Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's September and the Canning Season Has Just Begun

Should you think that you can relax and put the guilt away for another year, think again. First, put the guilt away period, not for just a year. Hopefully, you are about to find enthusiasm, good reasons and support for an idea that some might consider too old fashioned. Or you can check a few paragraphs down for more readily available excuses that allow the vision of canned peaches and pears to remain in the 1900’s Home Economic text books...

In spite of what rumor or rationalization might have you believe, the home preservation season does not end when the calendar hits August 31st and school starts. In fact, as that song says, “We’ve only just begun . . .”, because the “season” can last well into November. There are a lot of apple sales in December. If the price is right, apples easily store well in a cool place until January or February. Remember the applesauce, jelly and your favorite pie filling. If you have an eye out for bargains and become well acquainted with a produce manager or two, you can find deals year round. Okay, okay there might be something else on your calendar besides canning. I’m just showing you a few opportunities you might have missed :).

So read on, because here come the enthusiasm and rationale you need to plunge in feet first. Well, maybe not quite literally, even though it might be grapes growing over the fence in your back yard.

The down spiraling economy has been a boon to all kinds of trends in home preservation. More people are trying to learn and many more are re-learning home preservation skills in order to try and combat some of those skyrocketing prices. Another tremendous reason is that you know what is in that bottle or package, eliminating the 1000 required additives for commercial products.

Lack of time seems to be one reason not to can that some people think is irrefutable. There are those whose lives are ruled by “hurry,” “no time,” and if it is not convenient or instantly finished, it’s not even an option to be put on a list. Time is not necessarily a factor. If it is important enough you will “creatively juggle” all of the other events and find or make time. A planned Saturday full of canning will more than pay off in the big picture. Time equates to money in the long run.

You can always learn the concept of “share and save” with friends and/or family. For a time we lived in Fountain Valley, CA. Fifteen or so families gleaned, picked, prepared and bottled together. Our children, who were old enough, worked with us. Because we had a large kitchen and most of the equipment, these work sessions were usually held in our home. This group of neighbors became extremely close. (You could say we had to be with that many in one kitchen area.)

Some may also say that it’s way too much work. Well it is work, but not difficult. It is time consuming, but the results and rewards are worth it.

If money matters, this is one of the ways the budget can be stretched significantly. Home preservation, even in small batches, can be an economical band-aid. For example, out of one load of peaches you can get “X” number of quarts or pints of canned or frozen peaches. Then by using the pits and skins you can get a sizeable batch of delicious jelly.

If taste and nutrition are important to you, this definitely is an option.

I have talked about home preservation before, but there are some reminders, hints and rules that you may need to hear again.

Because we live in a world of nano-seconds and instant everything, there are some who would attempt to apply shorter short-cuts, or lessen the processing time required, and so on. That does NOT work when you are dealing with proper processing, pressures and food products. Whether canning, freezing or drying proper preparation is a number one priority! All products must be cleaned; as in the dirt washed off, bugs removed and cut into the right sized pieces. (Ewwww, she talked about bugs! Yep, they are there, hidden and watching you.) (And no, it’s not the bugs you cut up, it’s the food!)

Spoiled or badly bruised produce does not improve or stabilize during the process of preservation, no matter how much sugar you add. That means you don’t buy it, no matter how tremendous the price is.

It seems as if the word proper is popping up quite often in this article. There is good reason for that. It is a key concept to remember and apply – properly.

Which brings us to methods and equipment – proper, of course.

The general rule of thumb is that all vegetables and meat must be processed in a pressure cooker. If your pressure cooker has been cuddling on a darkened shelf, comforted by soft cobwebs for the last few years, there are a few things that must be done before using it to can with! That is in addition to washing it, of course. You must make sure that it is in working order and will maintain a constant pressure and a tight seal. Most State University Extensions have a department that will check the pressure valve for accuracy and safety. If the gasket is dried out and no longer pliable, replace it. No exceptions! Get a current, reliable canning recipe/instruction book such as Kerr, Ball or the Extension booklets, with updated pressures and times.

The new steam canners are a great option to consider using instead of the old standby waterbath canner. Check out the newest combination steam canner/waterbath canner all-in-one. The steam canners do not use as much water and shorten the wait time to begin processing. The processing time must be still be adhered to. These canners are acceptable equipment fruit, jams and jellies.

DO NOT attempt to can in the oven. It is not a safe – or proper – processing procedure! You may have been told that you can “can” nuts in the oven. You may even know someone who has done this for years. Is this proof that you really can “can” in the oven? Absolutely Not! What they have been accomplishing is drawing a seal on a jar, not canning or bottling the nuts as a preservation process. Oven canning of produce is dangerous. Do not attempt it!
Proper containers are an important priority. Canning jars are for the canners,which means you must use the heavier, tempered glass that withstands the heat and pressure. Do not use regular glass jars, such as mayonnaise or jam jars.

Freezer containers and bags for freezing, that are designed for the protection of the product, should be used when home freezing is done. This means you don’t use baggies, bread wrappers or anything similar to cottage cheese cartons.

It is a tremendous waste of money, time, product and work to go to so much effort – even for a small batch, - just to lose it all because of improper packaging.
Canning is worth it. It does stretch the budget. It does bring about gratitude – not only for the volume of the finished product, but that the project is done --- for a while. And it does taste wonderful!

It is an ongoing learning process. I love it when the bottles sit on the counter and the light shines through making them beautiful works of art. And then when I find them again in the freezer or on the pantry shelf I rejoice with an automatic, “Thank You, Thank You”. All of the aches and tiredness, all of the groaning and complaining are swallowed up by the recognition of the blessings that have been bestowed - - once again.

And if any of those bugs wind up in a container, you just might be thankful for some high quality protein.