Sunday, April 1, 2012

Home Canning For Beginners

   Whenever I recommend canning, people tend to look at me as if I just suggested they take up chainsaw juggling. Another common misconception is that you need to be good at cooking to be good at canning, not to underestimate the cooking ability of successful canners, but the two are not synonymous. If you know the basics of food preparation, boiling water and you can follow simple recipes -you can do this. Some food items and recipes do require more care and more involved canning techniques, but the Water Bath Method of canning is simple and sufficient to safely can many food items for long-term storage.

   The benefits of canning your own food are tremendous -saving money for starters, but more importantly, you know exactly what’s in your food -none of the mystery preservatives and chemicals found in commercially canned foods. And the pride that comes with doing it yourself… priceless!
   Water Bath Canning heats the contents to 212 Fahrenheit a sea-level. Water boils at lower temperatures at higher elevations, thus longer processing times are required the higher up you are from sea-level. This method will successfully kill bacteria for long-term storage of high-acid foods, such as high-acid tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, juices, sauces, relishes, and so on, as well as any contents with added vinegar for acidity -otherwise known as pickling. All other low-acid foods like meats, seafood and vegetables require higher temperatures to thoroughly kill all possible contaminants. If you want to can low-acid foods you should invest in a pressure “canner”, not a pressure cooker. Do not use a pressure cooker unless it’s specifically designed to double as a pressure canner. Pressure canners are not particularly cheap, but if you plan to utilize one, the benefits you’ll continually reap will greatly outweigh the initial cost.
   Some people don’t worry about the dangers of canning low-acid foods in a water bath, but there’s obviously risk involved. I’ve heard that thoroughly cooking meats and soups and pretty much anything before water bath canning will make it safer, but I suggest getting your feet wet with safe, easy Water Bath Canning methods before jumping into any deep ends of thought, like pressure canning, or when not to use one.

Here are some of the basic supplies you’ll need-
·         Canning recipe book
·         A wide-mouth funnel and ladle
·         Canning tongs
·         A large pot (deep enough to fill with water 1 to 2 inches over your jars and safely boil without boiling over)
·         Canning jars, rings and lids
·         A wet cloth

    A wire rack for your canning pot is optional, but some canners swear by them, as a wire rack allows for more equalized heating and helps prevent the bottom of the jars from overheating and possible cracking. If you don’t have a rack, you can place extra canning rings in the bottom of the pot to elevate the jars for more equalized heating.
   Jars do not have to be new. You can save old jars, put out an APB and collect them from your friends, and survey yard sales and antique shops for used jars -just make sure the lip of the jar is not chipped or marred in any way.
   Rings can be reused as well, but the lids need to be unused to make a proper pressured seal.

*Always be careful of steam and hot jars as they can seriously burn.

Basic Water Bath Canning-
-There’s no need to sterilize your jars, lids and rings by boiling them beforehand since they will be sterilized along with their contents during the canning process, so simply wash clean with soap and water and thoroughly rinse.
-To estimate the proper amount of water to have ready in your canning pot, fill the allotted jars with water, place them in the canning pot and fill with water 1 to 2 inches over the jars. Do not empty the water from the jars into the pot and don’t forget to add the rings if you plan to use them for elevating bases.
-Preheat your water bath pot and jars. Jars can be preheated in the water bath prior to being filled.
-Prepare your food. Wash, cook, slice, chop, whatever your preference and recipe calls for. Fruits should be ripe and all bruises and damaged areas removed.
-Pack food into jars, typically leaving ½ inch of headspace (Area left between the food and lid), but refer to your recipe, and top off with clean water, brine, vinegar solution or syrup according to your recipe.
-Remove any air pockets with a non-metallic instrument such as a plastic knife or chopstick by gently moving the food around to release trapped air pockets.
- Wipe clean the rims of the jars with a damp cloth. This is extremely important to ensure a proper seal.
-Place lids and rings on the jars. The rings should only be snug -the seal is created with vacuum pressure. Do not crank them down or you’ll never get them open again, if they seal at all.
-Carefully place your jars into your pot, leaving space between the jars if you’re not using a wire rack. Top off with hot water if needed to keep 1 to 2 inches of water over the top of the jars. Bring to a boil. The processing time begins when the water comes to a rolling boil. Add hot water as needed to keep the jars under water at all times.
-At the end of the processing time (Refer to your recipe) carefully remove the jars with your tongs and place them on towels to cool. Do not poke, wipe, or mess with them in any way. You’ll typically hear the lids “pop” as they cool.
   After the jars have completely cooled, usually overnight, check the lids to make sure they properly sealed. The lid should be indented in the center and not give with gently pressure. If the lid does give, or pops when you press it down, it did not properly seal and should be reprocessed or eaten soon. The most common reason for an unsuccessful seal is forgetting to wipe clean the lip of the jar before placing the lid on, but check the lid and lip of the jar for damage you may have missed.
   You may remove the rings for reuse -if a proper vacuum seal was achieved the rings are no longer needed. Wash the jars in cool water, label with the contents and date for storage rotation, and place them in a cool, dry, dark area.

   If you’re in doubt about a food item’s acidity, simple add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to each pint or quart to ensure high acidity -it won’t affect the taste much, if at all, but along with acidity it will add nutritional value.
   Don’t panic if foods change color after processing, as this is often due to the caramelization of natural sugars and other natural chemical reactions. Corn, for instant, can turn brownish during canning because of some varieties high sugar content, but corn can also turn brownish because of over processing or minerals in your water. Remember, you didn’t add any chemicals to preserve coloring and this is why commercial canners do -simply to preserve a fresh, colorful appearance. The flavor is not directly affected by processing color change. You may have some trouble convincing your children of this, but this is a good opportunity to educate them about all the questionable stuff that actually goes into commercially processed foods, and just how natural and healthy this process really is.
   Drastic changes in temperature can crack and break your jars. Always put hot food into hot jars, cold food into warm jars, and never put hot jars onto cold surfaces or in drafty areas. Preheat jars in your canning pot, or set up another pot of water specifically for preheating.
   Adjust your processing times according to your altitude. Longer processing times are required for higher elevations. Typically it breaks down like this- 5 additional minutes for altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000feet, 10 additional minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet, 15 additional minutes for altitudes of 6,001 to 8,000-feet and 20 additional minutes of processing time for 8001 to 10,000 feet of elevation.
   To make syrup to add to canned fruits -bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring frequently.
·         Light syrup -2 C. sugar + 4 C. water = 5 C. syrup
·         Medium syrup -3 C. sugar + 4 C. water = 5 ½  C. syrup
·         Heavy syrup -4 ¾ C. sugar + 4 C. water = 6 ½ C. syrup

Here are a couple simple fruit canning recipes to help get you started. (Elevations under 1000 feet)

*Choose firm, naturally sweet apples like Gala, Fiji or Rome for best results. Red delicious apples are softer so expect a much softer finished product. Experiment with mixing different varieties.
·         Wash, peel, core, remove bad spots and slice into large wedges or thin slices, depending on your preference and firmness of apple variety.
·         Bring a gallon of water to a boil.
·         Place prepared apples in the boiling water, return to a boil and boil for 1 minute.
·         Pack hot apples into hot jars, gently jostle the jar as you do to minimize air space, leaving ½ inch of headspace.
·         Fill the jars with the apple water left over from boiling, leaving ½ inch of headspace.
·         Seal and place jars in water bath canning pot.
·         Boil 20 minutes for pint or quart jars

*Processing releases the natural sugars in apples, but for a little extra sweetness dissolve 2 cups of sugar in your apple boiling water. For even more sweetness fill the jars with light syrup instead of apple water. For crisper apples you can “cold pack” them like the berry recipe below.

Raw Berries
*Use only fresh berries.
·         Wash, drain, cap and stem.
·         Place ½ cup of hot, light syrup or water in each hot jar.
·         Fill jars to within ½ inch from the top with fresh berries, shaking gently while filling.
·         Add more hot syrup or water leaving ½ inch headspace.
·         Seal and place in water bath canning pot.
·         Boil 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 minutes for quart jars.

   See! Isn’t that easy? Explore on-line for recipes, get your friends involved, call up granny and plead for secret family recipes, experiment, have fun!
   Keep record of all the recipes you use and tips and tricks you pick up along the way -someone may reach out to you someday and plead for your secret recipes.

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