Monday, June 23, 2014

Canning Season is Here

Canning is a great way to take control of the foods we eat. When you process fruits and vegetables yourself, you know where they come from, and what has been added to them. You can avoid excess sugar and unwanted preservatives, and still enjoy safe and tasty home-cooked products. In the winter time it’s satisfying and comforting to go your own kitchen cabinet for beautifully preserved, locally grown, summer foods. The process of canning is also interesting and fun to do with a partner or friend.

We offer three canning workshops at Mother Hubbard's Cupboard each year, and will also offer demonstrations at the Saturday Farmer's Market in July and September. But if you have some produce that needs to be put up, you probably can't wait until our later summer workshops and demos. Here's the basics to get you started, and some links to recipes and methods. 
Canning is a process of preserving food by heating it to destroy unwanted micro-organisms and sealing it into a jar, to keep oxygen out. Some organisms can survive heating to boiling temperature, and an oxygen free environment. However, these organisms cannot survive in a high acid environment. So, to safely can foods using boiling water, you need to create a high acid environment inside the jar. To can products that are not high in acid, you need to heat the contents beyond boiling temperature, using a pressure canner.
The boiling water method is the one to use for canning tomatoes. Boiling water canning is only safe for preserving high-acid foods, such as most fruits, tomatoes (with added lemon juice) or foods with added acid such as pickles, catsup, salsa and chutney. Any time a low acid food is added to the product to be canned (such as onions, cucumbers or peppers) lemon juice or vinegar must be added (and a trusted canning recipe followed) in order to safely can with the boiling water method. Otherwise, you need to use a pressure canner 
It is easy to get started canning. You need a few special items, but most of them are inexpensive or easy to find second-hand. Consider going in on equipment with a neighbor, relative or friend, to reduce the initial investment. (You can also borrow them from our Tool Share program). For step by step instructions, see the Tomato Canning instructions.
You will need:
  • ball jars, designed for canning, these can be used over and over 
  • a canning bath (large enamel pot with a rack inside to hold the jars) or a large stock pot with some sort of rack 
  • flat lids designed for canning jars (these MUST be new. Do not reuse these) 
  • screw-on metal bands to go over the lids (these can be reused, and should be removed once the sealed jar has cooled) 
  • a jar lifter 
  • a canning funnel 
  • a clean small cloth 
  • ladle, spoon, knife and other basic utensils for prepping the food 
    Always be sure to follow trusted canning recipes closely. This is not the place to experiment, especially when it comes to the amount of vinegar or lemon juice required in a recipe. Tweaking spices to your own tastes is fine, just be sure keep the ratio of added acid to product consistent with a recipe designed for boiling water bath canning. Get your hands on a good canning book such as the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, or Putting Food By, and use that as your reference guide. County Extension websites (such as Purdue’s) are also great sources for trustworthy, detailed information on canning all sorts of foods. 
    Our goal is to empower you to get started canning, and to feel confident about preserving food safely at home. It is not difficult, just a bit time consuming. It is so satisfying, and at times even exciting, you may discover a new hobby! 

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