We have greatly enjoyed our explorations of seasonal cooking and love the variety and freshness offered at our farmers markets in the summer and fall. However, there are certainly times in the dead of winter when we crave those fresh tastes of the summer - tomatoes, peaches, basil, cucumbers, etc. - but don't want to purchase foods from far away. Not only are these imports harmful for the environment, they tend to be more expensive and much less flavorful. While it seemed daunting at first, we decided to give preserving and pickling a try to capture our favorite flavors of the summer for enjoyment later in the year.
We tried canning for the first time last fall and made apple sauce and pickles. The apple sauce was delicious and we enjoyed it all winter long, but the pickles were lacking the crisp and bite normally associated with dill pickles. These experiences left us wanting to explore more this year, but also made us realize that we had a lot left to learn.
After attending a canning class in August and purchasing a canning cookbook, we felt like we had a much better sense of the process. Last weekend we made four recipes from the cookbook to experiment with different types of foods and flavors (look for the recipes in coming weeks). After sampling each of the recipes we are very happy with the results and eagerly look forward to enjoying them in a few months. Not only that, we loved spending the day in the kitchen with each other and enjoyed the fun and rewarding weekend project.
Canning certainly is not just for your grandmother and great-aunt, so follow our suggestions and give it a try before the summer produce runs out!
Tips to successful canning:
- As an amateur canner, always stick to the recipe - to keep canning a safe process, the ingredients must be balanced for acidity, sugar, and heat and any alteration to the recipe could risk changing the balance which a professional has ensured is correct
- Keep all ingredients and tools clean, but complete sterilization happens while sealing the final product in boiling water - another reason to follow recipes exactly
- Proper tools can make all of the difference - whether you buy a canning kit or individual items, we suggest these few to make the canning process easier and safer
- Canning tongs - prevents burned fingers much better than normal tongs (trust us)
- Canning funnel - has a wide mouth to keep the process clean and quick
- Round wire racks - ensures proper water circulation underneath cans
- A big pot - allows you to seal more cans at once and ensure complete coverage of the jars
- Magnetic lid lifter - not necessary but makes placing the hot lids on the jar easier
Canning recipes are coming in future posts and here we want to explain the basic process of canning using the boiling water method. While we are not experts in this field, we learned this process from our instructor and cookbook author of Put 'em up!, Sherri Brooks Vinton.
- Before preparing your ingredients, set up all equipment needed for the entire process.
- Place a wire rack at the bottom of a large pot and arrange jars in a single layer on top. If you have a tall enough pot and another wire rack, you can create another layer on top of this one. Also, if there is extra space in the pot, fill with extra jars to prevent the jars from tipping from the boiling water.
- Fill pot with water, bring to boil, and keep at low boil until you are ready to fill the jars. This is important to avoid placing hot ingredients in a cold jar which could break the jar as well as keeping the jars clean.
- Thoroughly rinse your ingredients and prepare the recipe, being sure to follow the steps exactly.
- When the recipe is ready to be canned, put the lids in a shallow bowl and cover with some of the boiling water to start to soften the rubber seal.
- Remove jars from boiling water and fill as directed in the recipe, ensuring proper head space on top. Where possible, ensure that any solid ingredients are covered by liquid on top.
- Run a plastic chopstick or flat end of a utensil around the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles that may be trapped.
- Wipe the top rim of the jar with a damp paper towel to ensure nothing with disrupt the seal.
- Place a lid on top of the jar and screw on a ring until it is "two-finger tight". This means that you should only tighten the ring with your thumb and index finger until the jar begins to spin on a towel. You don't want it to be too tight so that air can be released while boiling.
- Place jars back into water pot, ensuring they remain upright and fit tightly inside.
- Bring water back to a strong boil and boil for instructed time in recipe.
- Once done turn of heat, remove lid from pot, and allow to sit for five minutes.
- Carefully remove jars from water, being sure not to tip them, and place on a towel laid out on the counter. If water remains on top of the lid it is fine.
- Allow jars to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. After 24 hours, remove rings, check that each lid as popped down, and that they lid is well sealed. This can be done by turning the jar upside down (over a bowl) and if the lid doesn't fall off or leak then it is sealed.
- Label each jar and store in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Do not store with the ring on as this can trap moisture and develop bacteria.