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Canning for Victory!

by: monkeybiz

Sun Feb 22, 2009 at 17:04:29 PM PST

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(Hooray! Thank you Monkeybiz! - promoted by Jill Richardson)

"The home gardener, by producing and preserving as much of his own food requirements as possible, can do much to relieve the pressure upon commercial producer and processor. It is not expected or intended that we, as backyard gardeners, can or will produce enough to take care of all of our individual needs. But every bit that we do grow will help." - M.G. Kains, "The Original Victory Garden Book" (1942, 1978)

This advice comes from 1942 and it's as timely now as it was then.  

monkeybiz :: Canning for Victory!
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.

Canning Gear

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
* Colander
* 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.

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Thank you, monkeybiz! :) (4.00 / 5)
I'm gonna study this one for a while... :)

I set this one to promote to the front page in about an hour, to let Jill's great post have a bit more time on top.  Hope that's okay?

Thank you, Jay. (4.00 / 5)
There's no rush -- tomorrow's fine. Jill's current diary deserves the airtime, as you said.

Canning really isn't as esoteric as it seems. We've had a 99% success rate. A few jars have failed to seal and we broke one in the canner but we've eaten an awful lot of our own food far out of season. It's a worthwhile skill to have. Do get in touch with your local agricultural extension and see whether they offer classes (not necessary, but I can understand why it would help you feel more confident) if you're a hands-on learner.  

[ Parent ]
Heh... (4.00 / 5)
Well, Jill beat me in promoting it by 7 minutes!


Great diary again, thanks.

[ Parent ]
excellent canning essay monkeybiz!! (4.00 / 6)
i've been canning for quite some time now, about 30yrs(gasp! has it been that long?!)
you've given a superb primer for canning, hitting all the points.
when jars come out of the canner sometimes the rings have loosened....i urge you all to NOT tighten the bands! leave them alone! i made that mistake with my first batch of maters... about half did not seal because the air couldn't escape or something.

have you done jellies and jams?
easy peasey & they make wonderful gifts!
i have about a dozen cookbooks on preserving.
along with the Ball Blue Book, i've found 'putting food by' is essential.
soon you'll be hunting for specialty canning recipes like those found in the glass pantry, preserving the taste, small batch preserving and the herbal pantry

come firefly-dreaming with me....

Thanks, RiaD! (4.00 / 4)
My policy is not to touch the jars after they're out of the canner and cooling. Time enough to check seals AFTER everything has cooled completely.

We have done green tomato jam but we're not great jam fans, unfortunately. But I'm tempted to try grapefruit marmalade...

The ability to put food by is so important, and so undervalued these days. Why put it up when you can go buy it? does save money and trips to the store and I think it's better for me to grow and can my own because it becomes my responsibility to do it right, from seedling to cooking.

I have "Small Batch Preserving" but will keep an eye out for the other books you mentioned. Thank you!!!

[ Parent ]
if you grow your own tomatos (4.00 / 4)
and like the taste of bread & butter pickles these are for you.
i usually make two near the front of the season to thin the tomatoes out, and one end of season to use whats left on the vine....

Green tomato pickles

4 quarts sliced green tomatoes, loosely packed
1 quart sliced onion, loosely packed
1 cup pickling salt, divided
2 pounds light brown sugar
6 cups vinegar (5% acidity)
2 small red chile peppers
1/3 cup mustard seeds
1/4 cup celery seeds
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2 teaspoons whole cloves
Place sliced tomatoes and sliced onion in separate bowls; sprinkle 3/4 cup salt over tomatoes and 1/4 cup salt over onion; stir both mixtures. Cover both bowls and let stand at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours. (or overnight) Place tomatoes in a cheesecloth bag, and squeeze gently to remove excess juice.
Repeat this procedure for onion. Discard the salt liquid. Combine tomatoes, onion, sugar, vinegar, chile peppers, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and pepper in a large kettle. Tie allspice and cloves in a small cheesecloth bag; add to tomato onion mixture. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, over low heat 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Pack tomato mixture and liquid into hot sterilized 1-quart jars (with 1 piece of the chile pepper in each jar - cut if necessary), leaving 1/2-inch headspace; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on ring bands. Process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes.
Store in a cool dark place. Store opened pickles in refrigerator.

Makes 8 half-pints or 4 1-pint jars or 2 1-quart jars.

i use a food processor to slice the maters and onions & do NOT loosely pack them to measure. i usually get 12 half-pints & a couple of those tiny jars (4oz?) from each batch.

we use these in tuna salad, pasta salad & just as pickles.

come firefly-dreaming with me....

[ Parent ]
Fantastic! (4.00 / 6)
We are going to offer canning classes and supplies to our CSA members this year. I was amazed at how many suburban moms absolutely jumped at the chance to learn how to can veggies.

You're right on the cutting edge with this post, I think.
And right on target with how to get started.

Sorry RiaD, got you beat by better than a decade. :)
Of course that's because my family never stopped. I have no idea how many new seals we've put on that one pressure canner.  

Thanks, Farmboy (4.00 / 6)
Glad to hear about the classes, especially in context of CSA. That makes a lot of sense.

We sprung for an electric meat grinder last fall and I cannot wait to try it with the tomatoes. It should speed things up a lot. It feels decadent but I can justify it on grounds of volume. We do a LOT of canning!

[ Parent ]
this is so exciting!! (4.00 / 5)
I cannot wait to try this out. Now I just need to hold my excitement until tomato season. I can get some tomatoes now but omg they are not as amazing as the heirlooms that show up later in the year.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

Glad that you like it, Jill (4.00 / 5)
You can do it, really!  

[ Parent ]
Great post! (4.00 / 6)
Now I'm all excited for June again {grin}.

I have to second the labeling. You DO forget, lol!~ Also, if you're like me, your only plan was tomatoes and some fruit, but whoops!, too much fun and you start canning much more (and add a pressure canner or 2!) and suddenly there is no way to possibly remember.

I haven't held back any herbs until the end while canning, but I have thrown in fresh sprigs before sealing when doing up jars of crushed tomatoes. I like it for doing quick stirfys/sautees. I do different flavor combos. Added just the right touch to a rice side the other night. I was doing the same with some of my CSA fruits I was canning. Some I canned straight up, others I did different "syrups" with. If I want to make a quickie desert, I can just pop open some fruit, add a crumble or crust top and serve it up with ice cream. Good on yogurt also, or underneath roast chicken/pok pork with winter root veggies. Or just enjoy them straight from the jar  ;)

One optional "tool" for canning I like to keep on my list, Baseball! or a good movie/music. I found once I started and the water was hot, it was easy to just keep going for a few batches, so I like a bit of background. Weekends are good for back2back baseball games in NY. I also bought one of those single burners so I could work sauces on another counter while batches were processing. Saves having to stand next to a hot canner.

Have you used a steam canner?

Label or perish (4.00 / 4)
I label jars as I check the seals. Have to! The ketchup, barbecue sauce and pizza sauce look alike, so labels are a must.

Yes, we have an All-American pressure canner. It's more my husband's toy than mine, as I am (blush) still a little afraid of the thing. We have arrived at an informal division of labor by which he's the guy that loads and minds the canner -- so I don't know it as well as he does. We want to do corn and beans this summer, and the kids suddenly like peaches.

I hear you about the fruit. We did a huge batch of applesauce last fall and it tastes better than anything you can buy. And it's just apples! No sugar, even!

We usually have enough chaos without the background music. Our joke is "wah," or flow. We each have our tasks and we've learned to keep out of each other's way. When DH does something that's my job, my rhythm is broken and I say "Ack, you're disturbing my wah!" It's a lot of fun and we're usually a little punch-drunk with work by the end of it. But we keep coming back for more...

[ Parent ]
wow (3.75 / 4)
i'm jealous.
we just got an all-american pressure canner last year.
up til then i'd been doing the smaller batches in a gasket-type one. this one will do (i think it's) 17 pints or 7or8 quarts at one go! unfortunately it arrived too late in the season to help me (but i got it at a Great price!)& i'm really looking forward to the 'test drive' in a couple months.

we don't have apple trees, but do have 2 pear trees. so i make pearsauce & pearbutter. i've also done pear pieces in different syrups- cinnamon, lemon-ginger and raspberry.
lovely on a slice of angelfood with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

come firefly-dreaming with me....

[ Parent ]
You are amazing! (4.00 / 6)
Are you my great grandmother redux? She spent the best part of her life doing preserves. All through winter we ate from her glass jar goodies. It is indeed an art that should be promoted again, globally.  

Sic Transit Gloria Locavore!

If I were GGM come back, (4.00 / 4)
I'd actually be able to cook! Canning should be revived, I agree. I'm always heartened by the displays of canned goods at county fairs -- someone out there still does it!

[ Parent ]
Great Diary and Great Comments!! (4.00 / 6)
I've bookmarked this one and will have to take some time to study it.  I will definitely have to get the Ball Blue Book and some others.  We have a large garden (that is going to be larger this year) but so far we have only frozen our produce.  But I expect (hope!) to have a lot more coming in this summer/fall that will overflow our freezer.  And I want to learn to can/jar some of the stuff anyway.  But so many of you are far ahead of me (no surprise there).  So this diary is just fantastic.  Thanks a lot!

Freezers are wonderful, (4.00 / 3)
necessary and vulnerable to power outages. I think it must save electricity to put up preserves instead of freezing, although I've never seen numbers on it (and certainly do both myself).

Glad you enjoyed this diary!

[ Parent ]
for those just starting out (4.00 / 3)
some resources:
everything you need to get started- even the Ball Blue Book & 6 pint jars!: BALL Basic Canning Kit

a canning kit that can work with your large stock pot: Fagor Home Canning Kit

if you already have a water-bath canner (or plan to get one separately): Fox Run 5piece Kit

if you live in an area that doesn't carry canning jars at the grocery or dollar store go talk to the guys at the hardware store! True Value hardware can order canning jars for you (if they don't have them in stock)

come firefly-dreaming with me....

Great suggestions, thanks! n/t (4.00 / 3)

[ Parent ]
I'm still amazed... (4.00 / 3)
That I see canning jars everywhere here in Portland.

Not only the small kitchen stores and the cool little hippie shops; but also in the hardware stores, the drug stores and pharmacies, the supermarkets...


I hardly ever saw them (at least not on prominent display...) anywhere back in Jersey...

At least I know where to start!


[ Parent ]
Thank you Ria! (4.00 / 3)
I am seriously going to buy this stuff for real now. My kitchen is tiny but I need an alternative to freaking Whole Foods. All of the brands there are non-local and mostly owned by major corporations.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
business opportunity? (4.00 / 3)
I wonder if there's a business opportunity for someone who's good at canning to bring most of the equipment to someone's house and charge an hourly rate to can food. The customer would have to provide the food and the jars.

I like the idea of canning crates of tomatoes, but I can't see investing in all the equipment for how rarely I would use it, and the learning curve is intimidating.

Have you heard of... (4.00 / 3)
community kitchens?

I remember reading an article recently about them springing up in places (I think the article I read was from Ohio...), and canning equipment / help / instruction was a part of it.

Lemme see if I can find an article...

business opportunity?

I was actually thinking about that after I read that article, lol.  But I'd probably have to move somewhere else to make that happen.  As "foodie" as I am, the leaders of the movement here in Portland are always like 15 steps ahead of me.  Heh...

If only I had these ideas back in Jersey a few years ago!


[ Parent ]
Ah, here are some links... (4.00 / 3)
Pick Your Own: Find a Cannery

Great post on community canning centers at Eat Local Challenge -

The idea of a community canning center has great merit. Some of my personal experience with canning has included purchases of specialized equipment thats sit on a shelf for most of the year (probably > 360 days a year). At a canning operation, in contrast, the equipment might be used non-stop during the peak canning season (or seasons  - in California and other warm climates there might be busy times outside of the summer, like citrus season in the winter). In addition, if a canning center was designed from the ground up, it could have a much higher energy efficiency than a home kitchen, using induction heaters for the water baths, solar water heaters, and so on.  An article at Health Guidance looks at many questions that need to be answered when planning a canning center (for example, "What is the minimum water pressure and is it constant?", "What is the availability and cost of gas (natural or LP) or of fuel oil?", "What will be the charge for processing a pint or a quart of food?"). And, of course, there is the benefit of bringing people together to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.

From Mother Earth News -

I don't know who originally thought up the idea of the community canning center-or canning kitchen or custom cannery, as they're called in some areas-but that individual knew exactly what he or she was doing. By putting heavy-duty washing, peeling, capping, cooking, and cooling equipment all together in one spot and then charging a small fee for the use of the "plant", our nameless inventor made it possible for almost any family to quickly, safely, and easily preserve as much or as little of its own produce as it wants . . . and at a substantial savings over supermarket prices.

The idea probably reached its height of popularity during the Second World War when almost every family, it seemed, tended a Victory Garden. At the time, some 3,800 canning kitchens were in operation around the country. The number steadily dwindled during the boom that lasted from the mid-40's to about 1970 . . . when the livin' was easy and a large percentage of our population grew accustomed to eating out of a grocery cart instead of a backyard vegetable patch. Now that the economic squeezes of the 70's have pushed so many of us into planting "inflation gardens", however, the custom cannery is coming back all over again.

Citrus County, Florida's Public Canning Kitchen -

How Does the Community Canning Kitchen Operate?

  1. The Canning Kitchen is supervised during all hours of operation by a knowledgeable, experienced assistant who will help and educate you each step of the way with the latest, safest methods and processing techniques.
  2. The kitchen is equipped with all of the necessary tools and appliances that you will need to preserve fruits and vegetables, sauces, relishes, jams, etc., pea shellers and juicers are also available for your use.
  3. You bring your own canning jars, produce, and recipe ingredients such as; spices, vinegars, etc. If you need help with ingredient amounts and requirements, please call ahead.
  4. After you wash and prepare your produce, you will fill your sanitized canning jars and apply the lids. The Food Preservation Kitchen Supervisor will then process the jars for you.

And a research brief on community kitchens from the University of Wisconsin - Madison...

[ Parent ]
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