Archive for Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Put a lid on it: Fight rising food costs by exploring art of canning

Irene Hain has been canning since she was old enough to hold a wooden spoon. Hain strains tomatoes through her grandmother's colander and cooks them in a water bath on a small stove her husband built for her in the garage. Canning is an effective and money-saving way to make summer produce last into the cooler-weather months.

Irene Hain has been canning since she was old enough to hold a wooden spoon. Hain strains tomatoes through her grandmother's colander and cooks them in a water bath on a small stove her husband built for her in the garage. Canning is an effective and money-saving way to make summer produce last into the cooler-weather months.

August 27, 2008


Related document

USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning ( .PDF )

Getting Started

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.

Now what?

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


Ragingbear 9 years, 8 months ago

Canyon, you don't even need to blanch them for that long, just a 5 second dip will do it. If you are careful to not bruise the tomatoes, and use proper canning methods, the tomatoes will come out with quite a lot of their original firmness. Another word to the wise. If you do decide to can, do not do what so many canners do and can stuff that you do not like. I don't know how many times I have seen people can stuff like beets, and then never eat them. Just can the stuff you like. If you are not going to eat it, there is no real point.

Ragingbear 9 years, 8 months ago

Wow, didn't even bother to address the fact that a pressure cooker is potentially a small bomb waiting to go off in the hands of the under-experienced. This is a very real concern, and at minimum can result in a new skylight in your kitchen when it launches the lid through your roof. No, there was not any exaggeration there.Pressure cookers need to be inspected yearly. This is vital, given the alternatives. They check the seals, signs of bulging, dents, dimples, stress fractures or whatever else may indicate that it is no longer safe. While I am not sure where you take them to get inspected in this state, the Merc probably will. If it's anything like it was in Idaho, it's an actual government certified process, but will only cost a few dollars to do so. Pressure cookers can also be used to cook things without canning them. For example, meats will quickly go from leather to tender and succulent in a cooker. There are many recipes online.I would also like to add a warning. While I advocate canning and the like for everyone, there are definite dangers. If you even remotely suspect that there is something wrong with the stuff, do not eat it. We are not talking about E.coli here. We are talking botulism. Botulism can kill you, especially if you are a child, elderly, or have a compromised immune system. We live in a day where you can get detailed instructions, and even video demonstrations on places like Youtube. Or, you could find some elderly people that had to can to survive. I am sure they would be more than willing to impart some practical wisdom onto the next generation.On a side note. If you can fruits, and even some vegetables; get this stuff called "Fruit Fresh". It's basically just powdered Vitamin C. Keeps the stuff from turning brown and mushy, as well as fortify your diet with Vitamin C.

number3of5 9 years, 8 months ago

RagingbearI have been canning for 50 years. I inspect my own canner. Never have I had one turn into a bomb. Simply paying attention to what you are doing and not forgetting it is all it takes to use a canner safely. And as my dad always said, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS on the canner. Oh, and if your vegetables are fresh, you do not need this stuff called "Fruit Fresh". There are extra steps necessary to keep corn from turning brown, but most canning books explain this detail. As for them being mushy, maybe you are over cooking them.As for this article recommending a hot water bath, I do not. I have less spoilage, even with tomatoes, when they are pressured in a canner. If there are any beginning canners out there who want some friendly advice, just let me know and I'll be glad to help.

fan4kufootball 9 years, 8 months ago

We can every year. Water bath canning is fine for high acidity vegetables such as tomatoes - and jams and jellies due to the high sugar content. As for anything else it needs to be pressured canned for safety. Ball has a wonderful canning book out that explains all about canning. There is also an Extension Office in most counties that has information about food preservation. It really is a savings on food costs if you grow your own vegetables or they are given to you. And - it's a lot of FUN!

canyon_wren 9 years, 8 months ago

I have a quick tip for people who are just learning to can tomatoes. Most canning instructions say to put tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds (or longer) and then "blanch" (submerge) in ice water before peeling. This is ridiculous and makes for mushy tomatoes.All you have to do is drop the tomatoes into boiling water, count to about 16, and then remove. They will peel just fine. Just be sure the water returns to a boil before putting additional tomatoes in.Canning tomatoes is SO rewarding and simple to do, and the end product is vastly superior to what you buy in the stores, even with the best brands.

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