Home Canning Vegetables
As a child, my parents had a huge garden. We were not poor but were far from rich. My mother canned everything. Heck, one year we had so many tomatoes, she made homeade ketchup for my one brother who ate everything with ketchup on it. She grew up on a farm during the 40’s and 50’s. I suppose it was in her genes. We spent numerous hours during the summer as “endentured servants” weeding and picking vegetables. I swore when I was an adult I would never have a garden or can anything. As an adult, I have come to realize that my parents actually had a lot of sense. Also, they saved a lot of “cents” with the garden and mom’s canning.
Growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs can be a rewarding experience. It is a lot of work yet fun. The sense of satisfaction you get when you see something that you have planted and nurtured grow into something delicious is incredible! Gardening is a wonderful way of gaining quality family time by getting kids to interact with gardening. Although, I will admit total failure in that department! In order to turn this hobby into something more serious, such as to become a self-sustained family it is a good idea to start canning your vegetables. This will make them last as long as possible as well as add a variety to your diet.
Despite the name ‘canning’, food is usually preserved and stored in glass mason jars. These jars are available from a wide variety of retailers. By using the canning method, your food has a shelf-life of about one year, which is hundreds of times longer than fresh food. An additional benefit to canning is you will know exactly what you are putting into the food you serve your family. Not only are home canned vegetables healthier they can also be tastier than store-bought canned food.
The process is actually rather simple. There are two types of canning methods, water bath canning and pressure canning. I’ll cover pressure canning later in the article. For water bath canning, all you need is a large pot filled with boiling water. Most big box stores sell the familiar grey speckled canning pots. You need to make sure you have thoroughly washed and sterilized your jars, lids and rings. This can be done by washing in the jars hot soapy water and rinsing thoroughly with hot water or you can simply run them through the dishwasher. For the lids and rings, simply put them in a pot of boiling water with the heat turned off. Do not boil them, simply submerge them in the boiling water until you need them. If you are using a hot pack recipe where you will be filling the jars with something like boiled tomatoe sauce, you need to fill jars with hot water until ready to fill.
Prepare your recipe and fill jars, leaving at least an inch of head space. Once the jars have been filled, carefully wipe off the mouth of the jar with a sterile cloth and secure the lid with the metal band. The jars are then put in the water bath canner and completely covered with hot water. Bring to a boil and process for the period of time designated in your recipe. The type of food being preserved and the size of the jars you are using will determine process times. The time can vary between anything from a few minutes to over an hour. Sealing the jars in this way not only kills bacteria, it also removes extra air from the jar. This allows the food to last longer and ensure it is less likely to spoil.
The most important thing to be aware of when home canning is the use of proper sanitation. When you are home canning, there is a possibility of botulism if items are not properly processed. You have to use the proper canning method for yoour food items as well. Botulism is a form of food poisoning that can cause serious illness, paralysis and even death. While it is a rare occurrence in high acid foods, it can occur in low acid foods if the proper method is not used. The bacteria that causes botulism cannot be killed by using water bath canner, so low acid foods need to be processed in a pressure canner. Using a pressure canner is the only way to be certain the bacteria are killed, as the temperature reaches far higher points than the water bath method canning water does due to the pressure. This is essential, as botulism is usually undetectable. You should not eat any canned items that appear cloudy or have a slightly sour smell or taste.
Take care to avoid endangering yourself, your family and others, by using a pressure canner for all low acid foods. Remember however, this only applies to foods that are not very acidic. High-acid foods such as tomatoes are acidic enough to kill the bacteria, whereas foods like beans, corn, meat, fish and poultry are not. It is not necessary to use a pressure canner for high acid foods. Most high acid recipes will include the processing time for it. Low acid recipes will always include a time and pressure at which to process the jars.
The internet is filled with countless recipes, tips and suggestions on how to prepare your canned food items. However, the best way for you to master it all is just to jump right in and try things out! As long as you are careful and follow the basic guidelines, then you are well on your way to becoming a home canning aficionado!