Preserving friendships -- or why it is time to have a put-em-up party:
Because the fruits of summer do not last forever. Soon it will be fall and that rich array of strawberries, peaches, cherries, blueberries and figs will, like Cinderella's coach, turn into pumpkins. And because by inviting friends to your jam sesson, you deprive them of a reason for beghging a jar from your larder.
The number of people you invite should be limited by common sense and the size of your kitchen; four is ideal; more than six and you will pickle each other.
Decide in advance what you're going to preserve and have guests bring their fruit and jars. As host, you should provide:
a water-bath canner - For sealing the jars. In lieu of that, you can use a pot large enough to hold the jars, plus water to cover them, and a rack so the jars will not touch the pot or each other.
jr tongs -- for removing the hot jars from the canner. They are for sale in most hardware stores and are essential. For years I have been doing without, using egg tongs instead, and every year it's been a dipsy-doodle thing, whether the jar will make it from the pan to the counter. Even dumber is a hotpad, which invariably gets wet.
pitters and rubber gloves -- If you're doing anything that involves cherries. Awkward as gloves are to work in, the blue stain of cherries sits on your hands and under your nails for weeks.
a large pot -- Neither copper nor cast iron, for cooking whatever you're preserving. If it is to be jam or jelly, keep a close eye on the liquid. Scorched syrup is not something you want stuck to the bottom of your pan.
In any case, if you're going to err in making jams or jellies it's better to make them too thin rather than too thick. The runny stuff can be poured over ice cream and rechristened syrup. Overcooked, it forms a hard and rigid lump that is impossible to get a spoon into or, succeeding in that, out of.
pectin -- if the fruit you choose to jell is low in it. Most basic cookbooks tell you which fruits are higher or low in natural pectin.
If this is your first canning session, you might better choose to start with chutneys or relishes. They do not need to boil down as much as jams and jellies, which invaribly spatter all over everything and everybody.
Or make tutti-fruitti, that lovely, boozy syrup of whole, preserved fruits that Joy of Cooking calls "a liquid hope chest," and which is heavenly on ice cream or poached pears.
Check whatever recipes you're going to use beforehand so you'll have sticks of cinnamon, or cloves, or mustard seeds, or whatever it is you'll need. And sugar. Lots of it, since most canning recipes call for it by the pile.
The only food you need provide are slices of good white bread for testing the jams, jellies or fruit butters, and a grainy bread on which to spread tastes of the chutneys and relishes.
For music, you'll hve the little ping the jars make as they cool, forming the seal that preserves your summer.