Review: Ball’s Home Canning Discovery Kit; Maple Vanilla Applesauce

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m newer to canning, so I’m still in the process of collecting jars; lids; and other fun tools that most people amass over time.  Luckily, the one thing I never had to buy was a large pot for water-baths—I already had a brew kettle that was more than adequate.  But the downside of this is I lost out on getting that metal canning rack that is included in so many water-bath canning kits.  So for the past few months, I’ve been making due with towels, small steamer racks, and this square rack that came with my toaster oven.  All of them have their shortcomings; and none of the racks completely fill out the bottom of the kettle, so I need to be careful about jars falling off the rack and touching the bottom of the pot.

So when I saw this during a recent excursion to a store, I was pretty excited.  For about $10, I got 3 pint jars, a recipe book, and most importantly, a canning rack.When I took it out of the box, the canning rack was much smaller than I expected – it still wouldn’t fill the bottom of my larger brew kettle (or my smaller pots, for that matter).  It was also pretty scrunched up; but the book assured me it would regain its shape over time.  It also didn’t feel particularly sturdy: I had my doubts about how this would fair under the weight of some fully packed jars.

So tonight, I decided to whip this thing out and give it a shot.  I was only doing a small batch of preserving (some picked cranberries and maple vanilla apple sauce); and I didn’t expect more than 5 jars.  I figured this small batch would be the perfect situation in which to test this product, if for no other reason than the basket seemed too small for a larger batch of preserves.

Even though I only expected 5 jars, I had a hard time fitting the 3 pints and 2 half pints into this carrier.  And any time I picked up the rack with the empty jars, at least one jar was always trying to slip out of the side.  Even when the jars were full, this rack really doesn’t hold that much.  In fact, I was relieved that I only had 4 jars in the end, otherwise I probably would have needed 2 boils.

I suppose it’s more convenient than using jar tongs to fish out jars one by one, but it’s really only good for small batches.  And I generally don’t find jar tongs to be inconvenient for small batches.

I may whip this out from time to time, but overall I can’t recommend this product.  It’s a hair flimsy, and it certainly doesn’t hold enough jars for your average home preservation project.  Save your money.  And I’ll let you know if I find a more adequate solution, although something tells me this is going to end up being a DIY project one weekend.

As far as the preserves, the pickled cranberries are delicious (you can find the recipe over at Serious Eats: In a Pickle).  I have a feeling I’ll be eating them straight out of the jar.  And the fact that I got to use all heirloom cranberries makes the pickles that much more special.

Then there’s the maple vanilla applesauce, which is just awesome—I’m excited to put some on my morning oatmeal. The recipe is below:

  • 5 medium apples (I used stayman apples from my winter CSA); peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 fresh vanilla beans (I used 2 bc the ones we got are kind of weak)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Splash of apple cider

Yield: 1 Pint

Toss the apples, scraped vanilla bean, 1 vanilla bean pod, and the cinnamon stick in a pot.  Throw in a little apple cider: I used just enough to keep the apples from scorching (and if things looked a little dry, I added some more cider).

Cover and cook over medium until soft.  Once the apples are soft, stir them up with a wooden spoon.  Ta-da! Apple Sauce! You can stop here if you want (or blend it/run it through a food mill if you prefer a smoother product), and just water-bath the jar for 15 minutes.

Instead of stopping here, I threw in a few glugs of maple syrup.  I don’t like my apple sauce too sweet, so I probably used about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons, but you can use a little more or less as you see fit.  Heat the sauce a little bit more, until everything gets nice and blended.  Toss it in a jar, debubble it (I always forget this step), and put it in your boiling water for 15 minutes.*

*note: Since this only makes about 1 pint, you can also just toss it in the fridge.  I imagine it’s safe to waterbath, since there isn’t much syrup, and I’ve adapted it from other applesauce recipes I’ve seen before.  But I’m not positive, so if anyone knows for a fact my pH is off, feel free to let me know 🙂

Keep on preservin!