Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Getting Started with Canning

The idea of canning always seemed so intimidating. All I knew about it was that people used to do it in the ‘olden days’ when prepared food wasn’t so easily accessible or affordable. I was always intrigued but too nervous to try because it seemed like a lot of things could go wrong if you didn’t know what you were doing. But then my husband and I moved into a neighborhood where I met someone who majored in Home Economics. Who knew that was even a college major? Finally, I felt I could learn from a master. That summer I tried my hand at pears, peaches, salsa, sugar-free apricot jam and grape juice. Wow! It’s amazing how much better food tastes when you grow and bottle it yourself. I loved that I knew exactly what was in my food. No weird additives or ingredients I can’t pronounce.

This summer I will share recipes using each canning item below. If you want to follow along, here is what you will need. 

Luckily, there are different degrees of canning. You don’t have to go straight to the pressure canner with no experience. I think it is easier to build up slowly using easy recipes before making the investment for intense canning supplies. In fact, there are certain things you can make where you don’t need anything else besides the jars.

Personally, I like the wide-mouth ones. It is much easier to get fruit in and out without mushing it, and scooping salsa out.

I didn’t actually have one of these the first few times I canned. And I can’t tell you how many times I burned myself by picking up the lids from steaming hot water with my bare fingers. These kits come with a magnetic wand that easily picks the lids up along with a jar lifter so you don’t burn yourself picking them out of boiling water, a wide mouth funnel to keep the jar mouths clean, jar wrench and kitchen tongs. I picked my set up from a regular grocery store on sale for about 10 bucks. See full specs here.

A water-bath canner is used to process high acidic foods, like fruits and pickles, once the jars are filled. Processing is a necessary step to get all the air out of the jars to insure a good seal. Getting the air out of the food also controls bacteria, yeast and mold growth so your food won’t spoil. See full specs here

Some people (my mom included) use a steamer instead of a water-bath canner. It’s faster, smaller and easier to use because you don’t have as much water to heat and you don’t have to fiddle around with the jar rack in the water-bath canner. The WSU Extension office says research on steam canners has found that food canned in them is not heated to a temperature as high as when the same food is canned in a boiling water bath canner. The lower temperature results in less killing power of the bacteria, under processing and considered a risk of spoilage. Therefore the use of steam canners for home canning is NOT recommended. But, my mom’s steam-canned food has always been fine so it’s up to you if you want to use one or not. See full specs here

This is what I was most afraid of when I started canning. I could just envision the lid shooting up into the air and steam going everywhere because I had used the wrong pressure to can my foods. A pressure canner is what is used to process low-acid foods like vegetables, meat, fish and poultry. It is the only thing that can reach the higher temperatures (240-250°) needed to kill bacteria in low-acid foods. Boiling water in a water-bath or steam canner only reaches 212°. When you use a pressure canner, you have to make sure you get all the air out, use the right pound pressure and the right times for your foods. This is why I am saving it for last. The main thing to look for in a pressure canner is to make sure there is enough space for 1 level of quarts jars or 2 levels of pints stacked on top of each other. This canner has great reviews so I went with this. See full specs here

OK, that's everything necessary to start canning, now all you need are some recipes. I'll be posting those as the summer goes so check back often!

1 comment:

  1. I love the part about the Pressure Canner and your fear of the lid shooting off! Funny. Excited for more...