Friday, June 12, 2009

Canning 101

I picked up my 15 pounds of tomatoes Wednesday and started processing them last evening. The top of my agenda was pasta sauce. We use this all fall/winter as a pasta sauce and pizza sauce. The most devastating thing about not having success (yet--I still have hope!) with my tomatoes this year was the prospect of an entire year without my homemade sauce.

Canning is a little scary for me. The whole idea of botulism rather freaks me out, but I try to have faith in the canning process that my sauce will be safe. The biggest keys in canning is to make sure you boil (process) the filled jars long and you don't keep any jars that don't seal. The acidity of the food being canned is key, so follow the recipe you use carefully. Changing a recipe significantly could change the acidity of the food and increase chances of botulism.
Have jars touch the pot to prevent them from breaking
I also worry about the glass jars breaking. I fill the jars with boiling hot sauce and I hate hearing the ping as the glass breaks from hot in cold. The answer to that is to line the jars up around the pot of boiling water, the edges touching the pot so the glass heats up as well.

The only equipment you need to can--a large pot, rings, lids, and glass jars
You don't need lots of fancy equipment to can. All you really need is a large pot, tall enough that the jars can be submerged, glass jars, lids and rings. At the grocery store, you can buy a tray of glass jars with lids and rings already on it. The rings and jars are also reusable from year to year. The lids are not. There are a couple other things that are helpful, but not necessary--a large grabber thing to put the jars in the boiling water and to pull them out. A little metal jar holder to put at the bottom of the pot is also helpful, but again not necessary. The jar holder keeps the jars from clanking around on each other and the pot and breaking. If you don't have that, fold a kitchen hand towel up to fit in the bottom of the pot and put the jars on that. (That's what I did the first 2 years I canned). Also helpful (but not necessary) is a large funnel that fits in the mouth of the jars to prevent losing sauce down the outside of the jars. A plastic one is best since it won't conduct heat and become too hot to touch.
Helpful, but not necessary equipment--a rack for the bottom of the pot, a plastic funnel, and a gripper for the hot jars

Before putting the metal lids on the jars, place them in very hot water for few minutes. This softens the rubber compound on the lids and helps them to seal tightly.

When you process the jars (full of whatever goodie you want to preserve), boil the water uncovered. Because some water will be lost to evaporation, keep a teapot of boiling water handy so you can add boiling water as the water level gets lower. Use boiling water so it doesn't reduce the temperature of the water you are processing cans in significantly.
Processing tomato juice--I need to add more boiling water because of losing some water to evaporation.

Using a pressure cooker speeds up the process considerably. I however don't have a pressure cooker so I can't really attest to how that process works or is different.

If you want to can your own foods, I would recommend to talking to someone else who has canned (in addition to me). There is also a good website on preserving food. Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Canning is also becoming a little more popular again. There is a new book out on preserving food and in the Austin area, a class is being taught on canning by the Sustainable Food Center this Sunday.

Watch for my pasta sauce recipe and tomato juice recipe (it's great for Gazpacho!) here in the next few days.

No comments: