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Afraid of Preserving Fruits & Veggies? Can it! (Article)

Attendees of the final Wise Woman Week event learned canning is nothing to fear


by Heidi Lading
Well Community Contributor

Nearly two-dozen people packed into the back room of the Peterson Garden Project Learning Center Monday night for a class on canning. The event marked the first official class to take part in the facility, which opened in April. It was also the final event of Swedish Covenant Hospital’s Wise Woman Week.

Laura Scott of Ukrainian Village said she attended the class because, “I grew up on a farm until I was ten and I wanted to get back to my roots.”

The majority of participants—whose experiences spanned the gamut of canning—admitted to being afraid of the time-honored, end-of-summer ritual either because they felt it was too complicated, or that they would do it wrong and waste the food.

LaManda Joy, the founder and president of the Peterson Garden Project, author of the gardening blog and host for the evening, reassured the women that canning is safe, fun, cost-effective and healthy.

“People are so afraid of not being perfect in today’s world and it makes me sad,” said Joy. “Canning is easy. Don’t be scared, just try it.”

After giving a brief history of canning and an overview of veggie preserving traditions, Joy passed out sample of her canned piccalilli and spicy pickles. She walked through the basics needed for canning and then had attendees participate in a demonstration on proper technique. The women took turns boiling jars, doling out the preserved foods and checking to ensure lids had sealed.

They left the event with pint- and half-pint-sized canning jars and the confidence to try canning at home.

Here are some basic how-tos on pickling from Joy, who draws most of her knowledge from her well-worn cookbook: The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich.

Basic Ingredients:

  • Whatever you’re pickling.
  • Salt. Canning & pickling salt is the best for this process. If you can’t find that, try kosher salt, but be aware that you’ll need to adjust your measurements from the recipe.
  • Vinegar. You can use various kinds, from rice vinegar, to apple cider vinegar, to Heinz Pickle Perfect, to Gruken Meister (which works great for “quickles”). As long as the vinegar has an acidity of 5% you’ll be fine.
  • Water.
  • Spices.

Basic Tools:

  • Glass jars. Can be half pint or pint in various shapes. These can be reused each season as long as the lids fit securely and there are no chips or cracks.
  • Lids. You buy these in bulk and get them new every season.
  • Rings. This is what screws onto the lid. These can also be reused each season.
  • Large mits. To protect your arms from the scalding water and hot glass.
  • Long tongs. Best when they have rubber on the tips.
  • Jar funnel. You need one that fits the size of the jar.
  • Jar lifter. To remove jars from the boiling water
  • Magnetic lid lifter. To keep lids sanitized while canning.
  • Canning rack. To sit the jars on in the boiling water.
  • Canner. Can be water, steam or pressure based. You can also use a large stockpot if you’re just starting out and want to try canning a few jars.
  • Non-reactive pot. To cook the ingredients being canned. Glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or a hard anodized aluminum, like All-Clad, will all work.
  • Jar wrench or key. To open your sealed goodies once you’re ready to eat them. It’s the bottle opener for cans.

Joy’s tips on the canning process:

First, follow whatever recipe you’ve chosen for the ingredients you are canning. You can also get creative, adding woody herbs like thyme, rosemary or sage to vegetables being canned, or star anise into jarred fruits.

Sterilize the jars by placing them in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Be sure the jars are not touching each other. Remove the jars with tongs, drain the water from them, and place them on a towel or tray. Never place them on a cold countertop, or the glass could break.

Fill the jars with your delicious ingredients using your funnel. Allow for ½ inch headroom at the top of each jar. Wipe the outer rim of each jar with a hot towel to ensure all food particles are removed and the jar is clean. Lightly bang each jar down on the towel to remove any excess air bubbles. Put the lid and the ring on the jar.

Then place the filled jars back into the boiling water—you can do this one at a time—and make sure there’s enough water in the pot to cover the top of the jars. Water will evaporate as you boil, so to replace the lost water, add in water from your tea kettle. You’ll see bubbles coming out of the jar as the heat interacts with the headroom and the rubber seal. Leave the jars in the water for the length of time specified by your recipe. Make sure the jars are not touching each other while in the water.

Next, use the jar lifter to safely remove each jar and place it back on the towel or tray used before. Once you have them out of the water, listen for the metallic popping sound of the lid being secured. This may take a minute or two.

To test out if the jar is properly sealed, push down on the center of the lid. If you don’t hear a sound, you have a successfully sealed can, which can sit in your pantry from one-to-three years. If you still hear a popping sound, give in another minute to see if it sets itself. If not, place that can in the fridge and eat it within the next few weeks.

Finally—the best part—whenever you’re ready for a little bit of goodness, dive into your favorite jar of canned goods and enjoy!

The Peterson Garden Project is a volunteer organization committed to teaching people to grow their own food.

Heidi Lading is a freelance writer in Chicago.

Photo credit to Heidi Lading

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