14 September 2012

Canning tips to help savour summer flavour year ‘round

Is anyone else canning up a storm? Or wondering where to start? 
We've had a lot of people asking us how/why we do what we do, 
so here's a response to the questions. 

Canning is not just for grandmas or war efforts any more.  As self-sufficiency re-gains popularity, people of all ages are re-learning traditional skills. According to National Public Radio, 43% of canners are between 18-34 years old. Not all fruit.root.leaf. readers will be surprised by that, as many of you are at least as enthusiastic about this project as we are.

However, one thing most home canners, myself included, agree upon is that safely preserving enough of the harvest to enjoy summer well into the cold weather requires some effort and planning. Whether this season will see your first canning endeavour, or you have a long tradition of canning, the enjoyment and satisfaction felt when you dine on the fruits of your labours make it worth it.  

Jerod and I have been canning like crazy lately, including a raspberry jam-making session with my sister (a first for her!), tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, and of course, pickled peppers. We've written about canning before, but it's a "going concern" and it's harvest time, so the subject is back on the menu, shall we say. 

As many readers likely know first-hand, canning is not as hard as some might think, but following safe methods is essential. Among the potential hazards associated with home food preservation, botulism is the dominant concern when canning. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, one milligram of the toxic protein produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria can be fatal to humans! There are evidently no home-tests for botulism, and it does not typically cause visible damage or changes in the canned food product.

If you are enthusiastic about preserving, please visit the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. This center, based in the USA, provides information on best practices for canning, freezing, dehydrating, and fermenting, as well as information on projects and procedures that are not recommended. Their recipes are tasty, simple, can easily be multiplied for larger projects, and have been “lab-tested and adjusted to maximize food safety.”

Bottom line   
Home food preservation fans have a serious responsibility to themselves and their dinner guests. That said, home-canned food can be safe, delicious, and a bargain compared to store-bought products of equal quality. To get started, prowl thrift shops, an older relative’s basement, or the nearest hardware store in search of canning equipment. Pressure canners require more up-front investment, and more precision. Water-bath canning, on the other hand, is typically a low-cost investment, and is fairly straightforward. For most water-bath projects, you will only need a few basic items: a canning kettle and metal basket which fits inside, jar tongs, a canning funnel, metal rings and new lids, and good canning jars.

In this case, “good” is not a relative or aesthetic term. Jars larger than one quart  (0.946 L) are not recommended, and while many commercial jars can be fitted with canning-style lid-and-ring tops, it is not advisable to use jars not made for canning. You risk a poor seal and potential food spoilage or poisoning. Equally, jars not made of tempered glass are more likely to break, causing a loss of your precious foodstuffs and a disheartening sensation of wasted time.

Next, each jar requires a two-part lid consisting of a threaded metal band (or ring) and a NEW self-sealing lid. Re-use of lids is only acceptable for leftovers or when freezing foods. Just think back to the last time you pried the lid off a jar of something home preserved. In order to get the lid off, you typically have to bend it, and it remains misshapen ever after. Without a new lid, you will not get a proper seal.

One last lid tip   
When you put a lid and ring on a jar with something hot in it, you may soon hear the "pop" sound that signals the lid is sealed. Do not be fooled. Processing is not something to skip. The entire contents of the jar must also be exposed to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, in order to kill potentially harmful bacteria. So, if you hear a pop, don't stop. Process all food in the water-bath canner for the time specified in the recipe, remove the jars to cool, and then do your happy dance when you hear those lids pop.

Recommended projects for beginners or pros alike are tomatoes, peaches, jam, and pickled vegetables. The required produce grows locally, meaning you can use it at its peak. You can often get great deals on “seconds” – produce still in good condition, but not aesthetically perfect. Preparation of these recipes is not complicated, the results are usually quite satisfactory, and these high-sugar fruits and high-acid vegetables do not require processing in a pressure canner.  

Jam is HIGH on my list of worthwhile canning projects for more than just economic reasons. You can control the amount of sugar if you use universal pectin, such as Pomona's Universal Pectin. You can use pint (0.473 L) or ½ pint (0.236 L) jars, making it easier to part with some of your homemade jam as gifts. And of course, if you are going to go to all this effort, making a value-added product helps motivate you to do it again.

For example, we made peach jam last weekend, using that universal pectin, and their recipe. We used no-spray peaches, and bought “seconds” for fifty cents a pound (0.453 kg). $5.00 of fruit + $1.99 for lids + $8.00 for a box of re-usable jars = $14.99, or $1.87/pint for golden peachy ambrosia. Now, c
ompare that to $4.00 to $8.00/pint in a specialty épicerie or at the farmers market!

Clearly, if you have time for it, homemade jam and other preserves are an exceptional way to manage both the quality of your food and your budget.


Jane Wolery said...

Bethann and Jerod,
Just a note to let you know that I have very much enjoyed reading your blog, and today when it reached me with a subject on canning I was very proud that you had included all the food safety information! J  It is also timely.  I overestimated my zeal for canning over the weekend . . . I am so much like my mother sometimes it is frightening.  I bought two lugs of tomatoes – four batches of salsa, one of taco sauce, one of sombrero barbecue sauce, one of freezer basil tomato sauce and still ¾ of a box to go . . . .
I’ve decided canning is like child birth.  It seems like a good idea when you are gathering the ingredients. 
And after the labor, you forget what a pain it was.  J
Do you have the

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine (Apr 14, 2006)
My goal is to try all the recipes I think seem interesting.  The Golden Raisin Curry Jelly is great on chicken. 
Anyway, keep writing and painting and drawing and creating and sharing!  J  Have a good day. 
Jane Wolery
MSU Teton County Extension

fruit.root.leaf. said...

Hi Jane,Thanks so much for this email!  I had no idea you were reading the blog...or did I? :)  Either way, it's great to hear from you, and I can totally relate to the snowball, outta control momentum that signifies canning season (a.k.a. harvest) to me.  We have been canning like mad here - 120lbs tomatoes, 135 lbs of apples, 30 lbs of peppers, and similar amounts of raspberries, and oh, I don't even know what all else.  Of course, we're not quite through the list, either. :)

As for the safety stuff, I am a little bit nutty about that part.  Maybe it's my mom coming out in me - worrying about little things. :)  Anyway, you wouldn't believe - or maybe, in your job, you would - how many people I know who still rely on out-dated ideas about what is adequate for preserving food (on the shelf).  Plastic wrap and a fitted plastic lid is my personal favorite to date.  Ack!

Anyway, when I was in college, and got really into local food issues, I kind of dove off the deep end with canning.  We did peaches and tomatoes with my mom when we were young, but I got carried away - pickling and jams in particular.  Since hitching my star to Jerod, we've also become really interested in home brewing and even fermenting.  Through it all, I've found the recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation to be tasty, simple to follow, and very reassuring thanks to their research and testing.  I tell everyone who asks about canning to immerse themselves in that site before they actually start canning anything. :)

As for your question about the Ball recipe book, I realized recently that we don't actually have a single preservation book.  That despite the fact that I have a couple of shelves full of food, gardening, and cook books.  I'll have to remedy that sometime soon.  I also find a few food blogs (such as Local Kitchen and Food in Jars) to be lots of fun, well written, and pretty well on target as far as canning best practices.

Anyway, best of luck for the end of the season! :)

Jane Wolery said...

Do you get the Acantha?  The pickle article may interest you.

fruit.root.leaf. said...

Thanks for that suggestion.  We don't actually subscribe to the Acantha...maybe we should sign up for the online edition.  Either way, my folks usually clip articles of interest and mail them to us.  I'll put in a request for the pickle article.  :)  Did you write it?

Heidi said...

Adelheid Elizabeth West I am canning tomatoes right now. :)

Anne said...

Peaches here

Lesley said...

Lisa Rensch-Jansen, Michael Rice, Kimberly Hansen, and I processed prickly pear fruit and/or canned prickly pear syrup and jam; and I vacuumed sealed 1/2 a dozen food saver bags full of cored/sliced apples from a co-workers tree!

Lisa said...

Oh yes, 25 jars of salsa various sizes!! Tom and Anne are happy!! :)

Bethann said...

Yum, yum! We did salsa a couple years ago, but were disappointed by the texture. Is yours pretty soft, or does it stay firm, and if so, what's your trick? :) 

Bethann said...

That sounds so cool! I would love to do some wild harvesting, but don't know if we'll get to it this year. I definitely want to try that jam someday - I don't think I've ever eaten prickly pears. 

Bethann said...

Whole in syrup, or jam, or...? 

Bethann said...

What are they going to become? :)

Lesley said...

The jam is delicious, and the syrup is awesomely tasty as well...and versatile ;) I kept the pulp (we strain it off when making the jam and syrup) and used some of it in a smoothie for breakfast this morning...oh my goodness...yum!

Bethann said...

Lesley, that sounds delicious!

Heidi said...

16 jars of spiced tomato sauce done!

Wendy said...

Thanks for the article! We have such an abundance of local produce, I try to preserve all that I can for those long months of nasty supermarket veggies.

Bethann said...

Glad you enjoyed the article.  I totally agree.  We are in major canning mode right now, trying to get a lot of produce stored away before all the local fresh goodies are gone for the year. 

Bethann said...

This post (http://localkitchenblog.com/2012/06/10/canning-tips-tricks-from-your-favorite-bloggers-me/) from "local kitchen" also has some great tips.  The post identifies basics that aren't included in my post (above), such as 'have a big plate ready, to put all your dirty spoons, funnels, etc. on - much easier to clean later,' and 'keep an extra of everything on hand, so you don't have to rush to the store midway through a project.'

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