It feels good to see a lineup of gorgeous jars of your very own home-canned salsas, jams and pickles.

Canning is scary for a lot of us -- a few missteps and everything could get very dicey. Cathy Barrow wrote a piece called "Not So Scary: Easy Steps to Canning" for The New York Times that made canning sound so simple.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What are we trying to do when we preserve something?

Sunshine Sour Pickles Barrow's recipe: Sunshine Sour Pickles

Cathy Barrow: There are two basic elements that will preserve a fruit or vegetable: One is sugar and one is vinegar or acid. What we're trying to do is replace the water that is held in that fruit or vegetable with either a sugar syrup or a brine; either one will keep them preserved.

LRK: What are the basic things that we need to know? What kind of equipment do we need?

CB: You really don't need any special equipment. You should have a large, heavy-bottomed pot for making any kind of jam because you'll want to cook the jam slowly to release and evaporate all of that water. A heavy-bottomed pot is going to help you keep a lower simmer. You'll also want a large stock pot to boil those jars in. The jars will need to be covered by water by about an inch. That should give you a sense of how tall the pot will need to be.

LRK: Let's say I'm making jam -- what are the basics there?

CB: I think of jam very simply. I like to start with about 3 pounds of fruit. For every pound of fruit, you'll add 1 cup of sugar. With 3 pounds of fruit, you'll get the juice of one lemon. Stir that all together and put it in the refrigerator, covered, overnight and let it macerate. Don't worry if you leave it there for a couple of days -- it will be fine.

When you take it out, strain out all the fruit until you have a nice, thick, flavored syrup. Then bring that syrup to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, which in candy-making terms is the soft gel stage. That's the stage at which your syrup becomes more of a jelly.

Then you're going to add back all the fruit and bring it back up to a very strong boil. You'll start to see the fruit sinking, which is when it begins to take in that syrup and absorb it. As the fruit sinks, you'll start to see and feel how your jam gets thicker. All the foam will clear and you're ready to put it in a jar.

LRK: If you wanted to add spices or anything like that, you could do that during this stage?

CB: I often add herbs during the macerating stage. It's very nice to add some thyme, lemon verbena or rosemary to almost any fruit. Take those fresh herbs out before you put the jam in jars because it just turns an unattractive color. Dried herbs or spices -- star anise, fennel seed or a cinnamon stick -- all can be added during the jam-making process and can be left in the jars.

LRK: When you seal those lids, are they supposed to pop?

CB: Yes, they make this wonderful pinging sound. Sometimes it happens inside the processing. You'll be sitting waiting for them to come out, and you'll hear these funny pings. But usually once you take the jars out of the water and put them on the counter, they'll start to make this pinging sound. What that means is that the top is vacuum-sealing onto the jar, making it safe for about a year.

LRK: I've just missed one step. I've put the jam in the jars, but now those jars are going into the water again?

CB: That's correct. You're going to put the warmed lids on the jar. You warm them so that rubber is soft and it can more easily adhere to the glass jar. You tighten the ring, then put it into the water and boil or process it. Jam usually takes 10 minutes for a half-pint jar. What you're doing is called processing, and you're bringing the contents of the jar to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of boiling water. At that point, that's when it becomes safe.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.