When my husband started an elimination diet to help manage a rather severe autoimmune disorder many years ago, one of the first foods to go was sugar. It was a hard road; not only did he have a pretty significant sweet tooth, but totally eliminating cane sugar required reading labels of packaged food extensively (and ultimately giving it up). Sugar has addictive qualities, so it was hard for us to quit for reasons of comfort, too. A saving grace was honey. In fact, this change in diet and lifestyle change eventually led us to start keeping honeybees.
When we settled in North Carolina, I started putting up fresh, local foods. Outside the city, we had access to farmers growing a cornucopia of fresh, organic produce. I started simply, with pickled vegetables in a water bath canner. But the fruits of the North Carolina summers were begging to be put up and enjoyed during winter months, so I started preserving raspberries, blackberries, peaches and apples.
I quickly learned that preserving fruits (either whole, or as jams and jellies) required copious amounts of sugar—nearly as much sugar as water, in some recipes. While the results were delicious (addictively so), we could only give them as gifts and didn’t get to enjoy them ourselves. I looked to my local beekeepers for alternatives.
My beekeeping mentor handed me a book called Putting it Up With Honey, and I haven’t put it down since. Preserving and canning recipes that include honey are scarce on the internet, so this book is my summer canning bible. I don’t bother with any other recipes for fruits, spreads, jams and preserves. The canned whole peaches are particularly divine during peach season here, and my husband drinks the liquid when he finishes a jar.
I’d highly recommend that any beekeeper, honey enthusiast or individual with a special diet who is interested in canning (moving away from cane sugar) to explore options with honey. Here are a few things you need to know before you dive in.
- Canning with honey requires large amounts of honey. While honey itself never spoils, once moisture and foreign bacteria from the fruit are introduced, fermentation is possible (think of mead making). Don’t skimp on the honey, and always follow canning recipes to the letter. Always. They have been developed and tested with safety in mind.
- Start with fresh produce. The quality of your fruits and vegetables directly translates to the quality of your finished product.
- The nutritional value of the honey will be compromised canning it. No pulling punches here: The nutrients, trace amounts of pollen and beneficial qualities of the honey will be destroyed by heating it. But the purpose of putting up fruits and vegetables with honey is more about preserving food with a sugar alternative and replacement. Keep raw honey on hand for medicinal and other culinary purposes.
Learning to can with honey has let us enjoy local produce at its freshest, preserve produce closer to home, and support our local economy and farmers. It gives us a chance to fill our larder with delicious, organic foods that we’ve seen from start to finish. It gives us an opportunity to learn and practice a lost tradition, one that gives our children a chance to see where their food comes from and all the steps needed to process it—from picking the peaches and harvesting the honey to enjoying those preserves on winter treats.