Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Basic Canning

When Beth and I were still living in a small townhouse, and I was cooking more, I saw rather quickly that freezer space was at a premium.  I didn’t have room for a second freezer (although there was space in the bedroom, beth said that was not going to happen), but I enjoyed making larger batches of recipes and saving some of the results in the freezer.  Look ing over other solutions, the ability to can (to preserve food in jars, properly treated to stop bacterial growth) seemed the best option.
I strongly recommend you visit this site to learn more about canning methods: Selecting a Canning Method
There are two kinds of canning.  This guide focuses on the most basic kind, and kind used by most canners, a Boiling Water Bath. The process is dead simple if you follow directions and dont’ stray from the path until you know what you’re doing
First and foremost, you will need some basic supplies.  I keep things simple and avoid any fancy tools. I’ve provided links to some items on Amazon, just because I think these are some of the best prices around and I take full and complete advantage of my Amazon Prime membership.
  1. Ball Blue Book - The Blue Blue is the critical item to own if you are going to can.  It is not only full of recipes, but explains the process for canning and provides a deeper understanding thn anything i can give you.  It is owned by every person i know who cans.  I had two at one time just in case i couldn't find mine.
  2. Norpro 6 Piece Canning Set - There are some tools you simply won't own unless you can. This is the easiest way to get them. Most critical are the funnel, the magnetic lid grabber, and the jar lifter. you can buy tehse all seperate, but its cheaper just to buy a kit.
  3. A Large Pot - I use a Pressure Canner without the lid for water bath canning, but you can use any large pot.  Make sure it is tall enough to fit your jars, with plenty of head space, so nothing boils over.
  4. Canning jars and lids - You'll need different sizes depending on what you're doing.  And there are two mouth sizes, regular and wide.  For most of my canning a pint size with regular mouth is perfect.  For pickles I like large wide mouth jars.  For jams and jellies, I like smaller jars.  I recommend you buy your jars at Walmart of the like, or ask people if they have old canning (mason) jars around.  Many people do.  Lids are one time use, so those you can buy on-line in bulk.  the rings for jars can be used over and over and usually come with the jars when you buy new.
Some Option items:
  1. Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving - I've switched to using this book.  Its like the Blue Book, but with way more recipes, and also includes stuff on dehydration and freezing.  You could pobably just get this and skip the Blue Book, but I wouldn't.
  2. Canning labels - These are nice to use, but usually I just sharpie on the lid. lids are one time use anyway and permanenet marker saves you from mystery meat.
Basic Process
So lets discuss the basic canning process.
  1. First all of your jars, and tools need to be clean and sterile. The whole point of this exercise is to make food last a long time, and dirty jars and dirty tools make that impossible.  I usually run everything through the dishwasher, then boil my jars for at least ten minutes.  The good thing about this is that I leave them in the hot water until ready to fil them so they are squeaky clean and if I'm putting hot food in them, I'm less concerned about thermal shock.
  2. Warm your lids in hot (but not boiling water) The lids have a soft rubber seal that becomes pliable when hot.  This will help make that air tight seal we're going for.
  3. Follow your recipe.  For this type of canning you'll be focusing on higher acidity items.  So tomatoe sauces and soups, fruit based jellies, pickles, etc.  Most (but not all) items you simply make ahead of time and then can when you're happy with the product.
  4. Get organized.  Make sure all your tools are on hands and ready to go.
  5. Lift, drain, fill, stir, wipe, top, seal.
  • When you're ready, use your jar lifter and pull a jar from the hot water, pour out the boiling water (most of this can either go into the pot or down the drain, just make sure the jars will be covered by at least an inche of water when everything is place back in.
  • Fill the jar with your product using the canning funnel.  The funnel sticks down into the jar one ich, so do not fill above the bottom of the funnel.  You need to leave room for a vacuum to form.  This is also important to reduce the risk of foam breaking through the lid during the canning process
  • Run a thin rubber spatula or similar item around the product to make sure that there are no air bubbles along the walls of the jar.
  • Wipe the top of the jar with a damp clothe (or paper towel)
  • Use your magnet tipped rod to pull a lid from the hot water and place it on your jar.
  • Put on the sealing ring and hand tighten.  Don't go full force here, because we want some small amount of air to escape during the canning process
  • Put the jar back into the canner.  Wash rinse repeat.
That's all there is to it.  Let the jars come back ot a boil and cook for the proper amount of time.  In most cases you can't really over boil them and I always err on the side of caution.  Pull the jars as soon as water cools below a simmer na dplace on a wooden cutting board or towel to cool overnight.
You should hear a popping noice a the jars cool.  This means a vacuum has been drawn and the jar is sealed.  If the lid doesn't get sucked down, you messed something up and need to do it over again.

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