Why Should We Preserve Our Harvest By Home Canning?
When we come right down to it, home canning is a safe and very inexpensive technique for preserving the quality of our garden veggies. Properly canned produce can last up to 5 years – or more.
Cost savings can be almost astronomical when we consider the money outlay to purchase commercially prepared canned food – enough to feed the entire family.
Plus, we KNOW what ingredients are in our home canned foods – as opposed to commercial products whose labels are ambiguous at best.
For me, I have a lot of pride knowing that I have preserved enough vitamin rich, succulent veggies and fruits to last my kinfolk throughout the winter – until the next garden season.
Vegetables and fruits lose vitamins and flavor very quickly within a few days of harvest – so, it is important to swiftly preserve what will not be eaten in the short term – to minimize the loss of nutrients and taste. Once the crop is canned, these losses are almost zilch.
How Do Foods Spoil?
Most fresh foods contain a high percentage of water – which causes them to spoil rapidly due to one or more of the following:
- Growth of bacteria, mold, or yeast.
- Food enzyme activity.
- Oxygen reaction.
- Loss of moisture.
Microscopic critters live happily and multiply quickly on the surface of fresh food – and inside food that has been damaged by insects and diseases. The oxygen, water, and food enzymes present throughout fresh food tissues facilitate the process.
Canning – Historically…
Humans have been canning foods for 200 years. But, early on, many methods were hit and miss – unconsciously introducing food poisoning, mostly botulism, through inadequate preparation and lack of scientific best practices.
Thanks, to modern science, canning procedures are almost foolproof – if the written directions are followed – leaving little chance for introducing botulism or other food borne bacterium.
Canning On A Beach – Or, Canning On A Mountain
User guides provided with canning equipment detail not only the required pressure and cooking time, but also, how to make allowances for these 2 variables – based on the relative elevation above sea level. It is noteworthy to understand that the higher you are above sea level, water will boil at an increasingly lower temperature.
Example: At sea level, water boils at 212 oF (100 oC) – but, at 10,000 feet above sea level, it will boil at about 193.6 oF (89.8 oC). The point at which water boils drops a little less than 1 oF (~ 0.5 oC) for every 500 feet increase in altitude above sea level. An easy Google search will let you know your altitude – just plug in your city and state and the word, “elevation.” For instance, I’m living 909 feet above sea level.
With water boiling at a lower temperature, the canning time and/or the canning pressure increases – based on a table provided in the canner’s instruction booklet.
Types Of Canning
Boiling water canning – Also known as “water bath canning”, this is the recommended process for canning high acid fruits, including tomatoes, as well as cucumber pickles, jams, jellies, and preserves. Processing times are based on leaving the Mason jars of food in boiling water for a period of time – calculated by your altitude.
Pressure canning – This is the ONLY safe method to preserve low acid foods such as vegetables, meats, fowl, and fish. Processing pressures are also related to your elevation.
Basic Steps To Safe Canning
NOTE: This is just an overview. The instruction booklet that comes with your canner will have more detailed procedures and should take precedent.
Select undamaged fresh food no more than several days after harvesting.
Thoroughly wash and peel the food as needed.
Determine whether to raw-pack or hot-pack the food to be canned.
- Raw-pack – Fill Mason jars with freshly prepared but uncooked food. This is mostly used for vegetables that are pressure canned.
- Hot-pack – Boil the food for about 5 minutes before packing it into Mason jars. Any liquids added should also be at boiling temperature when added to the jars. Several advantages to this are; 1) Any remaining vestiges of bacterium will be eliminated – and 2) The cooked food will shrink – making it possible to put more food into each jar.
Determine whether to add lemon juice, vinegar, canning salt, or nothing.
Thoroughly wash and rinse Mason jars, lids, and screw-on bands in dish soap and water. Then, sterilize them, in boiling water for about 10 minutes.
Store canned foods at temperatures recommended in the canner’s instructions – usually below 95 oF (35 oC). The best storage temperature range to preserve food quality and taste is 50 to 70 oF (10 to 21 oC).
Store canned foods – labeled and dated – in an area that is NOT close to: hot pipes, a stove, a furnace, under a sink, in an uninsulated attic, or in direct sunlight. If you ignore this suggestion, the food could lose quality and, possibly spoil, in a matter of weeks – or months. If the possibility of freezing is suspected, wrap jars in newspaper, place them in a heavy cardboard box, and cover them with more newspapers and blankets.
These fundamental precautions are designed to remove oxygen, destroy enzymes, and prevent growth of botulism bacterium, mold, and yeast – and, also help form – and preserve – a high vacuum in the jars – a tight jar seal is essential to keep canning liquid in – and the bad critters, as well as air – out.
Open Kettles And Typical Cooking Pots
Using open kettles and other cooking pots that are not explicitly designed as either water bath or pressure canners are highly discouraged. This is what got our early settlers in trouble and many of them perished due to the introduction of botulism into their canned goods. Stick with equipment designed for this process. The best standard pressure canners are here.
Old Glass Mayonnaise And Salad Dressing Jars
Stay away from canning with glass jars that previously held commercially sold products. Even though special canning lids are available for pint and quart sized mayonnaise or salad dressing jars, the lids won’t hold a seal very long and the jars are much more prone to breakage due to the vacuum or the boiling water. Use Mason jars and their associated lids and screw-on bands – period!
The only thing these glass jars are good for – are piggy banks, screw holders, and room decorations!
Using Other Heat Sources For Canning
Do NOT try to process canned foods in ovens, microwaves, or dishwashers! This may sound hilarious – but, there are actually folks who have tried this – and, it will NOT prevent spoilage. Turn your back on steam canners, too. They are not as reliable as the standard pressure canners.
Tasting Food From Unsealed Canning Jars
DO NOT! I say again – DO NOT – taste food from a jar with an unsealed lid – or, food that looks like it is spoiled. That is the quickest path to the hospital – or, a funeral home! Bacteria and yeast produce gas which pressurizes the Mason jar contents – forcing the lid upward and breaking the jar seal. NOTE: Lids with concave centers will have good seals. Lids that are bulging upward will, most likely, not have a good seal.
Also, look for telltale signs of dried food on the outside of the jar – originating at the top – and, air bubbles – or, an unnatural food color. These are also indicators of spoilage.
High acid foods will usually prevent the growth of food poisoning organisms – the high acid content normally prevents their growth. But, botulism’s namesake, the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, will grow by leaps and bounds in low acid foods that have not been properly canned. They produce a poisonous toxin that can kill.
To ensure that the food is safe to eat – even if it doesn’t appear to be spoiled, if is wise to boil the food at least 10 minutes if you are less than 1,000 feet below sea level. Add a minute for each 1,000 feet of higher elevation. This boiling process should eliminate the bacterium.
Here are additional canning details for several groups of foods. As these pages are added to the website and made available, the links will magically turn blue!
Poultry, Red Meat, Seafood
Jams and Jellies
And, Now – The End Is Near
How do you turn a cucumber into a pickle?
Well, the only question I ask is, “CAN you put it through a “jarring” experience?”
Comments and emails welcome! Share your home canning adventures with us! Responses are guaranteed!