If you have followed me at all, you know I am not the best cook or baker in the world. I don’t like anything super complicated and I’m generally afraid to try some things. But one of the reasons I started this blog was to push myself out of comfort zones, to try new things, and to write about it! And I have been wanting to try canning for a long time. I could schedule some time with friends or family who have experience with canning, but I kind of liked the idea of tackling it on my own. So here we go!
WHY BLUEBERRY PIE FILLING?
I went fresh blueberry picking at Greenfield Berry Farm in the Cuyahoga Valley and picked about 9 pints of berries (roughly 18 cups). I just got on a kick, they looked so delicious, I had to have them! And then… I had to decide what to do with them. I knew we were going to be out of town for a bit, and I love blueberry pie, so I decided to try canning blueberry pie filling. It was time to turn to Google for help…
I found some recipes that seemed like they could work, like this one on Waterbath Canning and this one more specifically for Blueberry Pie Filling. Plus, I had my Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for awesome ideas, steps, and recipes!
The recipes I found called for Clear-Jel, a corn derivative that is not corn starch and more food-safe (per the USDA) and the best option for canned thickened pie filling because it thickens right when you add it and doesn’t change based on heat (unlike traditional cornstarch which thickens as it cools). I visited a few local grocery stores, but could not find the product (it is not pectin). And because of my schedule, I couldn’t even wait for my 2-day Amazon Prime delivery 🙂 to buy it online, so I decided to follow a recipe using cornstarch and take my chances. What’s the worst that could happen? It wouldn’t thicken properly and I’d have to use the blueberry pie filling on pancakes or oatmeal or cheesecake or… yeah, not really a problem. 🙂
Now comes the fun part, I’ve broken it down into 10 easy to follow steps…
1. ASSEMBLE YOUR CANNING GEAR
I purchased a Graniteware canning kit a little while ago and it was sitting in my basement, so I pulled that up and washed all the pieces. You can find similar kits online or just the right tools for you.
Or you may already have some at home – you will need a large pot for canning (and a wire or silicone rack insert), another large pot for the blueberry pie filling, and if you have another pot it can be convenient for heating the jars. I do not have another one large enough, so I used my canning pot to also heat the jars. I have read that you can run your jars through the dishwasher and keep hot in there until ready to use (I may do that next time, seems much easier and I’ll explain why in a minute).
The kits come with some handy utensils for canning: a jar lifter, a lid lifter, a spatula, a wide-mouth funnel, and a jar tightener?? I used everything in my kit but found the jar lifter to be critical.
You will also need jars. I wanted to use quart size as that would equal one pie, but you can divide however you like and use smaller jars if that makes more sense.
2. WASH EVERYTHING THOROUGHLY
Make sure you check your jars, lids, rims for imperfections or cracks as that can affect sealing and avoid breakage. Wash them thoroughly in hot soapy water and rinse well.
3. HEAT THE WATER CANNER AND JARS
Insert the rack into the water canner, fill the water canner halfway with water and bring to a boil. You need the rack to have a little distance between the glass and bottom of the can (to avoid breakage). Reduce to a simmer and add your jars to the water to heat through. You do not need to heat the lids, contrary to traditional belief, as Ball has found in its studies that the seal will work fine at room temperature. I decided to warm them in a bowl with hot canner water.
4. PREPARE YOUR BLUEBERRY PIE FILLING
While the jars are heating in your canner, it’s time to prepare your filling in the other pot.
INGREDIENTS (for 2 quart jars)
14 cups fresh blueberries
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup cornstarch
3 TB lemon juice (from the bottle, not fresh, to aid as a preservative)
1 tsp nutmeg
sprinkle of cinnamon
Combine blueberries and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Cook until blueberries become soft and start to release their juices, about 10 minutes. Combine the lemon juice and cornstarch in a separate dish. Pour into the blueberries. Stir in the nutmeg and cinnamon. Continue to simmer until the juices begin to thicken, approximately 10 minutes. Turn burner off. Pie filling will continue to thicken as it cools.
5. FILL JARS
Carefully remove the jars with the jar lifter from the hot water, empty the water, and set next to the blueberry pie filling pot. I honestly found this to be the most difficult part of canning, that water is hot! (hence the dishwasher idea above sounds good!). Put the funnel on top and spoon the filling into the jar leaving 1 inch of headspace at the top. The headspace is important for a good seal and different by recipe, so pay attention to that detail. Slide a rubber spatula between filling and jar to ensure any air bubbles are released.
6. SEAL WITH LIDS
Wipe jar exterior and rim thoroughly with a clean cloth. Using the lid lifter, place a clean new lid onto the jar and center it properly. Screw band down evenly and firmly just until fingertip-tight.
7. PUT JARS IN CANNER
As each jar is filled, place it into the water canner with the rack elevated (if you are also using to heat jars, you will need to adjust as space allows). Once all jars are filled, lower rack into canner and check water level. Water level should be 1-2 inches above the top of the jars. Using hot tap water, fill canner until you reach that level. Place lid on canner and bring to a boil.
8. START PROCESSING
Each recipe has a specific processing time, so for quart jars of blueberry pie filling, I used 30 minutes. You should turn on the timer when the water begins boiling and maintain that temperature for the full time.
9. COOL JARS
Once the processing time is complete, turn off the burner and let canner sit for 5-10 minutes. Using the jar lifter, lift jars out and place on heated pad or towel to cool completely, 12-24 hours. As jars are cooling, you may hear a pop as the lid seals the jar.
10. CHECK THE SEAL
After the jars are completely cool, check the seal by pressing on the center of the lid. If it doesn’t flex, your jars are sealed. You can check further by removing the ring and trying to the lift the lid off with your fingertips. If it does move or open, you do not have a good seal and should either re-do the process or just make sure you refrigerate and use that jar within 24 hours. If you do have a good seal, you can store the jar in your pantry for another time (the recipes I read say up to a year, but because this is my first time, I’ll have to let you know if they are any good!).
I did it! You did it! We did it!
And UPDATE, I opened a jar a few days later and made a blueberry tart – it was perfect and so delicious! I think the Clear-Jel might be better for a traditional pie and also if you want to store in the pantry for up to a year, but the cornstarch really worked fine for this first try and using the filling for a tart.
I would love if you would let me know in the comments if you’ve ever canned pie filling or anything else before and any tricks you’ve learned. Thanks for following along, friends. 🙂