canning and preserving

The Nickel Pincher: Holiday Gifts From Summer Gardens

Canning and preserving your garden's bounty now can save you a bundle this holiday season.

By Jean Nick

The Nickel Pincher: Holiday Gifts From Summer Gardens

Your garden can serve as one-stop shopping for holiday gifts.

Foolproof Fruit Butter

Lower in sugar and much easier to make than preserves or jam, these tasty treats contain no butter. Their name simply refers to the smooth, creamy texture. Perhaps the best-known fruit butter in this country is apple butter, but you can also make peach butter, plum butter, apricot butter, pear butter, berry butter, and even tomato or pumpkin butter.

Makes about 4 pints


5 pounds fruit (use apples, peaches or whatever is abundant); use an extra pound or two if you're using fruits with a high water content, such as berries
2 cups cider, fruit juice, or water
Sugar or honey (optional)
Spices (ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger)


Peel, core, and seed fruit, and cut into 1-inch hunks. Put the fruit and your liquid (cider, fruit juice, or water) into a large non-reactive pot, bring to a boil, and simmer (covered) for 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and mushy. Stir occasionally, and add a little water if the fruit begins to stick to the bottom, to prevent scorching.

Pour the mushy fruit into a large slow cooker. If possible set the cooker in a sheltered outdoor area so the heat and evaporating water won’t be indoors making an already hot day harder to bear. Cook, uncovered (turn a sieve upside down as a lid if insects are a concern), on medium or low for 10 to 12 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the butter is as thick as you like it. It will get brown and rich. You can’t overcook fruit butter, and in the slow cooker, you can’t scorch it as you can on the stove. If you don't have a slow cooker, use the thickest-bottomed pot you have on your stove's very lowest setting and be vigilant about stirring, especially as the butter starts to thicken up. There's no set time for stovetop cooking; you just need to cook the fruit until it reaches your desired consistency.

When the butter is as thick as you want it, taste it to see if you need to add sugar or honey. I rarely add sweetener, but if you prefer sweet butters, add up to about 2 cups of sugar or 1 cup of honey. This is also the time to add spices if you like. Apples go well with 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon and a ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves; peaches go well with cinnamon and ground ginger. Stir until the spices are completely dissolved or blended.

Ladle the butter into hot, sterilized jars, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath to seal them.

For more holiday gift ideas, see our articles on canning and preserving fruit and pickling cucumbers

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on


Published on: August 4, 2010

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BPA-free Canning Jar Lids

All standard metal home canning lids sold in the U.S. contain low levels of BPA, so you'll be interested to know I've found a BPA-free canning lid option that has the economical and ecological advantages of being completely reusable (unlike standard metal lids that can only be canned with once and which are prone to rust). The Tattler canning lid system works with standard U.S. canning jars and bands, but replaces the disposable metal lids with a polyacetal base resin lid and a seperate rubber ring (both reusable). Using Tattler lids requires a slightly different canning and sealing technique and since the lid does not "pop" down to indicate a good seal the way a modern disposable metal lid does you need to test the seal after the product cools completely and again before opening the jar by removing the band and seeing if you can lift the lid off with your fingers (you won't be able to if the seal is good). I'm thinking about using these lids for at least my high acid products such as tomatoes and pickles, as studies of commercial canned goods have suggested they may be especially prone to leaching BPA out of coatings.

More to come!

Check back tomorrow for more ideas featuring flowers, herbs, and other garden goodies, including pressed flower note cards and picture frames, flavored sugars, and even flavor-infused vodkas! -- The Nickel Pincher

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