If you are a relatively new reader, you may not know that I recently took up canning. In my strive to eat both locally and seasonally, I have been buying produce in bulk when it is at its cheapest, and transforming it to enjoy through the winter. U-Pick cherries have been made into frozen cherries and cherry butter. $2/lb blueberries are now pints of blueberry butter and quarts of spirited blueberries. Just yesterday, I turned excess sungold tomatoes from the Savvy Garden into a pint of preserves (if you haven’t tried tomato preserves on a grilled cheese sandwich, you must remedy that situation ASAP).
Why do I can?
Because it allows me to eat locally all year long. Because it means I will be able to bring back the flavor and feeling of summer on a snowy December day. Because it gives me full control over the amount of sugar added to the preserves. Because I can season my preserves however I want , giving me more flavor options than I would find at the co-op.
Want to do some canning yourself? You will need:
Canning jars (necessary). Use jars specifically made for canning to ensure you can get a proper seal. You will be able to reuse the jars once you’ve eaten up the preserves. I use our jars for bulk foods, refrigerating leftovers, or more canning. Just be sure to get a new lid if you reuse a jar for canning — the seals along the edges of the flat lids only work once!
A deep stockpot (necessary). For your jars to be shelf-stable (ie: the unopened jars will last a few months in your pantry), you need to use the boiling water canning method. Older recipes suggest inverting the jars to create a seal, but the USDA no longer regards this as safe: DON’T DO IT! The Ball preserving site has a great tutorial!
Note: If you are canning vegetables or other low-acid foods, including pumpkins, you MUST use a pressure cooker and an approved recipe. The boiling water method will not be sufficient to knock out all the potentially dangerous microbes!
A rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the stockpot (necessary). Boiling water needs to be able to surround the jars from all sides, including the bottom, in order for your preserves to be safe. Special canning pots come with a rack, but you can also rig something up yourself.
Jar lifter or tongs (necessary). You need something to lift the jars out of boiling water, right? A jar lifter will only set you back about $8, and is better suited for the size of the jars, but regular tongs with rubber bands on the end (to keep the metal from scratching the glass jars) will work as well.
Wide-mouth funnel (optional). You could fill the jars without one, but this makes the process much easier and saves you on clean-up time.
Magnetic lid lifter (optional). I still don’t have one of these, but I wish I did! I use tongs to get the lids out of the boiling water, but the magnet would be a lot more convenient.
What to Can
Use USDA-approved recipes or Ball Preserving tested recipes. This is by far the safest, and best, way to start out canning. The water activity (the “free” water in the product), acidity, oxygen level, and processing temperature/time all factor into the safety of preserves, and it can be difficult to determine whether or not your recipe will be safe or how long they will be good for. With my food science background, I feel pretty confident in the adjustments I make to recipes. However, in general, you should follow these rules:
- DO NOT substitute vinegar or fresh lemon juice for bottled lemon juice…the acidity levels are not the same!
- Adjust your processing time based on your altitude, as suggested by published tables.
- In general, you can slightly adjust the types and amount of spices in a recipe.
- You can decrease the amount of low-acid foods, such as peppers or onions, but NEVER increase them.
Tomorrow, I’ll be posting my recipe for peach butter, which is currently bubbling away in the crock pot. It takes little effort to make and a lot of hours cooking at low temperatures. In the meantime, your kitchen will smell fantastic and if you live in an area experiencing a cold snap (like Ithaca!), it will keep your kitchen warm.