Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Canning 101

Canning is something we can all get into.  You don’t need to have a huge garden to can fresh fruits and veggies.  Last week I posted a few tips and tricks to getting the best produce from your local farmers market.  Those fresh fruits and veggies are perfect to can for enjoyment all winter long.  

If you are new to preserving food, canning is a great place to start but it can also seem a bit intimidating.    There are so many books and websites out there to help get you started, and asking around your community will bring a wealth of information and maybe a few new friends!  I made two different batches of jelly over the weekend and remembered a few tricks you won’t find in the books.

First off, befor you even wash your produce, make sure you are ready to can from start to finish and you have plenty of time.  You never want to put a time limit on preserving food.  My kitchen is not set up well for canning (The sink and stove are separated by a large island) so I have to make sure I am completely prepared befor I get started or else I will be wasting a ton of time walking in circles.  I clear and wash the counters next to my sink and stove as well as the island.  I prepare my jars and rings in a bath of hot water in my sink and my lids in a small pot of hot water.  Make sure you prepare more jars than you think you will use.  I always end up with at least one extra jars worth of jam.  I also make sure I have all my tools out and ready for use.  Canning without all the special tongs/magnets/headspace ruler is certainly possible but buying a set of canning utensils is inexpensive and will take some stress out of the process.  

If you are making jams or jellies, you have some options on how you want it to come out.  Do you want large chunks of fruit or no chunks at all?  I prefer a smoother jam without chunks of fruit so I send everything through a blender or food processor befor I start cooking.  For a chunkier jam you can use a potato masher or spoon to crush up your fruit.  For a more Jelly type product you will need a cheese cloth type strainer to sift out all the seeds and chunks.  

This next tip is something I have not personally tried, but it has been mentioned by a handful of people that swear by it so I will share it with y’all.  As you are cooking your jam, add a tablespoon of butter.  This is supposed to reduce the amount of foam at the end of the process.  I don’t mind skimming foam off my jam befor ladling it into jars, I actually find it a little therapeutic. 

The final few steps of canning are best done with assistance but I have accomplished the entire process solo.  It is important that you only do one jar at a time, using an assembly line type process could compromise the integrity of your product.  Always put hot liquid into hot jars to avoid cracking your jars.  Take one jar at a time, fill to the proper headspace (your recipe will tell you how much headspace you need and it is important to follow these guidelines so your jars will seal properly), wipe off the rim so your lid has a clean surface to seal to, center the lid and screw on the ring.  Once all your jars are filled and closed, place them in your caner and process for the recommended period of time.  Some recipes require a pressure caner but a boiling water caner will work great for most recipes and it is much easier to start off using.  

My absolute favorite part of canning is at the very end.  I love to hear the *ping pop* sound of my jars sealing.  After your jars have cooled, press down on the center of each lid.  If there is any movement, that jar did not seal and the contents should be consumed as soon as possible.  For all your sealed jars, which are hopefully all of them, tighten the rings and store them in a cool/dry place.

All there is to do now is clean up your mess and enjoy your fresh jam all year long!  I have only had the opportunity to can jam and salsa on my own but I plan on doing much more as the season progresses and the years go on.  As I come across more tips and tricks I will be sure to share them with y’all, and if any of you have tips to share feel free to leave a comment.

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