Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pi(e) Filling - Weekly Email


First, I just wanted to thank everyone who came to Delilah and my canning demo this past Sunday. Beautiful weather, fantastic market and great people. It doesn't get much better than that. We plan to do at least a couple more demos at the market as canning season really gets underway later in the Spring and Summer.

Second, St. Patrick's day is six days away on the 17th. There is still time to start that beef brisket brining for corned beef. For more information, see this past weekly email:

Third, if you don't read the blog, Slate magazine published an article yesterday dismissing the revival of canning as "cute" and a "cultish hobby". Naturally, I took issue with the article and wrote my response here:

Fourth, I just want to encourage those who've joined the Facebook group to add photos and let people know what you are preserving. Let's see what everyone is preserving in Southern California!

With those notes out of the way, I observe that March 14th is just a few days away. Why does this matter? Why, March 14th (aka 3/14 aka 3.14) is Pi Day (3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510 etc. etc. etc.). Coincidentally, it is also the anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein.

So, let us discuss the canning of pi(e) filling.

Fruit pie fillings are a wonderful thing to have around and they can be used in many more things than just pies. Turnovers, crostadas, tarts, danishes and similar pastries are quicker to make when you have some canned pie filling in the pantry.

The most important thing to note about canning fruit pie fillings is that the USDA recommends only one starch for thickening pie fillings to be canned. That starch goes under the brand name "ClearJel", which is not to be confused with the brand name pectin known as "Sure-Jel". Also, don't use "Instant ClearJel," just the regular stuff.

What is ClearJel? ClearJel is a modified corn starch made from waxy corn. One of the differences between regular corn starch and ClearJel is that it is pre-cooked and consists entirely of Amioca starch. Amioca starch differs from common corn starch in that it is entirely amylopectin, whereas common corn starch contains both amylopectin and amylose.

Sorry about that.

What you need to know is that ClearJel will not break down when canned and subsequently baked. Other common starches for regular pie fillings, such as flour, tapioca, and regular corn starch, can break down under all the heat and acid of canning and baking, resulting in runny pie fillings. They can even separate in the jar. More importantly, from a safety point of view, other starches are much more prone to having over-thick patches, which can protect molds, yeasts or bacteria during the canning phase, meaning your canned pie filling might go bad.

It has some other advantages as well. As its name implies, it creates a very clear and transparent set. It is flavorless; you don't have to worry about that chalkiness of other thickeners. It is smooth, with no lumps or grittiness. Also, because ClearJel is a starch and not pectin, you can modify the amount of sugar in pie filling recipes, reducing the sugar, if desired - it won't fail to set. I use the stuff in regular cooking as a substitute for corn starch.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of anyplace in LA that sells the stuff (let me know if you know a place). It is available by mail order, and if you want to use it, go ahead and order it now before berry and cherry season is here. One pound of ClearJel will make about 8-9 quarts of pie filling.

Of course, you don't have to use it. Any recipe for canned pie filling can be made without the ClearJel. You simply can the filling without any thickener and add the thickener when you open the can to make pie. You might even find that this makes your cans a little more versatile and useful for things like sauces.

And don't forget to play with spices and infusions when it comes to pie fillings. Like pickles, however, I prefer to use whole or broken spices that can be removed and leave a clear filling, not a cloudy one.

Frozen fruit, preferably unsweetened, can be used in canned pie filling. When defrosted, save any of the juice for use as a substitute for any water in the canning recipe.

You can find some pie filling recipes here:

And how about pizza pie? You can preserve pizza topping, of course, but wait until peak tomato season.

That's it for this week. If you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at

Be sure to check out the blog, which is updated several times a week:

And/or join the Facebook group:

Ernie Miller

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