Canning: Effectively Preserving Your Harvest

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If you’ve seen our post on freezing veggies but aren’t satisfied with that temporary preservation method, canning may be for you. For beginners, freezing is the best way to start. It does not require much time, thinking or equipment. This article is for those ready to make the next step. A word to the wise, please do some research before going into this project blindly. There are tools available that will make everything much easier. Try this website for detailed information and video tutorials for getting started. It has much more specific info tailored to your specific needs, much more detailed than I can be here. Kits like the one below are a good place to start.

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Canning your vegetables has a big advantage over freezing. Items can be stored for longer periods of time, about a year if done right, and are not susceptible to loss if the freezer suddenly loses power. Major win. Canning is not something to take lightly however.

Here’s the disclaimer: Canning is great, but also holds possible dangers if not done correctly. The purpose of canning is to expel all bacteria living on the food through either extreme heat or extreme pressure. Failure to reach these extremes before sealing can lead to bacterial growth, making the food unsafe. The worst case scenario is contamination with botulism, a potentially toxic bacterial overgrowth. This bacteria lives harmlessly on most fresh foods, but thrives and produces toxins in an air-free environment, in this case, a sealed can. The bottom line is, you need to be careful, follow directions and use this method at your own risk. Now that I’ve scared you, let’s continue (if you dare, haha!).

Two canning methods

Extreme Heat: High-acid foods only (tomatoes and anything pickled). This method is the easier of the two, but not many foods qualify. I have used this method with pickled vegetables only, as of yet. I plan to do tomato sauce later this season, but will probably pressure can it just to be safe. The idea is simple. Stuff your jars with vegetables, leaving about 1/2 inch space at the top. Add whatever combination of spices you want to the jars. For a pint jar, leave it to about 2 tablespoons total of whatever spices you pick. In a stockpot, boil 2 cups white vinegar, 2 cups cider vinegar, 4 cups of water and 5 tablespoons of salt (good for about 8 pint jars). Once boiling, pour water to top of each jar, leaving about 1/2 inch head space. Seal the jars and begin your water bath.

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Jars of cukes, beans and squash with their pickling spices ready to go. Any combo will do, this batch is dill seed, peppercorn and minced garlic.

Use a trusty source to find out how long you should process your pickled goods. Don’t start the timer until the water comes to a rolling boil. Once the time is up, remove the jars as soon as possible to avoid squishy, over-cooked veggies. A grabber, like the one seen below, works very well. They’re inexpensive and definitely worth the investment.

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Once out of hot water, let your jars sit undisturbed on the counter to cool for about 12 hours. Within about an hour, you will hear the “pop” of the center of the jar lid being sucked into the can. This is how you know you got the seal. I sat in the living room for a well-deserved break, counting the sound of my six jars sealing. Very satisfying.

From here, it’s a waiting game. You could save all of your jars for the dead of winter, but I prefer to open one or two to find out how the spice combo worked out. I wait about a week for the veggies to marinate in the spices, then I test them. A jar of pickles lasts about an hour in my house. All that’s left is an empty jar ready for round two.

Extreme Pressure: For low-acid foods (pretty much all of them). Clostridium Botulinim, the bacteria responsible for botulism, is able to grow on low-acid foods. It produces spores that contain their toxin, and are resilient to high heat. The only way to kill the spores is by using extreme pressure. Unfortunately, this is harder to achieve, and most veggies fall into this category. This method will require the use of a pressure cooker.

To be honest, I was a little nervous to start this project. I had never used a pressure cooker before, so even getting started was a little daunting. My first tip is to thoroughly read the instructions for using your pressure cooker. My second tip would be to trial-run the cooker, and get comfortable with adjusting the pressure (adding or removing heat) before trying it with jars inside. That’s really the hardest part. Once you have the system down, it’s really not that hard.  Also, find a reliable source to get your cook times from. This website  has copies of the USDA guidelines for home canning. This is probably all you will need. Remember, it’s always better to over process than under process.

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Quick tip: turn down heat when about 2lb under desired pressure. It will continue to rise to desired pressure. It’s better to be a little over than any bit under.

My results the first time left a bit to be desired. Actually, I got a terrible batch of summer squash that I threw out. Cost of trial and error. My biggest mistake was not following directions. So….follow the directions! The cans came out completely sealed, in fact, it was really hard to break the seal to try them. I put them in full to the top with water, they came out, each jar was about 1/4 empty. They also didn’t taste very good. It had an off flavor that I can’t quite explain. Something went wrong, not sure what. The good news is, the green beans came out great, and I have plenty more squash to experiment with. I found this problem-solving page on the Ball website. My problems essentially boil down to my lack of patience by the end of my long canning day!

Canning, whether water bath or pressure cooker, is quite a process. It takes time, patience and a lot of new toys to start this project. The results, however, are very rewarding. Avoid wasting that abundance of garden veggies and preserve them in whichever fashion you have the time and will to do. Whatever method, you will likely be proud of your results!

 

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Dill pickles, dilly beans, beans in water, pickled zucchini. All delicious.

Got questions? Ask them here or on Facebook and I will do my best to answer them. I’m just a beginner as well, but we can learn together!  -Jackie S.

 You may also like:

Freezing Veggies: Simple How-To Guide

 Someone you know interested in canning? Don’t forget to share!

 

 

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