Adventures In Canning
Christina shares her first experiences with home preserving.
I have developed a new obsession over the last few weeks—canning.
I have always wanted to try canning my own food and I desperately needed to do something with the 22 pounds of tomatoes and 10 pounds of pickles I had in the fridge.
I hesitated though because I have heard horror stories about cans not sealing properly and the risk of food borne illnesses like botulism. Although, since Botox is still so popular, maybe there’s money in jars of pasta sauce laced with the deadly disease. Seriously, though, the thought of inadvertently giving someone a lovely jar of death makes my own stomach flip.
So I went online and did my research on proper sanitizing and sterilizing techniques. I discovered that it all boils down (sorry for the pun) to pH. The more acidic the mixture, the less likely it is to harbor and grow bacteria after the canning process.
I also looked up some recipes and discovered there are pre-mixed packets you can buy. Not only does it make the process faster, it is great for people like me who are just starting out. I figured it was a great chance for me to focus on sterilization and not have to worry about putting together a recipe, too.
I marched myself to Agway and bought a canning kit and the recipe packets for tomato salsa and sauce as well as dill pickles. Once I got home, I read all the recipes and canning directions. I headed into the kitchen to try my hand at home canning. I wanted to use up the tomatoes first and opted to make the salsa and sauce in the same day.
I sterilized all the jars by washing them in hot water and placing them in the pot of hot water to keep them warm. I blanched all the tomatoes to loosen their skins and I was surprised at how easily they came off and how much fun it was just sitting there peeling tomatoes! Each of the recipes required only tomatoes and the mix packet and then to be cooked for about 20 minutes.
After that, I filled the jars and boiled them for the specified amount of time. From start to finish, it took about five hours. Time consuming, yes, but a fun way to spend an afternoon.
After the jars cooled, I checked the seals to make sure everything had processed correctly. Success! Everything was sealed, as it should be. Of course, all would be for not if the food didn’t taste good, so my husband and I popped open a jar of salsa and gave it a try. “Not bad," he said, which in my husband’s tongue means pretty darn good.
The next day, I tried my hand at pickles. It was easy compared to the previous days chopping, boiling and blanching. I opened a jar a few nights later when we were having hamburgers for dinner.
I’ll be darned if they weren’t just as good as any store bought pickle I’ve ever had! Granted, it was a commercial packet mix but I was quite impressed nonetheless.
Having successfully canned salsa, sauce and pickles, I decided to try my hand at a real recipe. Within a couple of weeks, we had enough tomatoes for me to make a simple tomato and basil sauce. It was easy to make and really didn’t add that much to the time spent canning. It takes a while for the pot of water for the jars to heat up and in this time, I made my sauce with tomatoes, garlic, onion and basil. After a while, I relaxed about the idea of canning, just zoned out, and focused on the recipe.
Standing in my kitchen, cutting up tomatoes while I listened to the swing and standards music channel on my television, I felt a connectedness to the women of past generations whose primary goal was to preserve the harvest and provide food for their families throughout the winter.
If they failed to preserve enough or preserve correctly, it could have been devastating to a family back then.
While canning is fun and can save money if you grow your own fruit and vegetables, it is very time consuming and labor intensive. I’ll admit it does feel good to make your own food from garden to cooking to canning. It requires an eye for detail to make sure things stay clean and organized. It makes me appreciate the how easy we have it now, being able to go to the grocery store and pick up a jar of spaghetti sauce whenever we feel like it.