The three most common ways to preserve foods are freezing, drying, pickling, and canning. For a rundown on how to freeze the delicious summer produce piled mountain-high at your local farmer’s market, click here; and for dehydrating instructions, click here.
There are two primary methods of canning: a hot water bath and pressure canning. Whichever method you use, be sure to use jars with lids made specifically for that technique. Glass canning jars, which are reusable, come in various sizes (most are single pints or quarts), so choose one that best suits your canning needs. Do not use jars larger than specified in the recipe you follow, as an unsafe product may result.
While most people think of canned foods as salty, being creative allows you to choose the salinity. Use canning salt, not table salt, because regular table salt can make vegetables soggy. Wipe down the rims of the jars before applying the lids and rings to ensure a tight fit – vital for a safe seal. For canning recipes, methods, and techniques for various fruit and vegetable types, check out "How to Can Anything" at www.PickYourOwn.org.
Hot water bath canning
The hot water bath canning method is for foods that are neutral or acidic (pH greater than 4.6), such fruits, pickles, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, marmalades, and fruit butters. Most fruits and vegetables will last up to 12 months when canned using this method.
When making jams and jellies, it is important to sterilize the jars, lids, and rings for 10 minutes in boiling hot water before using them. An alternative method is to fill the jars halfway with tap water and place them in the microwave until the water boils. Carefully lift out the jars and discard the water; place the jars upside down on a clean dish towel under ready to fill them.
- a large pot, preferably a canning pot
- sterilized jars, lids, and rings
- jar rack and/or jar lifter (jar grabbing tongs)
- the foods to be canned
How to do it:
- Begin by following the directions on your preferred recipe for jam, jelly, sauce, canned vegetables, etc. Prepare fruits and/or vegetables according to the recipe and fill the sterilized jars with the final product, as indicated in the recipe. Add the sterilized lid and ring and tighten.
- Fill a canning pot halfway with water and preheat it to 140-180 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add your canned goods (complete with lids) to the pot. Some canning-specific pots come with a rack to hold the jars, which makes for easy removal of the hot jars. If you don’t have such a rack, simply place the jars one by one into the water (and later remove with a jar-lifting set of tongs).
- Add boiling water to the pot to bring the water level to 1 inch above the submerged jars; bring the whole pot to a vigorous boil.
- As soon as the water begins to boil, start the timer according to the recipe instructions. Cover and reduce the heat to maintain a low boil and process for the recommended time.
- When the time is up, carefully remove the jars to cool on a towel or cooling rack. Use extreme caution, as the contents will be very hot! If it has been done correctly, the lids should be sealed and concave, and as the jars cool, you will hear little “pings” as the lids prove their seals. Check the seals after 12-24 hours.
The pressure canning method is necessary for any foods that are low acid (pH lower than 4.6) because these foods are not acidic enough to prohibit the growth of bacteria which can cause extreme and potentially fatal food poisoning. Low-acidic foods include red meats, seafood, poultry, milk, and all fresh vegetables except most tomatoes. In addition, all foods that can be canned with the hot water bath method (above) can also be processed using this method.
The heat, up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, and pressure generated by using the pressure canning method should be effective in killing all harmful bacteria. It isn't necessary to sterilize the jars, lids, and rings when using this method as the canning process itself will kill all harmful bacteria.
Pressure canning prevents most foods from spoiling altogether, extending their shelf life longer than many other preserving techniques do. However, a pressure canner must be used. These can be expensive, but when well cared for, they will last for generations. Most are made of aluminum or stainless steel and come with a locking lid that is vented for steam, a jar rack, an automatic vent, a pressure gauge on top, and a safety fuse. Make sure to read the pressure canner instructions so that you fully understand the process before attempting to do so!
- pressure canner
- jars, lids, and rings
- jar lifters
- the foods to be canned
How to do it:
- Follow the directions in the manual to determine how many cups of water to add to the pot before starting. Unlike the hot water bath method, pressure canning does not require jars to be fully submerged in water—usually just 2-3 cups.
- Place the jar rack down into the water and, using jar lifters, place the filled jars down into it.
- Fasten the lid securely and vent it according to the manual.
- Heat the water to a boil until steam flows out, then leave the weight off the vent port (or petcock depending on the pressure canner). At this point, you will probably hear a hissing noise.
- Turn the burner up as high as it will go until steam starts coming out of the vent (or petcock) for 10 straight minutes (or as directed in the manual).
- Next, pressurize the canner. Close the petcock or put the weight on and watch the gauge begin to rise to the required pressure. Once it reaches that pressure, start timing (duration varies by jar size, contents, and altitude, but it is often between 5 and 15 minutes). Adjust the stove burner as needed to maintain the pressure.
- Once finished, turn off the burner and allow the pressure to normalize before removing lid. Use extreme caution when removing the jars; the steam can burn and the contents of the jars will be very hot! Place jars onto a towel or cooling rack.
For more information about food preservation supplies, techniques and recipes, refer to the following books:
BALL Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine
Canning and Preserving for Dummies by Karen Ward
Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Want to learn about pickling fruits and vegetables? Watch this site for more information.
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