|This diary is a re-post from Daily Kos. If you're interested in a basic red sauce, click here. For barbecue sauce, click here.
Yes, You Can
I'm preaching to the choir here about the problems with corporate food and the virtues of organic or home-grown food, but how much thinking have you done about how to preserve what you buy or raise?
I'm a vegetable gardener and of necessity (or perhaps eccentricity) have taken to canning the harvest. Yes, canning -- just like your great-grandmother might have done. It's a practical though labor-intensive practice that saves energy and lets you eat good food all year long.
I started canning out of sheer desperation, rather than any family tradition. My husband and I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and the "Ball Blue Book" (we have since bought "BALL Complete Book of Home Preserving", a must-have reference text for canners and preservers) and we taught ourselves to can. Yes, the first time was nerve-wracking and we are always very careful in our work ... but the point is that we did it ourselves, without any instructional videos or classes. You can do it too.
This diary is a quick tutorial on basic boiling water (aka water bath) canning, as well as an invitation to share your recipes and success stories.
Canning: An Overview
Canning is relatively straightforward process that may sound a lot more intimidating than it is. Molds... yeasts... bacteria... all working together to make good food go bad. Then there's the fear of botulism, a form of food poisoning that can cause paralysis or death, and that's at home in spoiled canned foods.
Don't give up, though. What canning does is to "interrupt the normal spoilage and decaying cycle of food by heating the food contained in a home canning jar that has been closed with a two-piece vacuum sealing cap," says the BBBP.
That's why the most important rule of canning is: Work Clean. That means choosing fruit that's ripe and unbruised; cleaning all of your equipment thoroughly; and following canning recipes to the letter. Modifying your recipe may cause you stray into the land of low-acid canning (see below) while you're using water bath technique...this can be disastrous!
A word from the food safety experts at Penn State about older canning recipes: "Many older recipes for canning do not have the proper safeguards to assure a safe product. Always use the latest instructions and recipes that have been scientifically tested for safety. Current canning information is available from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning." Your local or regional extension service is a good source for more information and recipes.
What can be canned
Canning classifies foods into two groups: low-acid (poultry, meat, seafood, and all vegetables except tomatoes) and high-acid (lemons, pickles, gooseberries, apricots, plums, apples, blackberries, sour cherries, peaches, sauerkraut, pears, and tomatoes, according to the BBBP). Even "low-acid" tomatoes can be water bath canned if acid is added (lemon juice, citric acid, or 5-percent vinegar).
Low-acid foods with a pH of 4.7 or more can be canned, but require more heat and a different technique, pressure canning. (They're also great hosts for clostridium botulinum, the bug that causes botulism.)
High-acid foods have a pH of 4.6 or less, either naturally or with the addition of lemon juice, citric acid, or 5-percent vinegar. If you want to test the acidity, test strips are available, says kate petersen. Today, we're talking high-acid.
This is the official list from the BBBP:
* Canning jars, quart and/or pint; make sure there are no cracks or chips
* Lids and bands, B and A in this diagram. Lids are for one-time use, and should be bought during the current canning season to ensure that the rubber hasn't cracked. Rings are reusable as long as they're not rusty or bent.
* Boiling-water canner; this is a non-reactive, enameled pot that will hold up to seven quart jars. It comes with a canning rack for them to sit in.
It's also helpful to have these things (list from America's All-Time Favorite Canning & Preserving Recipes):
* Kitchen scale
* Cutting board, sharp knife, vegetable peeler
* A food mill makes processing tomatoes much easier
* Wide-mouth funnel and ladle or large spoon
* Rubber spatula, plastic knife, or wooden spoon
* Paper towels, clean dishcloths
* Jar-lifter, magnetic-tip lid wand, ruler
* Kitchen timer, hot pads, wire rack
* Blanching basket (though I often use my pasta pot insert)
If you live in an area where canning is common, check out local thrift shops and garage sales for bargains on canning gear. DO make sure that the canner is not rusty or chipped. Those old Mason jars are lovely to look at but are likely to shatter at high temperatures. Make sure your jars are newer. Craigslist and Freecycle can be a help here but when in doubt, buy new.
Also, check your library for the "BALL Complete" (the fat bible of canning).
I'm a fairly organized person, so I make sure that I have everything I need before I start. Nonetheless, at some point every summer I run out and then call up the nearest grocery and plead with them to set aside a case or two of jars and promise that I will be right down to get them. And I do mean set aside; my grocery stores tend to keep the jars on top of the freezer section where they're unreachable. If you're lucky, your store will have a dedicated canning section but don't count on it. Have your gear ready to go. You don't want to be running out to the store or pawing through your cabinets mid-canning.
My husband and I use a turkey fryer rig to do our canning. If you use a small canning pot, it's possible to can on the stove top; gas ranges seem to work best for this but electric will also do.
Making and Canning Pizza Sauce
A few summers back, my husband bowed to my insane pregnancy cravings for salsa so we canned more than we could give away or eat. What we actually ran out of was pizza sauce. Specifically, the pizza sauce recipe from the excellent Ball Complete. English muffin pizzas? Check. Homemade pizza? Check. Once you have made your own sauce, it's hard to go back to store-bought.
Pizza Sauce (makes about seven pints; one pint covers two 14" pizzas)
13 cups of tomato puree (about 9 pounds plum tomatoes*)
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
* My notes from last year say that 24 pounds of Romas made 13 pints of pizza sauce, or almost two full canner-loads. I think you need more like 12 pounds for seven pints. You can always turn extra puree into soup.)
Start with the tomatoes. Pick in the morning if at all possible; that way, you'll get an early start and not spend as much time sweating as you would later in the day. Weigh your crop and write down the results so you don't need to guess next year. (I try to keep records, mostly in the form of notes right in the cookbook.)
Wash them and discard any that are blighted.
If you do have a mill, blanch the tomatoes a batch at a time and cut them in half and then run them through your mill. Some folks don't bother to blanch, but we find that it makes the processing easier. We usually use Romas, which don't need to be cut. Note: You will end up with a pile of waste but it's worth consolidating this into a big bowl and running it through the mill again. You'll be amazed how much more pulp you squeeze out! My last experiment showed that half the waste turned into usable pulp.
If you don't have a mill, says the Ball Book, "blanch, peel, core, seed and chop tomatoes. Place in a colander and let stand 15 minutes. discard liquid and puree tomatoes in a food processor fitted with a metal blade."
Divide the puree in half. Put half of it in a stainless steel stock pot and bring to a boil, making sure not to let the puree burn on the bottom of the pot. I speak from bitter, scorched experience on that point.
Next, get your jars, rings and lids ready. Check jars for cracks or nicks; run them through the dishwasher, or wash them by hand in hot, soapy water. I usually put my jars in a 200-degree (f) oven to keep them warm, clean and out of the way until I'm ready to use them. Rings get set aside. Lids go into a small sauce pot full of water, and set to a low, low simmer. (This is where the partner comes in handy. You can do this yourself as you wait for your puree to boil or have your canning buddy get everything ready as you prep the tomatoes.)
Fill the canner about halfway full with water. (Adding a cup of vinegar to the water can help keep your jars clear on the outside. I think it has to do with discouraging calcium buildup.) Heat your canner to simmering, about 180 degrees. Set your rack so that its handles rest on the side of the canner and set empty jars in the rack, partway down in the water, so they can heat. (Skip this step if you heat jars in the oven. Just set the canning rack as described.)
Add additional ingredients. (DH holds back 1 tsp. of oregano until just before we fill jars and swears that it improves the taste.) Add remaining puree to the pot one cup at a time. Boil sauce for about 15 minutes until it has thickened very slightly. Stir, stir, stir. If the sauce burns, you'll be tasting it all year.
Ladle hot sauce into a pint jar, leaving ½ inch headspace. (Headspace simply means the air pocket between the top of the food and the top of the jar. Always use the headspace measurement that your recipe calls for! This air pocket is what contracts when heated, and allows a seal to form with the rubber gasket under the lid.)
Remove air bubbles: With the tip of the spatula touching the bottom of the jar, run the spatula all the way around the jar to free any air bubbles that may be trapped along the sides. You want all of the air at the top. Wipe rim.
Pick up lid with magnetic wand and center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. This is an art, not a science: too loose, and you'll suck water into the jars; too tight, and there's a chance that too much pressure will build up inside. But fingertip tight is about right. I use paper towels to do my jar wiping, and the ladle and funnel sit on paper towels between uses. This helps things stay clean.
Repeat until you have seven jars filled and sealed.
Place jars in canner, without tilting them, ensuring that they are completely covered with water (at least 1"). Bring to a boil, put lid on, and process for 35 minutes.
Remove canner lid and turn off the heat. Raise the rack out of the canner and let the jars sit for five minutes.
Clear off a countertop where the jars can sit undisturbed for a long time, and line it with a towel. Try to make sure that it's not a cold surface and that there's no draft. When the five minutes have passed, grab your jar lifter and carefully remove the jars. Again, don't tilt them. Place them at least 1" apart on the towel and don't touch them for 12-24 hours.
Listen for a "thock." That's the sound of a successful seal.
When the jars have cooled completely, spin the ring bands off and press down on the center of the lid. The lid shouldn't flex or slide; if it does, put the jar in the fridge and use it soon. Label (believe it or not, you will forget if you don't!), date, and put up in a cool, dry place, out of the sun.
See? Not so bad. And it will get easier each time you try it. You'll figure out what works for you--where to put things, which containers you need to catch pulp and waste--and it will become a great source of satisfaction to pull out your canning gear.
Not to mention your canned goods! They make wonderful gifts and are helpful for last-minute dinners. With pizza sauce at hand, I can pull out frozen pizza dough in the morning, buy mozzarella in the afternoon, pop a can of sauce in the evening and have a tasty homemade pizza in no time flat.
So harvest your bounty! Support your local farm stand! Try something new and tasty and enjoy the fruits of your labors all year 'round.