Oh, Can It!
September 12th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
There's still a little time to catch the last of our local produce and preserve it for winter use—and don't think you have to process bushels and bushels of produce!
The new trend is for small batch canning, which can be processing as little as one jar or as many as four or five. It can be a particularly good strategy this late in the growing season when you might stumble across that last pint of heirloom plum tomatoes.
I'm drawn to this scaled down approach as it's do-able in an evening and I don't have to commit to a weekend of peeling, pickling and boiling.
The basics are the same: new lids, clean jars with no nicks or scratches, and screw caps that are in good condition. You'll need a rack or basket to keep your jars up off the floor of the pot with proper water circulation and no chance for them to bang into each other. Ball offers a small batch canning kit with a nifty silicon basket that is a lot easier to store than the metal ones.
You'll also want a pair of canning tongs—you are going to be lifting glass out of boiling water so spend the few bucks on a the rubberized grips that do the job safely and don't even think about using those barbecue tongs you already have.
For prep make sure you have everything together and clean. And I do mean clean from your fingernails to the towels you are going to rest your hot jars on. Experts caution to be careful not to boil the lids when sterilizing them as it will damage the rubber seal.
There's tons of material on-line. I especially like the video on the Ball jar website, but it's a fairly straight-forward procedure.
Whether you are cold-packing, raw food put in jars and covered with hot liquid such as peaches or tomatoes, or hot-packing prepared sauces or foods, use USDA approved recipes and follow them exactly. There's a formula to the amount of acid needed to keep a food safe, the time it needs to be processed and the ratio of ingredients. This is not the time to get creative.
All you do is heat your jars, fill to the recommended head space and remove any air bubbles. Clean the rim with a clean towel, center your lid on the jar and screw the band until it is secure but not overly tight. Process according to directions. Using your canning tongs remove the jars to rest on your clean towel as placing them directly on a cool countertop might cause them to break.
Finally, there's nothing more satisfying than hearing the PING! of each jar as the vacuum makes the seal.
If you are new to canning, get an experienced buddy. Remember, this is a craft that used to be handed down from mother to daughter for a reason—it's more fun to share the workload and experience is the best teacher. Or, look for one of the many classes in the area.
It is recommended to use your products within a year—they are delicious so why wait to eat them! Anything that might remotely seem like spoilage—a lid that doesn't pop, any mold, bubbles, swelling or odor—isn't worth the risk. Dispose of spoiled food in its container carefully by using rubber gloves and double bagging it. You don't necessarily want to be touching or breathing whatever might be spawning in there.
In my estimation, there's nothing prettier than a shiny row of home-canned fruits and vegetables. They will become the jewels of your pantry, so try a few jars now. Next year you'll be standing in line early in the season for those bushels for a big batch.