Making jam, preserves, or jelly using the waterbath method is one of the easiest ways to make an entry into canning. Several years ago I started a jam contest in my office as a covert way to get rid of my proliferation of Elephant Heart plums. At first, my co-workers were reluctant to join in the fray, until I told them, "You know that saying 'Easy as pie'? That's a lie. Pie is hard. Jam is easy." And easy it is.
If you're ready to try your hand at preserving, the University of California and UC Cooperative Extension offer a wealth of information for home preservers.
First up, are UC ANR's free downloadable publications on home preservation and storage. Included in this list is the series Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. From apples to tomatoes, these handy publications include tips on food safety as well as recipes. I made a very tasty jam from the publication Peppers: Safe Methods to Store Preserve, and Enjoy and wrote about it in an earlier blog post.
Also making a big comeback are the UC Master Food Preservers (MFP). Akin to the UC Master Gardeners, these UC-trained volunteers have completed a 12-week session led by UC-certified Master Food Preservers. Once trained, MFP's pass on their knowledge to the public and commit to completing 30 volunteer hours and 15 continuing education hours each year.
At present, a limited number of UC Cooperative Extension offices offer the program, but it is growing strong. The web sites of these UC MFP programs also contain a wealth of information for home preservers.
If you can't get into a UC MFP class, the Ball website has an extensive list of classes.
The UC Center for Food Safety's website contains an exhaustive list of resources from universities, the USDA, as well as links to manufacturers of canning supplies. My favorite is the encyclopedic Judging Home-Preserved Foods from the University of Georgia. This would have come in handy for the plum jam contest!
By the way - if you have a favorite canning jar, I recommend buying early in the season to make sure you get your favorite while it is still in stock. My favorite, the half-pint wide mouth jar, is impossible to find after the end of June.