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.
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.”
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.
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, compare 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.