Okay, so now you have decided to try your hand at gardening and find that you have a wicked bounty! What to do, what to do, when your counters are filling up with the product of your work? You find you just can’t keep up. You just can’t eat all that is coming out of your gardens! You find it is rotting before you can cook it. You’ve heard of canning, but that is so intimidating. Have no fear. help is here.
There are a number of ways to preserve your food. In most cases you can freeze or can. Some fruits and root veggies can be kept in a “root cellar”. Basically a place that is cool and dry. If you are ambitious, you could build one in the basement with ventilation pulled in from the outside into an insulated room that keeps temperatures down. Probably the easiest way is to freeze your food. This can be done by cutting up the food, blanching in boiling water for a minute or two and then quickly getting the temperature down to prevent cooking. Usually this is done by taking it out of the boiling water and into an ice bath. Once cool, put in a colander to allow most of the water to drain off. Once they have drained well, you can place them in freezer bags. I use quart bags to keep them portion controlled. You could also use gallon bags for sliced squash, broccoli or carrots. You can take out what you need and leave the rest frozen. For other products you can use the Ball jars like the one above. That takes a little more processing. If you have kids, you can make it a family project.
Probably, the first you want to do is to get the supplies. You don’t have to get Ball products, but they do have starter kits that have the jar lifters. You won’t want to lift those hot jars by hand. They have the special funnels that fit the jar openings. So you want to start by getting together all the supplies you will need. You can find most of what you need at your local market. I cannot emphasize enough, overbuy your jars. You will find that you are so proud of your “product” that you will be giving jars out to family and friends. Many times, those jars don’t come back, so stock up. Jars consist of the actual jar, rings, and lids. The lids are not reusable, so stock up on those. The bands are good until they start to rust.
So before we get too far into it, let’s look at the two methods for canning. There are two methods, hot water bath and pressure cooking. Hot water bath is the easiest as it requires simply putting a rack in a big pot and enough water to cover the jars. You get that to a rolling boil. I usually will put the empty jars in during the boil. This does two things, sanitizes the jars to ensure no nasties get in there to spoil your product, and also to get the temperature of the jars up to process your hot product. I then take the jars out and empty the water back into the pot. Remember, the rules of displacement. While the jars contain the water while it is boiling and sanitizing, it will be replaced by food product. So you don’t want to put all the water back in there or you might find yourself bailing water out if you haven’t got a deep enough pot.
The other method is pressure canning. That gets a bit more technical as you have to process the jars according to recommendations for pressure and timing. Not to worry though, as there are plenty of resources to show you how long to process. The one above is a Presto canner that can be had for about $100. It can be used to pressure cook other foods kind of like you would use a crockpot, but for our purpose, we are concerned only with canning. This is one of the better methods for foods that are low in acid. On this model, there is a pressure gauge, the black object is a weight that acts as a safety vent should pressure get too high, it will allow the steam to vent. Another feature of this model is the lock pin. As the pressure builds, it pops up preventing you from twisting open the top while under pressure. So see, they are looking out for you, so sit back, relax and have some home made salsa. To borrow a phrase from my homebrewing days. (Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew. – Charlie Pappazian)
Now, no matter which method you are using, the basics apply. Follow the instructions on filling so you get the right head space. Make sure to wipe your tops. This helps to ensure a good seal. Tighten the bands until they make contact but don’t snug them down. You have to allow for some steam to escape. After they have been processed and start to cool, you hear that great popping sound as the tops suck in and seal the lids. Once the jars have cooled, you can tighten them a bit more. Wipe them all down and get them in the pantry.
Canning does take a bit of time. You have to ensure all your gear is clean. Make sure that you have enough jars, bands, and lids. The last thing you want to do is to get in the middle of the process and get an oh whoops moment. In the end, you will have some of the best food you have ever tasted. If you don’t have your own garden, there are many farmer’s markets around. You might want to check them out. I love Vidalia onions but haven’t chanced growing onions yet, so I depend on the market for those. They key is to use as much of your own produce or as much from sources you know. Take a chance, you may find that the process is easy and well worth it.
My heart to your heart, one heart, one spirit.