Homemade foods make thoughtful holiday gifts. But, extra baking and cooking can compound the time crunch of an already busy holiday season.
Gifts of home-canned foods are also thoughtful kitchen gifts, but with a big advantage -- they can be made weeks or months in advance and then wait patiently on a shelf in a cool, dry place until the holiday season.
Extension food preservation workshops have been popular this fall, and our third canning class focuses on gifts from the kitchen.
On Nov. 6, the Ellis County Extension Council and Golden Prairie Extension District will offer "Homemade for the Holidays: Jams and Jellies for Holiday Giving." The hands-on canning workshop will be from 1 to 5 p.m. at Messiah Lutheran Church, 2000 Main in Hays. A $10 fee is required to cover expenses.
The purpose of the workshop is to help participants learn or review safe techniques for preserving top-quality jams, jellies and sweet spreads. Participants will work together to make jelly from commercial juice, savory jam for a holiday appetizer and a low-sugar freezer jam. Participants will take home at least one product at the conclusion of the workshop.
Instructors are Linda Beech, Ellis County Extension FCS agent, and Tranda Watts, multi-eounty Extension specialist for food, nutrition, health and safety in Twin Creeks and Golden Prairie Extension districts.
Pre-register and pay fee by Oct. 30 at the Ellis County Extension office, 601 Main in Hays, or call (785) 628-9430. A minimum of 10 people -- with a maximum of 15 -- is necessary to host the workshop.
Making homemade sweet spreads is a great way for beginners to learn basic food preservation techniques.
Freezer jams are the easiest -- chop or mash clean fresh fruit, then mix with sugar and pectin, and spoon into sterilized containers. The process is also family-friendly so children can help make gifts to give at holidays.
If freezer storage doesn't suit your gift-giving needs, cooked sweet spreads can be preserved quickly and easily in a boiling water bath canner. The glistening jars of jams and jellies can wait on a shelf in a cool, dry place until needed for gifts.
Food science experts at K-State Research and Extension offer these additional tips for jam and jelly making:
* Follow a recipe from a reliable source or use the instruction insert that comes with canning products. Recipes that are packaged with products such as pectin or jelly jars have been tested by family and consumer science professionals who understand how ingredients in recipes interact. Extension and USDA sources are tested and trustworthy, too. Be cautious of online canning information from sites where recipes are posted by individuals and not verified for accuracy or safety.
* Follow a tested recipe precisely and do not double the batch, or the spreads might not set. Dry, powdered pectin and liquid pectin are not interchangeable, so substituting one for the other in recipes might cause runny jams and jellies.
* Seal all sweet spreads with proper processing in a boiling water bath canner. Old-fashioned treatments such as inverting jars or sealing with a layer of paraffin wax do not stand up to food safety testing and are no longer recommended.
* Use standard canning jars and new, fresh lids for every batch of homemade sweet spreads.
* Add processing time at higher altitudes. Jams and jellies preserved above sea level require longer processing in the boiling water bath canner to ensure safety. Since most Ellis County locations are at an elevation of approximately 2,000 feet, make sure your recipe includes canning instructions for higher altitudes.
Homemade jams and jellies extend fresh-fruit flavors into the fall and winter months. They take relatively little time to prepare, and, when used as gifts, can save time and money and reduce stress during the busy holiday season.
For more information on making homemade jams and jellies or to register for the canning workshop Nov. 6, contact the Ellis County Extension office at 601 Main in Hays, or call (785) 628-9430.
Linda K. Beech is Ellis County
Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.