What you need to get started canning:
¢ Water-bath canner: These start at about $30 and can be found online.
¢ Pressure canner: These start at about $60 and can be found online and larger retail stores.
¢ Canning jars: The jars are sold in various sizes and usually by the dozen. A dozen can be found starting at about $11 in most grocery stores and some retailers, as well as online.
¢ Canning guides: Douglas County K-State Research and Extension office, 2110 Harper St., has free pamphlets and guides on canning. Books on canning can be found online or at any book store.
¢ Time: Depending on how much you plan to can, or what you plan to do, canning can be a time-consuming process. Jars must be cleaned and/or sterilized before use. Simple preparations of each fruit or vegetables may not be time-consuming, but depending on the method and the fruit or vegetable's acidity, it may take more than an hour to process the jars in the canner. Sauces and jams also may take additional time to prepare before the canning process.
You've got tomatoes coming out of your ears. Okra, peppers and cucumbers, too, in a cornucopia of late summer produce.
You could eat vegetables until you sprout roots, but most likely, you'll still see a few, if not more, die a wilting death waiting to get on your plate.
Or you could take that bounty and prepare it the way Irene Hain has been her whole life: in a jar.
Hain, 80, has been a home canner since learning the skill from her grandmother as a child. She's an expert at preserving her garden vegetables into a yearlong bounty of dilly beans, chow chow, green tomato pickles, jams, jellies, dill and bread and butter pickles, beans and tomatoes.
"We had our own garden, and we always did our own canning," the Lawrence resident says. "We can the things that are in the garden, of course. We grow mostly tomatoes, and green beans and beets and, of course, cucumbers to make pickles."
Though she cans every summer, she knows it's a dying art. Many folks young enough to be her grandchildren have never spent time canning with their grandmothers and probably haven't even seen canning equipment in use.
But that could soon change, as canning is getting a few extra breaths of life thanks to soaring food prices.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected food costs will rise 5 to 6 percent this year, the biggest increase since 1990. Even before the USDA's report, which came out last week, more and more people had turned to gardening this summer as a means to save at the grocery store.
And now, with an abundance of late-summer vegetables and fruits, many people are left wondering how to enjoy their bounty without throwing out food.
Enter the forgotten art of food preservation - canning, freezing and drying. Most everyone knows how to freeze foods, but canning and drying can be a little bit more of a mystery.
And canning specifically can be especially worrisome for someone lacking Hain's experience. The canning process, when done correctly, uses heat and time to process foods in a water-bath or pressure canner. Both methods remove oxygen, destroy enzymes, prevent the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds and helps to form a high vacuum in jars. Tight vacuum seals keep liquid in and air and microorganisms out until the product is opened. Of concern is not doing it correctly and ending up with food that has gone bad and is rife with bacteria when it is finally opened.
To avoid a trip to the emergency room or a sad day of taking oodles of jars to the trash bin, Mary Ellen Barnes has a few recommendations. Barnes, a home canner for nearly 30 years, judges food preservation contests for 4-H in four counties. She will teach a class on food preservation Sept. 25 at the Community Mercantile, 901 Iowa.
Her first recommendation is that novices start with the simplest of the two methods of canning, water-bath canning. This involves sealing a canning jar in a hot bath of boiling water. The other method, pressure canning, can be a little bit more difficult, especially for beginners, she says.
"I would start with a water-bath canner and your high-acid foods like tomatoes," says Barnes, who lives south of Tonganoxie. "It's easier. ... Some of the pressure foods, you know, green beans ... corn, take an extremely long time to process - it takes like an hour and a half in the pressure canner."
She also recommends going to the Douglas County Extension Office, 2110 Harper St., to pick up free pamphlets on food preservation, buying the "Ball Blue Book of Preserving" or checking out canning resources online.
The disadvantage to water-bath canning is that it cannot be used to can low-acid foods such as corn, peas and mushrooms. However, pressure canners can be used with foods of all acidities. Low-acid foods have pH values of higher than 4.6. Acid foods have a pH of 4.6 or lower. Acidity may be natural - as in most fruits - or added, as in pickled foods. Therefore, the level of acidity in foods can be increased by adding acids like lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar.
Barnes says that despite the method one chooses, the canner should be aware of the signs that something has gone astray in the canning process. These signs include a bulging lid and visible mold in the jar.
"Really, following the guidelines is very, very important," she says. "If you have a clean environment to start and use the USDA guidelines, you should be safe."
Favorite dill pickles
1 cup pickling salt
3 quarts water
1 quart vinegar
20-25 4-inch cucumbers
Into each hot, sterilized quart jar:
1/8 teaspoon powdered alum
2 heads dill
1 clove garlic
1 hot pepper (optional)
1 grape leaf
Let cucumbers stand in cold water overnight. Pack in hot jars. Heat salt, water and vinegar to boiling. Pour into jars until a half-inch from the top. Then cap and seal. Place jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes to promote sealing.
- Recipe from Irene Hain
Bread and butter refrigerator pickles
8 cups sliced cucumbers with rind
1/2-3/4 cup chopped or sliced onion
1/2 green or rep pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon canning and pickling salt
1 tablespoon water
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Drain and add:
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery salt
Cook until sugar is dissolved.
Pack in jars and refrigerate two weeks before using. Keeps in the refrigerator for one year.
- Recipe from Irene Hain