By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain
For more direct instruction, Wach Our Canning Video.
If you’ve only had canned food from the grocery store, you probably assume that the canning process leaches flavor, requires amazing quantities of preservatives, and takes too much time to do at home. Our factory-made culture has kept many of us from appreciating the wonderful experience of growing, preserving, and safely savoring our own food months later. Canning is a great way to eat like a Locavore all year round, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the fresh flavor of home-canned fruits and vegetables. Plus, kitchen canning your own food will save you money after the initial investment for canning supplies. (It seems like going green almost always saves green these days, doesn’t it?)
If you’d like to can your own food this year, plan your garden carefully. Consider which crops will probably produce too much food for you to use all at once. Instead of giving it away, or letting it rot in the composter, can that extra food for an easy source of local, organic food in the winter.
If gardening isn’t a possibility, choose the freshest fruits and vegetables for your canning ventures. Farmer’s markets are a great source for fresh produce, since their offerings haven’t spent days in transit or sitting in a store.
Canning food extends its life by sealing out the micro-organisms that cause food to spoil. To kill live spoil-inducing micro-organisms, the food is put in jars, and “bathed” in a pot of boiling water for a certain amount of time. There are two methods for preserving food through canning. The one we’ll discuss today is called the Boiler Bath Method. This type of canning may safely be used for fruits and tomatoes, pickles and preserves—basically, high-acid foods with a pH of 4.6 or less. It’s important that they have high amounts of acid because otherwise, this method wouldn’t be safe. Foods that have a pH of more than 4.6 (such as dairy foods, meats, vegetables, seafood and chicken) require pressure cooking to kill the stubborn spores of the deadly clostridium botulinum bacteria. (Pressure cooking brings the water to boil a higher temperature, one which can’t be reached without pressure.)
So, be safe and only use this boiling water bath method with high-acid foods.
How to set up your bath: You want to be able to completely cover the whole group of jars with water, so you’re probably looking for a deep stewing pot. You can spring for a water bath canner with a specially fitted rack, to keep the jars from hitting each other as they bump around in the boiling water. We offer a few options from Fagor.) Alternatively, you can simply stuff clean kitchen towels between the jars to secure them in place.
Prepare your fruit/tomatoes/pickles/preserves. Here’s where a little research is necessary. Where will you go for toothsome canning recipes?
The Government. The Federal government has great resources on how to safely preserve food. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), for instance, is an informative project and site funded by several agencies including the US Department of Agriculture. The NCHFP offers a plethora of snappy, informational power points, recipes, and even a self-paced online class on canning basics.
The Web. A plethora of canning resources await you online. Simply type “home canning recipes” into any search engine and learn that your fellow canners are also technology geeks. As you earn your canning chops, stick to recipes from big, reliable sources that many other visitors are enjoying. Because unsafe canning practices can lead to toxic canned food, be sure you trust the source until you understand the process well enough to distinguish the safe recipes.
Canning manufacturers’ websites are another source of excellent canning information. At FreshPreserving.com, you can search jar manufacturer Ball’s website full of canning recipes by food type or by preserving method. (See the “Freezing” recipes section for incredibly easy ways to preserve food.)
When you find a canning product that you like, check out their online presence. Chances are, they’ll have enough canning recipes to keep you busy for years.
Enjoy the freshest tastes of your region and garden throughout the winter as you open your cans. Tell all of your friends how much you love living “off the food grid.” Assure your mom that you’re getting all the vitamins you need from your delicious canned food.
Clean and Sterilize. Remember that you’ll need to thoroughly clean and sterilize your jars the next time you want to can something. This is another precaution for ensuring safe food.