Yes, You Can, Can Great tips on doing your own preserves

June 2020

Long before the phrases “Hundred Mile Diet” and “Eat Local” became popular, Diana Bockus was doing it all.

It started back in the late 70’s when Diana, and her husband Larry, made the decision that it was better for them if she stayed at home with the children rather than work outside the home and put the kids in a daycare. Diana knew that without a second income, it would be difficult starting up their farm, so she came up with a solution: grow and raise their own food.

Gardens were put in, fruit and berry trees planted, a chicken coup and pig pen built, and they were ready. There was also the purchase of two draft horses to do all the farm work and logging that a tractor usually does on a farm. With this set up, they were 85% self sufficient. Certain basic necessities were purchased from the store along with doing a lot of bartering with the neighbours, especially when it came to obtaining most of their preserving supplies from the original homesteaders nearby.

Diana admits she is more self-taught than anything when it comes to preserving. She asked people for tips, watched experienced homesteaders as they worked in their kitchens, and developed some efficient techniques of her own. For years now she’s enjoyed all forms of preserving: canning, drying, pressure canning, cold storage, and freezing.

So, it seems only fitting with more and more people starting to garden, that we call upon the advice of a local expert to share some of her canning tips and a recipe or two. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to start preserving as well. As Diana says, “You can’t fail at canning. If your raspberry jam doesn’t set, don’t worry, it’s now raspberry syrup or ice-cream topping!”

But first things first. If you’re going to preserve, you’re going to need some important “tools”, which, Diana points out, don’t have to necessarily be purchased new. Second hand stores are often great places to find your pots and jars and there are seniors out there who no longer preserve and are quite happy to pass on their equipment to someone who is just starting.

You’ll need a good thick pot, like a Dutch Oven, a thick long handled wooden spoon, a funnel (metal is preferred, but if you have to use plastic, that’s fine too), a slotted spoon, a sturdy ladle, a container to use for the hot water bath and perhaps a book or two. Diana recommends reading “Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving” and/or “Complete Idiots Guide: Jams, Jellies, and Preserves” before starting to preserve.

Second thing, you should know a few “tips” to make your canning experience more enjoyable:

  • Use fruit, vegetables, and berries that are in season and in your area. There is so much available and if you can grow it, then it’s a wonderful feeling knowing you produced it all yourself. There are several U-Pick farms and markets in Thunder Bay and surrounding area that can provide you with delicious berries and vegetables.
  • Preserve when the berries, fruit, and vegetables are fresh and ripe to get the optimum amount of nutrients.
  • If you like a preserve someone has shared with you, ask them for the recipe. Canners love to share and it’s the best way to know you’ll like it when you make it yourself.
  • And some little “tips” you may not find elsewhere: When making jams or jellies, heat up the element first before putting your pot on. It makes the pectin work instantly and gives better results. Whenever you have to add a dry ingredient like sugar or salt to a liquid, make sure the liquid is hot. This prevents the dry ingredient from burning. Add one tbsp. of butter/margarine to your jam/jelly recipe to prevent excess foaming.
  • Start simple by doing a jam recipe first. Diana recommends the following, almost never fails, blueberry and raspberry jam recipe for beginners:
    Blueberry and Raspberry Jam
    • 2 cups crushed blueberries (a potato masher works great for this)
    • 2 1/2 cups crushed raspberries
    • 1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
    • 1 pkg. powdered pectin

    Put berries and butter in saucepan and add pectin. Place over high heat and stir until mixture comes to a hard boil. Add sugar all at once and bring to a full rolling boil. (A full rolling boil occurs when it is boiling so hard that you can’t stir down the boil.) Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim off any foam. Stir for 5 minutes so you don’t get floating fruit where the fruit floats to the top of the jar. Ladle into sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch of rim. Wipe rims. Apply prepared lids and rings and tighten rings just until fingertip tight. Process jars in boiling water canner for five minutes. Let rest at room temperature until set. Check seals. Preserves are sealed when lids curve inward. If the lid moves, then it has not sealed, so refrigerate immediately.

    And if you want to try another, Diana shares this very popular and very delicious recipe to use up those extra beans in your garden:
    Dilly Beans

    • 5 c. water
    • 2 c. vinegar
    • 3 Tbsp. pickling salt
    • 1 clove garlic per jar
    • 1 sprig dill per jar
    • 3 whole black peppers per jar
    • 1/8 tsp chilli pepper flakes per jar

    Make brine with water, vinegar, and pickling salt. Add garlic clove, dill, whole black peppers, and chilli pepper flakes to a sterilized canning jar. Add washed green or yellow beans. Ladle hot brine into jar to within 1/4 inch of rim, wipe rims. Apply prepared lids and rings and tighten rings just until fingertip tight.

    Process jars in boiling water canner for five minutes. Take jars out of water, dry bottoms, and leave on counter to cool.

Good luck on your new adventure in preserving and becoming a little more self sufficient. Who knows, this may be the start of a whole new way of life!

If you’re interested in learning about preserving, gardening, and becoming more self-sufficient, you can contact Diana at for more information.

And if you want to learn more about gardening in the north, Diana recommends you visit

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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