Monday, August 23, 2010

Canning 101

It's the beginning of canning season for most people with summer produce needing to be used. A few years ago my husband and I decided to start canning from our garden. Our first summer canned salsa and marinara because our tomato plants produced amazingly well that year. My husband had a favorite recipe for marinara from his days of being the assistant chef at an italian restaurant in his home town. So, that's the one we chose to can. We did have to adapt it a little to make sure the acidity levels were right for canning, but that can easily be done by adding lemon juice or vinegar (you can look online for the amounts according to how much you are making). The salsa recipe we just searched for some online and picked one we thought worked well for our taste. During our garage saling days that summer we came across a sale where a lady had canned for YEARS and was getting rid of all her supplies, including her canning bath, tools, jars, extra lids, everything you need. She was selling her things for $1 a box!! AMAZING! So we spent $5 and walked away with everything we needed for that first year. After that first time, we were hooked. Now each summer we can something, usually several things and we've been trying new things each year and have really learned a lot about canning and really enjoy the process, using fresh and home grown produce, having a supply to get us through most of the year and being able to serve something healthy and fresh to our family and guests.

Of course every year we learn something new and have adapted our recipes and methods some to make things more efficient so I thought I'd share some of what we've learned with you. If there are other canners with great ideas, please fill us in too. We're always looking for better ways to do things.

*Give yourself plenty of time. Canning is not an instant project. It's something you'll want to allot a block of time to. For many canners, days/weeks are a more appropriate and realistic time frame because of the amount of recipes and produce they are canning. We usually do ours throughout the season for a day or two at a time. This is not a project you want to start at 7 or 8 o'clock one evening when you have to work the next morning. The prep work is usually the most time consuming. For recipes like salsa and marinara there is a lot of chopping involved so if you have a chopper or food processor those come in really handy. Some of that prep work can also be done the day before if you need to spread thing out over a couple days.

*Have a partner or two is helpful during several stages of the canning process. If you have someone to help you, take them up on that offer!

*Blanching-this is a process that helps preserve nutrients in your produce and is also a method of removing skin from things like tomatoes, peaches, pears, etc. The general idea is that you boil them for a few minutes and immediately put them into ice water. The skin will be cracked and easy to just peel off your with your hands.

*Once you have your ingredients prepped, you are ready to start cooking. Depending on what you're making it could be just a few minutes, but most things need to boiling for a set amount of time to ensure it is safe and healthy and preserved correctly.

*While you are cooking your food you should have your jars and lids boiling in a large pot to sanitize them and prepare them for the food.

* About the time your food is about ready to pour into your jars, you'll need to get your jars out and on the counter with a funnel. Pour your food into your jars allowing for the amount of space required for your recipe. Wipe the lid with a paper towel to make sure there isn't any food interfering with the seal of the lid. Place your lid (that was boiling) on there and lightly screw on the band.

* Processing the food- each recipe requires a certain amount of processing (boiling) time in your pot according to your altitude, size of jars and ingredients. All that can be looked up in your canning recipe or online. It needs to be completely submerged and standing straight up. You'll need a rack or something on the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pan.

*After you have boiled your jars for the amount of time needed you pull them out of the pot using the special tools for grabbing jars. Put them in a place on the counter where they can cool and usually after about 12 hours you can make sure the seal worked (the lid won't pop any more). If it did, you're all done and you can store things for later. If not, you'll have to re-process the jars that didn't seal.

*I forgot to add the funnel to this picture, you really should have one on hand for canning. 

During the cooking and canning, you have several things going on at once which is why a partner is helpful to help make sure you don't miss a step and things are ready when you need them. Some of the more simple canning recipes are fruit and jams. There isn't as much to prep or cook, so if you want to start with something that is less overwhelming that would be my suggestion. You can usually find a jam recipe right on the back of a box of fruit pectin (found in the canning isle, used to preserve fruit and an ingredient in jams).

If you give it a try let me know how it goes! Also, if you have done canning before and have other tips, fill us in on that too.

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