Planning For Canning And Preserving

Introduction

Canning is a method of food preservation that requires common sense. You can play around with ingredients, invent new recipes, and even make artistic labels that wow your friends, but cleanliness and organization are the keys to germ-free jars of food.

The most important rule for canning, and especially pressure canning, is keep the process clean and simple. This means keeping the work area and equipment as clean as you possibly can. You should also avoid nonstandard jars and any clutter—such as jar decorations—until after the food is ready for the pantry. You want as tidy a workspace as possible, especially as you’re just getting started.

Following are other important things to consider when planning for canning:

Start in the garden: grow what you like.

  1. Choose your ingredients wisely—freshest and ripest.
  2. Know the proper steps to canning.
  3. Prepare and pack the right way.
  4. Use reliable, tested recipes.
  5. Update your canning knowledge.

Let’s look at each more closely.

1. Choose Your Ingredients Wisely

Always start with the freshest and ripest ingredients you can. This means you should be prepared to can before you shop. Even if you don’t have the specific recipe ready to go, you can have all the equipment—jars, lids, rings, jar lifter, funnel, etc.—ready before you start. At a minimum, take inventory so if you’re out of something, like jars or lids, you can pick them up when you go shopping.

It might be tempting to can less-than-perfect produce. Sure, canning “ugly” vegetables is okay. Sometimes you’ll find tomatoes, carrots, or other vegetables that taste great but have an odd shape or other imperfection. These are fine for canning! However, avoid canning wilted, soft, or bruised foods. Starting with bruised or damaged food can give decay and bad bacteria that come with it a head start. Softer vegetables will also be even softer after canning, which most often works against your recipe. Use only firm, ripe foods at their peak of freshness.

Using fresh, local produce that your family loves is the best place to start with canning.

2. Know the Steps to Canning

Wall-mounted shelves holding labeled jars of dry ingredients

Successful canning means getting food quickly from the market or garden into jars. We’ll cover the basic steps and you should be familiar with them and your recipe before you start your work. The middle of a recipe isn’t the time to look something up. Even now, at the beginning of a season, I do a dry run through the process, pretending to can. It may look silly, but many times I realize I don’t have a funnel or enough dish towels. My canning kitchen looks quite different from my regular kitchen; many items on my counters are put away and I have clear access around the room. Before knowing the steps to canning, let’s discover more about finding fermentation.

3. Prepare and Pack the Right Way

Even the most pristine fruits and vegetables require preparation for canning. For one, you’ll want to wash off any dirt—or scrub, in the case of root vegetables. You’ll also remove stems, leaves, and any part of the plant you don’t want to eat (such as a tough end of a rhubarb stalk).

Beyond cleaning and cutting, you’ll also be following a recipe to cold pack or hot pack your produce. Cold packing, also known as raw packing, is exactly what it sounds like: packing raw vegetables or fruit in the hot jars and pouring hot liquid over top before canning. Hot packing, on the other hand, will have you cooking your vegetables or fruit before adding them—and often the cooking liquid—to the jars. If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry; your recipe will always be your guide on whether to cold or hot pack the jars.

Cutting uniformly sized pieces is key to ensuring the food in the jars cooks evenly.

4. Use Reliable, Tested Recipes

This can be a sensitive topic. Many cooks have emotional ties to recipes—and their historical significance—especially when it comes to something as classic as canning. The conflict comes from techniques or recipes that have since been proven unsafe. This is one area where caution rules. If you have an heirloom recipe, you can certainly find an updated version of it from a reliable source. You may also be able to troubleshoot the unsafe issue—say, by increasing the time of cooking to match modern standards. When all else fails, can the jars based on the most delicate ingredient. So, if you were to can your Great-Auntie M’s famous chicken soup, use the most modern techniques for canning chicken soup you can find and can it in a pressure cooker under the correct pressure for that ingredient.

As much as I am a scratch cook who doesn’t always stick to a recipe, when it comes to canning foods, following the rules is the only way. Changing things such as seasonings and how sweet you make a sugar syrup is fine, but be certain to follow canning recipes carefully and do not experiment with time and temperature.

5. Update Your Canning Knowledge

Assorted spices and sugars in jars on a wooden kitchen board

Each year, I review the USDA’s online guidelines for safe canning techniques. While my grandmother certainly knew what she was doing, I do things a little differently, and the next generation of canners will, too. We continue to learn ways to improve techniques, safety, and recipes as the years go by. It’s always a good idea to keep abreast of best practices. Recipes and techniques are often handed down through families, and it can be hard to change or give something up, but remember safety is key.

In this book, we’ll be referencing the most current USDA guidelines at the time of writing in 2017. While there may be further updates or minor adjustments if a new style of pressure cooker is introduced, these guidelines will serve you well overall no matter the year. Learn about fermenting.

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