At this point in your self-isolation journey, you might have tried a number of new things: home-gardening, regrowing veggies from scraps, making your own bread from scratch. But have you tried canning yet?
Canning is a wonderful way to provide your family with nutritious food from your garden all year round. And it’s a fantastic skill to learn now more than ever, as we figure out new ways to feed ourselves in nutritious, sustainable ways without running to the grocery store every other day. Become a quarantine chef and try canning!
The key to optimal flavor and safety of your canned/preserved foods is attention to your processing and storage methods. There are many approaches to canning and preserving food based on the type of food—root vegetable, leafy green, soft skinned fruit, berries, meat—and desired flavor. Below I’ve compiled a few essential tips for you to follow and resources for trying different recipes and methods.
Use research-based recipes. If you aren’t sure of the expertise of the person writing a canning recipe, don’t use it. A typo or a missed instruction can lead to products that contain bacteria, which can result in food poisoning (botulism).
So what are good sources for recipes? Check out these Let’s Preserve Fact Sheets from Penn State University Extension, full of free resources organized by food category, or visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Use Mason jars. They withstand the higher temperatures of a pressure canner.
Use two-piece lids. This means the kind of lid with both a new flat disk and a screw band.
Preheat jars. Use the dishwasher or place the jars into simmering water prior to filling them. (Do not heat in the oven!)
Use proper headspacing. For reference a headspace in this context means the space between the canned food and the jar’s lid. Make sure to maintain 1/4 inch for juices, jams and jellies, and relishes; 1/2 inch for fruits, tomatoes, and pickles; and 1 to 1 1/2 inches for meats and vegetables. Too much headspace results in a lower vacuum and a weak seal. Too little headspace may force food under the lid, breaking the seal.
Remove air bubbles with a plastic utensil.
Only tighten lids finger-tip tight. Any tighter and you might not be able to get to what’s inside again!
Use a jar lifter. This is important when placing jars into the canner, as well as when removing them. At the very least, try not to tilt jars.
When processing, follow the procedures for the method in use: boiling water bath, atmospheric steam canning, or pressure canning procedures (procedures for different methods can be found here). Adjust process time or pressure for altitudes that are 1,001 feet or more above sea level. After processing, set jars at least two inches apart to cool on a wooden cutting board or towel-lined surface. Do not retighten bands and do not turn jars upside down.
If you’re looking to get started, here’s a great walk-through for fresh-preserved sauerkraut, perfect for a socially distant picnic!