 years. Can­ning jars are a three-part sys­tem: the glass jar, the flat lid and the threaded ring. The jars them­selves come in sev­eral sizes and shapes and can be reused for years, as long as they are free of chips or cracks. The threaded rings are also re­us­able, but it is im­por­tant that new flat lids be used ev­ery time be­cause that is what seals the jar and pre­vents your pre­serves from be­com­ing con­tam­i­nated. These flat lids are in­ex­pen­sive and small, so it is not dif­fi­cult to keep lots on board. Reusing com­mer­cial jam or pickle jars is

not rec­om­mended; the lids are not de­signed to seal more than once, and you risk ru­in­ing all your hard work at the stove.


Good pre­serves start with a good recipe. If you’re like me and en­joy im­pro­vis­ing in the gal­ley, you need to be on your best be­hav­ior. Quan­ti­ties of sugar and vine­gar in recipes con­trol ph lev­els, which is the key to mak­ing pre­serves that won’t spoil or grow deadly bac­te­ria.

The pot used for cook­ing the pre­serves must be non­re­ac­tive — ei­ther stain­less steel or enam­eled cast iron — and have a heavy bot­tom to pre­vent the pre­serves from burn­ing. If un­sealed cast iron or alu­minum is used, it can im­part a metal­lic taste and dis­color your pre­serves. The pot should be fairly large and wide to give max­i­mum sur­face area, which al­lows for even cook­ing and cuts down on time on the stove and heat in the gal­ley.

So, you’ve obe­di­ently fol­lowed the recipe and all the peel­ing, cor­ing, dic­ing and mea­sur­ing is com­plete. There is a big pot hap­pily bub­bling away on the stove-top, and the boat is filled with the de­li­ciously sweet smells that are draw­ing ev­ery­one into the gal­ley. While keep­ing a watch­ful eye on the pre­serves, it is time for step two: ster­il­iz­ing the jars and get­ting them ready to fill.


Wash the can­ning jars in soapy wa­ter, mak­ing sure they are clean and well rinsed. Put the trivet, which pro­tects the jars from di­rect heat and po­ten­tial break­age, on the bot­tom of the pot, then put the jars in and fill with clean, fresh wa­ter. This pot must be large enough that the jars are cov­ered by at least 1 inch of wa­ter when stand­ing up­right and have room to con­tain the wa­ter when boil­ing. It will also be used to process the filled jars in a boil­ing-wa­ter bath. Do not put the lids or rings in the pot, only the jars.

Like many sailors these days, I have a pres­sure cooker as part of my gal­ley arse­nal. Used with­out the lock­ing lid, this 8-quart pot is per­fect for the job. Put the pot on the stove and turn the heat on high. When the wa­ter reaches full boil, set the timer for 10 min­utes and let it con­tinue boil­ing with the jars sub­merged. Ten min­utes at a rolling boil en­sures the jars are prop­erly ster­il­ized.

Re­mov­ing the jars from the scald­ing hot wa­ter can be a bit of a trick, but a good pair of tongs or a jar lifter, and a lit­tle care, is all you need. Lift each jar out and tip the hot wa­ter back into the pot. With a clean tea towel, dry the jars and place them on the counter or a cookie sheet that you have lined with an­other tea towel. If the pre­serves are not ready, sim­ply turn the heat off and leave the jars rest­ing in the hot wa­ter un­til you’re ready to fill them. As long as they re­main hot, you do not need to boil them again.


Now that the jars are dry and the pre­serves are ready, it is time for can­ning. While you’re busy fill­ing jars, drop the flat lids into the pot of hot wa­ter used to boil the jars. The seal­ing com­pound on the un­der­side of the lids needs to soften for a few min­utes be­fore you use them, but be sure the wa­ter is not boil­ing.

Us­ing a mea­sur­ing cup or la­dle, fill the jars with the still­hot pre­serves, leav­ing ¼ inch of space be­tween the top of the pre­serves and the rim of the jar. This can be a messy job, de­pend­ing on your hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion. A wide-mouthed fun­nel, sold for just this pur­pose, makes the whole or­deal a lit­tle less sticky. When all the jars are filled, use the wooden skewer to re­move any large air bub­bles and wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, dry cloth. This al­lows for the lids to seal prop­erly. Stub­born sticky bits can be re­moved with a lit­tle hot wa­ter or white vine­gar.

Re­move the flat lids from the hot wa­ter and dry with a clean cloth. Place a dry lid on each jar, and screw the rings on un­til just fin­ger tight, no more. Now you’re ready for the last step: the boil­ing-wa­ter bath.

Pro­cess­ing the jars in a boil­ing-wa­ter bath is im­por­tant be­cause it cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment that is in­hos­pitable for bac­te­ria growth in­side the jar. Care­fully place the filled and closed jars back into the pot of wa­ter, be­ing care­ful not to splash your­self or over­flow the pot (you might need to re­move some wa­ter). Bring the wa­ter to a rolling boil and keep the jars sub­merged for five min­utes. (Most recipes use a fiveminute rule, but oc­ca­sion­ally, in­gre­di­ents dic­tate a longer wa­ter bath. Again, it is im­por­tant to fol­low the recipe. )

Re­move the jars and let them cool, undis­turbed (no peek­ing). As the jars cool, you should hear a ping sound, this lets you know a vac­uum has formed and lids are prop­erly sealed. You can also check this by push­ing down lightly on the cen­ter of the lid; when there is a good seal, you will not be able to flex the lid. When the jars are com­pletely cool, you can un­screw the ring and check the seal by gen­tly lift­ing the jar by the edges of the lid. Any jars that have not sealed should be con­sumed right away. Store

sealed jars in a cool, dark place and use within 12 months.

Mak­ing pre­serves is a la­bor of love, but not a very dif­fi­cult one. The re­sults are not just pretty jars filled with tasty things to eat. Ev­ery time we open a jar of home­made pre­serves, it is like flip­ping through a photo al­bum, the fla­vors and smells tak­ing us right back to the an­chor­age we were in when I spent a lit­tle time in the gal­ley and put some sun­shine in a jar.

Heather Fran­cis is orig­i­nally from Nova Sco­tia, Canada, and has been liv­ing and work­ing on boats around the world for the past decade. Her part­ner, Steve, hails from Aus­tralia. In 2008 they bought Kate, a Newport 41, and have been sail­ing her full-time since. They are cur­rently in the Philip­pines, look­ing for wind. From top: Pre­par­ing all the in­gre­di­ents is the most time con­sum­ing part of the process. Next, ev­ery­thing sim­mers for about 20 min­utes or so. Us­ing a fun­nel makes ladling the chut­ney into the jars much eas­ier (and cleaner). Ded­i­cated jar lifters are handy to have.

En­joy­ing the fruits of my can­ning la­bor (above) will in­stantly bring me back to the places and mar­kets where I bought the pro­duce, and the ven­dors I’ve met, like these ladies in Lau­toka, Fiji (above).

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