For Mike Richardson, the joy is in the sharing.
Every summer, he cans and preserves all sorts of goodies from his garden and makes preserves, jams and pickles.
Most of what he makes is for giving to others – family, friends and former customers – who have a taste for things they grew up eating.
His tradition of giving canned goods and produce has always been a gesture of affection, especially during the holidays.
“It reminds me of an old-fashioned Christmas,” says Richardson, 71.
Growing and sharing vegetables is part of his family’s lineage. He grew up working with his father in their backyard garden at their East Durham home.
He recalls spending the holidays with his maternal grandparents. His grandmother made lots of jellies and jams to give away.
But his passion for canning was ignited after he inherited recipes from wife Ginny’s grandmother.
Zuba Poole handed down her handwritten recipes for bread and butter pickles, chow-chow relish and pickle beets.
“I got them all,” says Richardson, who is retired as a manufacturing manager and handyman.
These recipes came from the women in the small tobacco town of La Grange.
Richardson started to plant his own vegetables around the same time he started his family, now 47 years ago. Then, his garden was small.
He was busy balancing work and home. Richardson earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from N.C. State University, which led to decades of working jobs in manufacturing and management for General Electric and Mitsubishi Semiconductor America in Durham. As the plants closed, he began working full-time at Home Depot and offering handyman services.
Richardson now has more leisure time. He enjoys preparing breakfast for Ginny, his three grown children and eight grandchildren.
But his pastimes are gardening and canning. Richardson takes pride in perfecting recipes and improving his canning technique. He again received several State Fair ribbons in October. He was awarded a blue ribbon for his red salsa; red ribbons for his watermelon rind pickles and orange marmalade; and a white ribbon for his chow-chow. In past years, he’s won three blue ribbons and two reds for his habanero pepper jelly.
This holiday season, the Mason jars he gives out will be filled with fig preserves, lemon pear marmalade, habanero gold pepper jelly and sweet green tomato pickles – preserves he made this summer and fall.
He considers them Mason jars of kindness.
“It’s so satisfying and personal,” he said.
Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at email@example.com.
Mike Richardson offers the following tips for canning and making preserves.
▪ Don’t skip the proper sterilizing process of the jars and lids. Richardson recommends referring to the latest edition of the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today,” by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. (The latest edition is the 2015 spiral-bound edition.)
▪ To achieve a certain texture, test your jam or preserve by removing a spoonful out of your pot and seeing if it holds its shape after a minute. Remember canning is an art and science.
▪ Don’t overfill the jars. Recipes will instruct you to leave anywhere from an inch down to half an inch of head space. If you fill the jars too high, the canning lids will fail to seal.
▪ No short cuts. Everybody wants to get things done faster. But you must follow the canning and preserving directions exactly because you want to make sure you get the excess air out because failure to seal properly could risk fatal botulism.
Lemon-Pear Preserves with Cardamom
In this delightful autumn preserve, sweet slices of pear are suspended in a subtly spiced, lemon-y jelled syrup. Its delightful fragrance is due in part to the lemon zest – the finely grated exterior part of the lemon. Be sure to use pears that are still quite firm, so the pear slices remain intact when cooked. Zesting is easy to do: Leaving the fruit whole, and using a zester or a very fine grater, simply grate the outside peel of the fruit.
2 pounds firm, ripe pears
1 3/4 cups water
1 tablespoon zest from a lemon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons calcium water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Pomona’s pectin powder
Prepare your jars, lids, and bands; heat up your canner; and sterilize your jars.
Peel and core pears. Quarter them lengthwise, and then slice each quarter into a couple of smaller, uniform, lengthwise slices.
Combine sliced pears and 1 3/4 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes until fruit is soft (but still retains its shape), stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Measure 4 cups of the cooked pears (saving any extra for another use), and return the measured quantity to the saucepan. Add lemon zest, cardamom, lemon juice and calcium water. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine sugar and pectin powder. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
Bring pear mixture to a full boil over high heat. Slowly add pectin sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin while the preserves come back up to a boil. Once the preserves return to a full boil, remove the pan from the heat.
Can Your Preserves: Remove jars from canner and ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Remove trapped air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth, put on lids and screw bands, and tighten to fingertip tight.
Lower filled jars into canner, ensuring jars are not touching each other and are covered with at least 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of water. Place lid on canner, return to a rolling boil, and process for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary).
Turn off heat and allow canner to sit untouched for 5 minutes, then remove jars and allow to cool undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Confirm that jars have sealed, then store properly.
Yield: 4 to 5 half-pint (8-ounce) jars
Recipe from “Preserving With Pomona’s Pectin” by Allison Carroll Duffy. Published 2013 by Fair Winds Press. Used with Permission.
Golden Hot Pepper Jelly
I was pleasantly surprised one day when I found a box filled with homemade goodies on my front porch from my handyman Mike Richardson of Raleigh. Along with pickles and blueberry jelly was his delicious, spicy-hot, golden pepper jelly, a mix of delicately mild apricots and veggies. Tiny pieces of onion and peppers infuse in this sweet and sour jelly. Mike received a white ribbon at the North Carolina State Fair for this tasty condiment. This reminded me of how Papa would often give Sunday dinner guests some home-canned goods to take home. Enjoy this with different kinds of cheeses or on pieces of succulent meats.
1 (18-ounce) jar apricot jam
1/4 cup finely diced red onions
1/4 cup finely diced green bell peppers
1/4 cup finely diced red bell peppers
2 cups sugar
1 1⁄2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 to 6 habanero peppers, seeded and finely diced
2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon butter (to minimize foaming)
1 box no-sugar-added pectin
Prepare 6 half-pint jars and lids for canning (see note). Combine all the ingredients, except for the pectin, in a stainless steel pot. Bring the mixture to a good boil, stirring frequently, to prevent sticking. Stir in the pectin and bring the jelly back to a rolling boil. After 90 seconds, remove the jelly from heat and pour it into the prepared jars.
Note: To learn about safe canning practices, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at nchfp.uga.edu.
Yield: Makes 6 half-pint jars
From “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by Bridgette A. Lacy. Copyright 2015 by Bridgette A. Lacy. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. uncpress.org