This time of year, bounty hunters are everywhere. From gardens, to farmer’s markets, to trees bearing fallen fruit, hunters are on the prowl. These hunters are searching for produce (and not on-the-lamb fugitives, à la Dog), in their backyards, from their neighbors, and offered by area farmers. The season’s bounty is upon us, and it’s do or die (or, wilt? rot?) time.
For many, the answer for what to do with all that fruit and veg deliciousness lies in home canning. A new wave of canners, thinking outside the jar, are holding jam sessions and finding themselves in a pickle with unmatched enthusiasm. In fact, next weekend, August 29-30, Canning Across America (their tagline is “Join the Canvolution!”) is planning a huge kick-off, with nationwide how-to classes, demonstrations, and home canning parties (my friend Nicole and I are thinking of hosting one ourselves!). Let’s take a look at the world of home canning and go over some “simmering” questions and “boiling” concerns.
CLICK HERE for Ashley’s full post (and complete home canning how-tos!) after the jump!
Time In A Bottle: Home Canning: Continued….
*Full disclosure: I’m particularly fond of the topic of home canning because I’ve actually written a book on it! “Canning & Preserving with Ashley English”, part of my “Homemade Living” series (which also includes books on “Raising Chickens,” “Home Dairy”, and “Keeping Bees”), published by Lark Books , will be available April 2010 wherever books are sold (“Home Dairy” and “Keeping Bees” will be out in April 2011).
Why should you can? Canning allows you to literally put time in a bottle. Produce that might otherwise go to waste, either from a bumper crop harvest or a hasty ripening, can be transformed into items to be consumed at a later date. Canning also lets you use the freshest, healthiest, most nutritious ingredients possible, as the fruits, vegetables, and, on occasion herbs, are harvested at their peak of ripeness, making their inherent nutrients more available for use by the body. It’s also a great way to socialize, in my opinion. You meet up with your best buds, assemble your ingredients (gathered either from someone’s backyard, your local farmer’s market, or a nearby u-pick farm), fire up the water bath, and get busy (mimosas, though purely optional, definitely seal the canning deal, in my opinion).
I live in the city. Is canning possible in a tiny apartment? Canning absolutely makes sense for an apartment dweller. For one thing, canning equipment doesn’t take up a large amount of space. Unless you’re planning on canning multiple dozens of each item you produce, the amount of space offered in an apartment kitchen should handle your goods. You could also use shelving space in a hall closet, or use an armoire or out-of-direct sunlight shelf to store jars. Lastly, some of the largest variety of produce available can be found at urban farmer’s markets. I’m thinking in particular of NYC’s Green Markets, as well as the farmer’s markets in Berkley, CA. Just because you don’t grow the fruits or vegetables doesn’t mean you might not impulsively decide to purchase multiple pints of berries or a bushel or two of fragrant apples, which you’ll then need to figure out something to do with. Canning is the perfect solution. Plus, it helps to encourage self-sufficiency, should your apartment, or city for that matter, ever experience a power outage due to a freeze, hurricane, or other act of nature. Canned goods don’t require refrigeration, so, electricity or not, you’ll have shelf-stable goods ready for consumption.
O-kay, what about botulism? Is home canning dangerous? Not if it’s done safely. In order for that to occur, if you’re new to canning, be sure to purchase a canning recipe book published within the last two decades. Safety standards and methods have changed with recent scientific findings on how pathogens and microscopic organisms spread. If you follow the recipes in these newer books, or amend older recipes to conform to the processing methods described in more recent publications, then home canning is perfectly safe. The danger comes from a novice canner not knowing about ph, which determines whether a food needs to be pressure canned or is safe to be water bath canned. If you take the time to read up on the topic before diving in, and then take your time the first few times you fire up the canner, you’ll be just fine.
Does it cost a lot to get started canning? Not very much is actually needed to can, which surprises some people. You can get all sort of new, shiny items, or you can appropriate things most of us already have in our kitchens. You’ll need:
-Stock pot or canner (stainless-steel or enamel-coated aluminum are best)
-Canning jars (these are made with tempered glass; don’t use old mayonnaise or peanut butter jars or the like as they’re not intended for multiple use and could crack or fail to secure the lid properly)
-Screw bands and lids (new lids each time, screw bands can be used multiple times, providing they are free of rust)
-Extras/helpful: Silicone mitt; Lid magnet; Jar lifter; Canning rack for lifting in and out of canner or you can use a metal trivet on the bottom of the canner; Non-metallic device for removing trapped air bubbles like a chopstick or rubber spatula)
I hate waste. Why can’t I reuse canning lids? It’s recommended that new lids be used each time you can. The flat lids are fashioned from tin-plated steel that has been covered in a food-grade coating. Running the circumference of the underside of the lid is a rubber compound, specially formulated for vacuum-sealing foods canned at home. After processing, the vacuum seal produces a permanent impression in the lid, thereby rendering them unsafe for reuse. Once you’ve used a lid, while it cannot be used in canning again, it doesn’t have to go into the trashcan. Either use it for storing dry goods in your pantry, or save them up and give them to a local elementary school for arts and crafts projects (I remember making canning lid Christmas ornaments!).
What about European style jars with rubber gaskets? This is a somewhat contentious topic in canning circles. In my book, I only recommend use of mason jars topped with two-piece lid and screw band enclosures. I live in the United States and that is the method espoused by the USDA. They claim the European style jars with hinged glass lids and rubber gaskets are unsafe for use because such closures don’t offer a failsafe method of determining if the jar is sealed, short of opening it. That said, this type of jar is used all over the world, with safe results. The decision to use these jars is entirely up to the individual. I would recommend to those interested in using such jars to read up more on their efficacy and make the most informed decision they can.
If your interest is piqued, or you’re already on board but want some more information, check out the following websites:
I LOVE these canning blogs:
Supplies, including jars, lids, water-bath canners, pressure canners, and assorted tools can be found at the following sites:
Oh, and do tell, what’s cooking in your kitchen?