October 17, 2021

Canning Worth Its Salt

Canning Worth Its Salt
Delicious. Photographs by Haley Bader

Canning is a lush business, a preparation of the tastiest treats for the coldest months. In Russia, where the winters are even colder, it is also a dear tradition practiced in both city and countryside. The season for canning is so beloved that in some places it is celebrated like a holiday.

Ready for their can-e-o!

Featuring both fruits and vegetables, preserved assortments include pickled cabbage, tomatoes, mushrooms, jam, and apples – and in the Far East of Russia, ferns! Another favorite is cucumbers pickled in water and salt. There are relishes, syrups, winter salads, and you might even find that, instead of a brine or a compote, a Russian canner will pour vodka over fresh or fermented fruit for a lovely infusion.

While you will find preserves in jars of all sizes, canners in Russia often use large glass jars, which can hold from one to three liters. They must be sterilized in boiled water for ten minutes before being filled with delicious delights.

Rather than screw-on lids, which sometimes require treatment in a hot bath to seal, these large jars are closed with a metal disk that is crimped against their edges with a handheld tool common in former Soviet countries. It is possible to close the jars without boiling them after they have been filled, but it is now thought to be safer to do so to avoid the growth of bacteria like botulism.

Once the goods have been prepared and jars properly sealed, they are customarily stored in a basement or cellar, although of course this is more difficult in apartment buildings. Russians living in apartments will sometimes use common spaces to store their preserves.

Here are three simple recipes – pickled tomatoes, plum compote, and a mulberry-infused vodka – that you may well find in a Russian pantry. The catch: canned fruits and vegetables are always best when they are freshly picked from a large and welcoming garden! If you don’t have your own, or a Russian friend to spoil you with gifts from his dacha, you can always make do with what you find at the supermarket.


Pickled Tomatoes

These tomatoes are a particularly succulent treat. They are pickled whole with the skin intact. If the tomato’s skin hasn’t split (oak leaves help prevent this!) when you lift the juicy packages from a well-aged brine, it is only proper to nip it with your front teeth to suck out the innards. This technique also prevents unflattering tomato pants.


3.5 pounds washed medium-sized tomatoes
4 cloves sliced garlic
1 bunch dill
1 bunch parsley
4 bay leaves
3 oak leaves
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
6 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Optional: two tablespoons vinegar
Two 1.5 Liter jars

  1. After sterilizing the jars, place the tomatoes, garlic, dill, parsley, bay leaves, and oak leaves inside, making sure the tomatoes are surrounded with the greens. Fill the jars with boiling water.
  2. Pour the boiled water back out of the jars (you have just measured the exact amount you need to make the brine) into a large pot. Add the peppercorns, salt, and sugar, and boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the brine into the jars once more, which should cover the tomatoes completely. If the tomatoes are still not covered, add more boiling water until there is only about a half-inch of free space at the top of the jar.
  4. Seal the jars, turn them upside down, and let them sit for three days. The jars may then be moved and stored for winter use but should be left for at least two weeks to marinate before consuming. Once the pickled tomatoes are opened, they must be refrigerated.


Plum Compote

Any fruit compote is a dream, and it's wildly easy to prepare. All you need is fresh fruit, some sugar, and boiling water. Apples, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, berries of all sorts, the preparation is also good for fruit that is overripe. You can even pick them off the ground; just make sure you’ve checked them for a little insect protein first!


10 cups of water
2.5 pounds of plums
1 cup of sugar

  1. Wash the plums, pick off any remaining stems, and remove the pits. (Removing the pits is optional if you like it rustic, but you might not want to give any guests a toothache.) Don’t forget to investigate little holes!
  2. Add the plums and water to a large pot. Bring to a boil.
  3. Turn the temperature to low, add the sugar, and stir until it is dissolved. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Let the drink cool completely and sit for two hours for the plums to marinate. You are ready to serve, though some prefer compote chilled.

Compote is easily stored in the refrigerator for short periods if you want to consume it fresh, but you can also can it to put away in the pantry for a later day. You can strain the plums from the drink before serving, but it is also a delightful treat to finish the fruit at the end.


Vodka “Infused” with Mulberries and Blackberry Leaves

We might argue about whether this is canning, but I say if it’s in a jar, it counts.

If you pack your jar with berries for this recipe, you are guaranteed a liqueur with a very fruity feel even if your vodka might be a little cheap. The focus is on the fruit! While you might not really be able to call it an infusion, this silky and more viscous beverage is a rich accompaniment for a good dessert. I wouldn’t discourage you from sipping on it, either.

The infusion requires three stages to prepare: the first is a brief fermentation of the fruit, and then the jar is filled with vodka.


One large jar with an airtight lid (1.5 liters recommended)
Enough mulberries to fill the jar to the top (alternatively, you can use blackberries)
2-4 cups sugar (tastes may vary!)
A few handfuls of blackberry leaves (you can also use grape leaves or the leaves from cherry trees)
Enough vodka to fill the jar about halfway

Stage 1:
  1. Sterilize your jar, and then pack it about one-third of the way with mulberries. Add 1/3 of the sugar and shake the jar. Repeat twice until the jar is full. The berries and sugar should fill it until just below the mouth of the jar.
  2. Pack the top of the jar with one or two handfuls of blackberry leaves, which will act as a “seal” and also infuse the mixture with extra flavor. Then close the jar with an airtight lid.   
  3. Place the jar in a cool, dark place – for instance, your bedroom cabinet – and leave it to sit for 2 or 3 weeks.
Stage 2:
  1. Check the jar after two weeks to see how the fermentation process is progressing. The berries will break down partially into liquid, and they will settle into the jar as they ferment.
  2. After two or three weeks, take the jar out of its resting place and fill it to the top with vodka. Return it to the cool and dark and leave the mixture to sit for at least two days and up to a week. The longer it sits, the more flavor will result.
Stage 3:
  1. After letting the mixture sit, strain out the berries and leaves; you can keep liqueur in recycled bottles or mason jars. Your drink is ready to serve!

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