Thursday, August 4, 2011

Canning Basics

Canning can be intimidating but it doesn't have to be. There are some basic recipes and techniques anyone can do. I don't get too fancy because I just don't feel comfortable moving to the next step but I make beautiful jams and jellies. For me - I can fruit, tomatoes, syrups and jams. I rarely get a spoiled jar and I have only had 1 jar explode on me (it was a very controlled explosion that stayed in the pot of water so I'm not sure it can really be called an explosion).
The big thing to remember is that you have to process your canning jars so they seal properly and when processing everything needs to be about the same temperature. To clarify, to process a jar - you put your food in the jar, wipe the rim, add the lid and the outer ring, set them in water and boil for a certain amount of time (depending on your altitude and recipe). The food in the jar has to be in a similar temperature to the water you put it in for processing. If the food is hot, the water should be hot; if the food is cold, then the water should be cold and brought to a boil after the jars are in. Otherwise, the jar breaks and you lose everything you have just made.
Ball Canning has a great website that offers tons of recipes and a tutorial on learning how to can. I will tell you there are a number of things out there for canning. I have purchased some canning specific items over the years but in the beginning, I used what I had. You need a large pot that will fit the jars in. I use a large stock pot. Even with a canning specific pot, I can only process about 6 jars at a time which is about what I could fit in my large stock pot. Tongs that can grab the top of the jars and pull them out of the water is a must as well. I still use just kitchen tongs instead of the fancy canning tongs. I use a lot of kitchen towels and pot holders to help. The last must have is a good way to put the items in the jar. I used a ladle and carefully added the stuff to the jar. It worked but did get messy. I do love my canning funnel and think it should be the first real canning purchase (after jars and lids). The funnel just makes it all easier but it's not an absolute necessity. Last thing is a wet washcloth to wipe the rim after pouring the stuff in the jar.
I will share that using store bought pectin and the recipes included is a great way to learn how to make jams and jellies. It's user-friendly. I still use pectin and make fancier jams (like apple pie jam which I will share soon.
One thing I do often is can tomatoes. I love canning tomatoes because it's easy. Not everyone will agree with my method and that's okay. It works for me and I have jars of tomatoes that have lasted years with no problem. My secret is to wash the tomato and remove the stem part and sometimes the little blemish on the bottom. If the tomatoes are large then I coarsely chop them, otherwise I leave them whole. Cook them slowly over medium heat (stir to prevent the bottom from burning). When hot and soupy, ladle into hot quart jars and process in boiling water for about 20 minutes. I think the time is 10-15 but I almost always keep them for 20. Remove from water and let dry and cool on counter (on top of a towel).
Another thing to share - I run my jars through the dishwasher as I start my canning recipe so I have clean, hot jars to ladle the product into.

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