Thursday, July 2, 2015

Food Preservation: Basics of Canning

Some of my favorite memories as a child are helping my grandma do her canning. Another is eating the foods that my family had canned. A lot of folks in my family canned while I was growing up. Mom, both my grandmas, great grandma, some of my aunts, even my great uncle!

The first order of business is to gather together your equipment, your food to be canned, and select your method of processing. In this case I am canning marinara sauce, so I will be using my pressure canner for processing. Once you have gathered your equipment, you should sterilize it either with boiling water or in your dishwasher, if your dishwasher is equipped to do so. It is important to time everything out so that your food and jars are hot at the same time that the water in your canner is boiling. It is also important to keep your  pressure canner's user manual handy. It will provide you not only with recipes and ideas, but important information regarding head space, canning methods, proper pressure, and proper processing times for canning your food.

While you start the water boiling, you should start filling your hot jars with hot food using your canning funnel.

Using your head space tool, measure how much head space you have and adjust accordingly. This recipe calls for 1/2" of head space. Your head space tool can also be used to release air bubbles trapped in the jar before processing. Foods such as vegetables, pickles and relish may have trapped air bubbles that need to be released. Just slide the rounded end of the tool down the edges of the jar and watch the bubbles bloop to the top.

Once your jars are full and have the proper head space, the rims of the jars need to be wiped clean with a damp dishcloth or paper towel. This will ensure that the adhesive can stick to the edge of the jar, without any food getting in the way.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to sterilize your lids. The typical method for this is to submerge them in simmering water. Remove them from the simmering water with your lid lifter and place them on the jars, taking care to avoid contamination.

Once your lids are all in place, you should gather together your canning rings.

Twist on your canning rings and tighten until "finger-tight." You don't want to crank them down too hard, or your jars may explode, or too loosely, allowing the contents to boil over and out of the jar. It may take a few batches to get it right, so don't get discouraged!

Lower your hot and freshly lidded jars into the boiling water of your canner. Be sure to use your canning tongs to avoid your fingertips being burned by the hot jar, the steam, or the boiling water.

If you notice that the water level has dropped a bit, add enough hot tap water to bring it back up to the correct level. Bring the water back to a boil before moving on.

Once your lid is on and pressure is achieved, it will be indicated by this little button that pops up. This button also indicates that your canner is locked and the lid cannot be taken off until the pressure has dropped off. When your button pops up and there is a solid jet of steam coming from the pressure stem, set a timer for 10 minutes. When your 10 minutes is up, add your weight and watch it rock!

This first video shows what the movement of your weight will look like if the temperature is too high. See how it is spinning more than rocking, and how erratic its movements are?

Lower the temperature on your stove and it will slow down and become more rhythmic. You want a slow, steady, back and forth motion.

After your food has processed for the amount of time indicated in your pressure canner's user manual, turn off the heat and carefully move your canner away from the heat. Now, leave it alone and let it cool! Don't get impatient and try to hasten its cooling. This could not only affect the quality and safety of the food inside, but you are running the risk of injuring yourself as well. Just be patient and let it cool! Remove your jars with canning tongs and set them on a dishtowel on your countertop once the canner is cool enough to open.

Once you have put your hot jars onto their dishtowel home, leave them be. They shouldn't be bumped, jostled or moved again until they are completely cool. Listen for the pop as they seal in the video below.

Now it's time to enjoy your freshly canned foods! I had some leftover marinara sauce that wouldn't fit in my jars, so I made a "poor man's" Chicken Parmesan out of a chicken patty, complete with a hotdog bun garlic bread. Yum!