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Friday, August 21, 2009

Planning for Canning

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
(disclaimer: the following is all totally based on actual life experiences)
I'm not sure if it's the economy, or our current pace of life, but there seems to be a definite upswing in folks, especially younger generations, wanting to slow down to a simpler lifestyle with a do-it-yourself attitude. Once started on this track, the idea of canning and preserving your own food eventually comes up. I can't deny it - it's definitely an attractive proposition, but be forewarned: once started upon, it's a slippery slope.

Jams and jellies are the gateway drug. Maybe you spotted some fruit that could be gleaned from a tree in your neighborhood, maybe a colorful display at the Farmers Market drew you in. Whatever the source, you just have to try your hand at it. And no denying it - the results can be beautiful: sparkling jars full of jewel-toned goodness; the smug satisfaction of seeing them all lined up with pretty little labels; the warm contented feeling of a hunter/gatherer providing for your family. It's hard-wired into our DNA.

And it was so easy. You want to do more. Apples! Applesauce is easy! Soon, you'll move on to pickles (amazing how many things I've seen pickled). You start scouring garage sales for jars, haunting the second-hand shops for a pot big enough to use as waterbath canner or even, the Holy Grail of canning, a pressure canner. Everyone on your gift list (and even those that didn't know they were on your list) is going to get the fruits of your labor, your own home-canned goods, wrapped up in pretty fabric or tucked into decorated baskets. Now, don't get me wrong - that's not a bad thing (especially if you can get the recipients trained to return the empty jars).

But please, stop and think. Just how much processed sugar, salt, and vinegar do you and your loved ones really, actually, eat each year? If your canned goods aren't being used and replenished on a regular basis, you're just wasting both cupboard and jar space. I just checked - I still have a jar of peach jam made in 1998. We just don't eat that much jam. We have a friend that keeps bees - Aries would much rather put honey on his toast. I have another friend that makes the best strawberry freezer jam, and I'm on her gift list (and, I always give her one of my jars, right on the spot - I know how important that is). I've quit (pretty much, anyway - it's sooo hard to go completely cold turkey) making jams and jellies.

This suggestion is for those only thinking about canning too. Start tracking how much of anything you really do use in a year; and canners, how much is left over at the start of the next year's harvest (make a spreadsheet, start a journal, put hashmarks on a list taped inside your cupboard door - whatever works for you). You might not have to make every thing, every year. If spring frosts or blight kills off your harvest three years out of four, you might have to can enough to last for four years whenever you get the chance. Note too, the size of anything best suited to your family's use. If you only use a half-pint of applesauce at a time, filling up quart jars just because they were a good buy at a yard sale is crazy. Knowing, then making a plan, means you can optimize your jar space, storage space, and garden space.

Something else to think about: not only how you're going to store it (some preserved items I still need to keep refrigerated), but also how you're going to use your end product. Only high-acid items - fruits, pickles (made with commercial vinegar - homemade vinegars may not be acidic enough), and tomatoes (and with some varieties now being bred to be low-acid, I always add lemon juice to each jar, just to be safe) are safely preserved in a boiling water bath, and safe to eat cold. All other vegetables, and meats, must be pressure-canned, and then once opened brought to a full, rolling boil for a minimum of 10 minutes (20 minutes for spinach and corn) before tasting. I do have a few jars of green beans, but we much prefer the taste and texture of frozen. The canned ones turn to mush as a side dish - they're only used in winter soups, and I won't bother with canning them anymore.

Canning can be a wonderful and useful skill to have, but please, use it responsibly. I know. I've been there. My name is Sadge - I'm a canning addict.

25 comments:

swedishcowboy said...

Yep, totally switched to freezing and mostly dehydrating for all those reasons. Much, much easier to put up and store and I don't worry about each jar I open.

tpals said...

My freezer tends to be full of meat so canning is my first choice for preserving. I'm the opposite in that I don't care for the flavor/texture of frozen vegetables unless in a casserole.

Kimberly said...

Hello, my name is Kimberly and I am a canning addict,too. It only took one year and I am hooked. Having just received a gift of over 500 jars, I am seriously in trouble. But thrilled. I only have a few things left from last year which will probably be used up before I'm ready to do those items again in September. Note---be sure to check how long to boil everything based on your altitude! We're in the Mile High City here and everything takes longer! Have fun!! And let me know if you need any jars.... :)

Freya W said...

I almost never use jam as jam. But it works really well as an ingredient for strudels and other pastry sweets. A quick dessert I do involves rolling out my pastry, spreading it thickly with jam (not going all the way to the edge so you can seal the pastry to itself), sometimes sprinkling with chopped fruit to match the jam, rolling it up, sealing the top edge, and baking.

Sadge said...

Hi Kimberly! I was born and raised in Denver and, before moving to Nevada, spent 10 years in the two-mile high city (Leadville, at 10,200 ft).

Annodear said...

"gateway drug" ~ LOL!!

Angie said...

i just canned for the first time today. i made 2 batches of blackberry jam and a batch of salsa, and i will be doing 4 more batches of jam tomorrow as well.....i'm already hooked, i love it.

Gavin said...

Okay, I admit it. I too am a canning addict. I mainly make jams and pickled things and use a waterbath. For three years I have been preserving excess harvest and have only had one failure. Not because it had gone off, but because no-one in the family liked mustard pickles. As Sadge mentioned, only make stuff that you know everyone will eat.

Gav

livinginalocalzone said...

I'm canning this year too, but relying primarily on frozen, for many of the reasons mentioned already (texture, ease of preservation and use, etc).

Yet there are some things that I will can, for both space and use reasons: many fruits (like peaches) work well canned I've found, and as someone else mentioned, they can be done with low-sugar and/or fruit juice canned recipes. Same with applesauce - I eat so much of it, and I like to save my "cool dark storage" for the raw bite of apples over the winter, as well as those winter squash. I'll also can things like tomato sauce and salsa, that are hard to get locally outside of the summer. And pickles (cucumber) because I do love them - and again, hard to find locally.

Its hard to keep from the addiction, especially seeing it all over lately, but its a lot of work and does take up space. I think like anything else in food storage, it requires planning, a realistic look at ones needs and likes through the winter, and what storage method works best. A very individual thing.

Chookie said...

I'm puzzled about the apple sauce. I love it with roast pork but we don't eat roast pork that often, so I just make it on the spot when I need it. I use about 3 Granny Smiths for our family of 4. Apples are cheap here and available year-round; is that not the case in North America? And what do you serve apple sauce with apart from pork? Recipes welcome...

s said...

Very funny!

I too am tempted by the condiments in the Big Ball preserving book. But honestly, how many jars of specialty chutneys do you use in a year? But then again, how will you know if you don't try?? :)

Very true on the record-keeping. I am just assessing my notes from last year in planning what to can this summer (definitely need more salsa, and less plain tomatoes this year!)

Sadge said...

Oh, Angie! Six batches of jam in two days - I'm afraid this came too late for you.

Hi Gavin! You've done well, grasshopper.

And you too, LocalZone - very wise.

Chookie: Lots of my applesauce gets used as a 1:1 substitute for oil in my muffin and quick bread recipes. It's also good stirred into plain yoghurt with a bit of cinnamon.

S: I'm worried about you. ;-)

tpals said...

Question:
"All other vegetables, and meats, must be pressure-canned, and then once opened brought to a full, rolling boil for a minimum of 10 minutes (20 minutes for spinach and corn) before tasting." Where did you find this information? I haven't been able to confirm the need to boil the vegetables after opening.

Sadge said...

tpals: Google "boil canned food before tasting". You'll get links to every food safety, home canning, and co-operative extension website on the 'net.

Karen Anne said...

full, rolling boil for a minimum of 10 minutes

No one in my family has ever done this, to my knowledge, and we are still here.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Great post Sadge - I have to admit I am an addict too!!

Pear Tomato Chutney was the one item my mom canned year in and year out, because she entered it in the fair and won ribbons. However, not of us liked it particularly and she rarely served it. After my mom passed I finally fed it to our pigs, they "relished" it :)

voiceofmanycolours said...

Chookie - My husband and I both just eat applesauce plain, virtually all day long. It's delicious and since I spend my entire day between work and university, it's easier to take with me in a small container than to take an apple which after 6 hours in my bag will no longer be edible! Like Sadge, I also use applesauce in baked good instead of oil and sometimes instead of water. Applesauce is good on pancakes! It's good in cereal or granola instead of a milk! Before I stopped eating dairy, I used to love it with slices of cheese and raisins. ...hi, I'm Ani and I am an applesauce addict.

And while apples may be available year round, they taste absolutely terrible (in my opinion) if bought out of season.

Sadge said...

Throwback: *groan* (the only acceptable comeback to a fellow paronomasiac)

Ani: you've just convinced me I need to can another batch of applesauce (cheese and raisins, yum!). My Freedom apple is really putting out this year.

Sadge said...

how many of you just looked up paronomasiac?

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Chookie, we make applesauce in part to preserve our abundance of apples when we have them. Apples are abundant in the stores both local, U.S. and from New Zealand year round, but they pale in comparison to our own fresh and even canned. Applesauce is a great snack!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Sadge, I had to look it up!

Cindy said...

I agree with watching how many jams and jellies you make. Last year was my first attempt at making them, and I know I went way overboard! It was a great learning experience, but this year I will not be making peach or strawberry preserves since we're still eating the ones I made last year :-)

Moonwaves said...

It's all too true. Sigh. My problem is trying to find jars small enough. I've made jam for the first time this year but last year I made two batches of chutney (not nearly enough!) and the year before some tomato ketchup. I've been starting slowly. This year I had big plans to can enough tomatoes to do me for the whole year but after my first attempt a couple of weeks ago I've realised the two-ring hotplate which serves as my cooker for the moment just really isn't up to the job so I have to see if I can borrow something else or just wait till next year. In the meantime I'm continuing on with chutneys and jams. I've made strawberry jam, raspberry (which didn't set properly but is fabulous nonetheless, if I ever get room in the freezer I'm buying ice-cream to go with it) and plum and bought some more strawberries and raspberries today to make one more lot. But that's it. Usually I can't eat it fast enough (hence the need to find more smaller jars) and end up having to dump the end of the jar. Must head back to the kitchen now, have kilos of tomatoes, courgettes and onions waiting to be chutnified!

Jo said...

Thanks for the sage advice! I am a jam-making addict, but thankfully we are a family of jam addicts, as well! If anyone's looking for recipes for plums and apples, I've just preserved about 50lb, so there's lots of recipes on my
blog

Lily Girl said...

I'm a canning addict too. I have had to restrain myself on the jams and jellies as well, I've starting doing them for gifts when I find I can no longer resist the urge! Other than I do put up applesauce, and plan to do tomatoes next year. I sadly am limited in what I can do, since my partner doesn't care for pickled items. I do put up a bit of low sugar whole fruit sauces/loose preserves for breakfast and dessert uses. I finally invested in a good dehydrator, since I can not bring myself to boil pressure canned vegetables. Um, isn't that why they are to be pressure canned in the first place? All those sites say the botulism is not killed by boiling only, so what exactly does boiling after opening accomplish? I truly do not see the point - most any remaining nutrients would be lost, not to mention the mush factor. So I'm going to play around with dehydrating, which preserves far more nutrients and stores more compactly anyway. Not that I will actually give up canning, I am an addict after all...