I sort of stumbled back into canning a couple years back when I came upon a you-pick farm just south of Tampa, Florida. I grew up in a family that raised and put up a lot of its own food. My mom and grandma’s spent every end of summer putting up fruit jams, beans, applesauce, apple butter and many other delights. So I’m no stranger to the hard, hot work involved, but until a couple of summers ago, I really thought that my days of tending a boiling canning kettle were through.
But, there were all these tomatoes I had picked, and my freezer was beyond full. And then a Craigslist “free stuff” post netted me 10 dozen canning jars, a canning kettle, and other miscellaneous equipment from a sweet older lady in Tampa who was moving and was absolutely delighted to pass on the canning torch to a new generation. “Bless your heart,” she kept saying as I loaded yet another dusty box of Mason jars (each carefully wrapped in old News Papers) into my car. Little did she know it was her that should be having her heart blessed, because this treasure of mason jars was going to provide me with years of fresh canned goods, over and over again.
So I canned eight dozen jars of tomato sauce and salsa. My mom came down and she re-taught me how to “put up” all kinds of different things, thus adding beans, apple butter and applesauce to my canning repertoire. I’ve become a canning fool–and I’m not alone. Lots of people these days are buying fresh and putting up there own food. Maybe it’s because of the cost of store bought fruits and vegetables, or the fact that there are so many chemicals and GMO’s in the items we buy now, that they are assuming the mantle of home food preservation from their grandparents’ generation. Canning, it seems, has become cool and very smart again.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, many of my pals are big into retro-cool ideas now like home gardens and even back yard chickens. The whole DIY vibe in conjunction with the local-foods movement made canning’s comeback only natural. And, really, it’s not that hard, especially if you don’t grow the produce yourself. A few weekend days spent cruising the farmers’ market and hauling height-of-the-season fruits and vegetables home for an afternoon of canning is time well spent. It will pay off in the dead of winter, when peaches are hard or mealy, and in need of a passport in order to reach local stores. Those jars of juicy golden peaches, picked and processed at their peak, will taste heavenly by comparison–and, having gone nowhere in the meantime, remain locally grown.
Home-canned foods make some people paranoid, because of the possibilities of food-borne illness. What we’re talking about is Clostridium botulinum, one of the nastiest neurotoxins on the planet. The botulism organism itself is abundant in the environment but is killed by heat during the canning process; however, botulism’s hardy spores can survive boiling temperatures to thrive and multiply in the anaerobic environment of a sealed jar. Since the spores are odorless and tasteless and the toxin they produce can make you very, very sick or even dead, this is nothing to mess with.
However, there’s an extremely easy way to play it safe: lemon juice. Botulism cannot survive in an acid environment, and so canning acidic fruits like apples, peaches, or berries means no botulism risk. A little lemon juice squeezed into each jar not only ups the acid content but also makes the fruit taste sweeter by contrast. Tomatoes and anything in vinegar–a whole world of pickles and chutneys–are also terrific canning candidates. Higher pH veggies like green beans, however, are better frozen than canned, as botulism can’t survive below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and canning them safely requires using a specialized pressure canner to heat them to a temperature well over boiling. Which if not done correctly, can render them tasteless and mushy. Having my mother as a teacher, my green beans turn out perfect every time. Thanks MOM!!!!
For basic water-bath canning you really need only canning jars, lids, and sealing rings; a case of 12 costs about $9. You don’t need a dedicated canning kettle; any large pot will work to boil the jars, though they need to be raised up off the pot bottom lest the direct heat crack the glass. A canning kettle includes a removable rack for this purpose, but a vegetable steamer can work in a pinch. One handy tool is a jar lifter, a set of tongs designed to fit around the neck of a canning jar–without one it can be tricky to retrieve the jars from their boiling bath.
Y’all, canning is not hard. It will provide you with fresh locally grown food, and you will know exactly what your eating. Give it a try. Even if it is with something as simple as a jelly or salsa.
For a list of my home canning recipes, CLICK HERE!