Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Every Family Should Can

I have been doing a fair bit of canning the past couple of weeks. I want to do a lot more. Canning is kind of a family tradition. I cannot remember when I had my first experience with canning. As long as I can remember when harvest time arrived the whole family would get together. It didn't matter if we were harvesting corn, peas, beans, or whatever the whole family was there.

The men would pick whatever we were harvesting. As we filled bushel baskets they would be taken to where the ladies were waiting. They would start shucking, shelling, or snapping.

Once everything was picked, we would start the shucking or shelling or whatever. The ladies would move to cooking and canning. We basically had an assembly line and once one task was done everyone shifted down. At some point everyone did every job. There were no men's and women's jobs, just jobs. Good thing I was raided that way. I have seen my dad, mom, and grandparents all can something.

I am the primary canner in my family now. So far I have canned jams, stewed tomatoes, and vegetable soups. Canning is a great way to preserve what you harvest. Canning can be used for more, much more.

You can can anything that comes out of your garden. You can can meats, leftovers, even take things you buy at the grocery and combine them into something more usable. The equipment you will need depends on what you intend to can.

Basic Equipment

For high acid foods, vinegar based foods like pickles, and sugared fruit preserves, jams, jellies, syrups and the like all that is really required is a water-bath canner. Basically a large deep pot. Helpful equipment includes a funnel, jar lifter, a lid magnet, and a rubber spatula. Oh and of course you need the canning jars. Several name brands are out there. Just pick one you like. So far I haven't had any problems with any that are labeled for canning.

I have made a funnel out of a 3 liter soda bottle that I cut and washed. You can sometimes improvise some of the equipment. Just remember everything must be clean.

For low acid foods like beans, peas, meat, and really everything else you will need a pressure canner. I have included a link to a pressure canner like I have. It works great, but I am saving up to buy a pressure canner that can take 1/2 gallon jars. Yup, I said 1/2 gallon jars. With my family I need larger size jars. I have made jam in the little 1/2 pint jars. Each jar only lasted one meal. I do not can anything smaller than a pint now.

Getting Started

If you have never canned before start with something you have on hand. Tomatoes are probably the easiest thing in the world to can, but jams are pretty easy as well. We have had a fairly good year when it comes to tomatoes.

To can crushed tomatoes all you need is your jars, a water-bath canner, salt, pepper, a knife, and time. If you want to peel the tomatoes first you can, I usually don't. I just core the tomatoes, remove any soft spots, and cut them up. I place all of the tomatoes in a large pot and start cooking them. Salt and pepper to taste. While tomatoes are cooking sterilize jars and put lids in a pot of water. Warm up lids to just below boiling.

There are two ways that I have used to sterilize jars. One, place in a large pot and bring to a boil. Allow jars to boil for one minute. Two, place jars in oven heat to 200 degrees for a minimum of 5 minutes. Either method works fine. Lately I have been using the oven method most often because it keeps the stove eyes open for other steps.

Cook tomatoes until done. I taste mine for seasoning. Take sterilized jar fill using funnel to within 1/2 inch of top. Place lid and finger tighten band. FINGER TIGHTEN. If you tighten the band too much before the next step your jar will not seal properly. The band has to be loose enough to allow air to escape your jar.

Place jars in water-bath canner. Make sure to have at least one inch of water above the top of the jars. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat just enough that the water continues to boil, but it does not boil over. Process for 10 minutes. Cut off heat and remove jars from canner with the canning tongs. Sit them on the counter to cool and listen for the "plink". Some may plink as soon as you take the jars out of the water while others may take hours. Once you hear that plink you know your jars are sealed.

Vegetable Soup

I am including my vegetable soup because I was specifically asked to do so. An honor no doubt, but also a little unnerving. Unnerving because my vegetable soup is never the same twice. I use whatever I have. One time my soup may have okra or even peas in it the next time not, just as an example. There are some staples in my soup though. A very heavy tomato base. I am talking crushed or diced tomatoes and lots of them. Corn, beans (could be lima, butter, or pinto), green beans, carrots, potatoes, and onion. 

Vegetable soup can be tricky. Either all the ingredients have to come in at the same time or you have to can in stages then used canned ingredients and recan. There is also a way to cheat depending on what you have planted.

I cook all ingredients until they are completely done. I have eaten a bowl while canning. While cooking I get everything ready as I stated above. Fill jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Center lid and put on bands finger tight. When you feel resistance stop.

Here is where I deviate from the Ball canning book. The Ball canning book is like the Bible of canning. Ball says to use a pressure canner. Since I prefer to can vegetable soup in 1/2 gallon jars and don't have a pressure canner that is large enough to accommodate 1/2 gallon jars. So I use a water bath canner. Please note I am not suggesting you do so. I am just telling you I do. I process vegetable soup for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes I remove from the canner and wait for the Plink.

There is a cheat. If you have lots of tomatoes and you do not want to have to can and recan you can use frozen or even canned mixed vegetables you buy from the grocery. Use what you have and buy the rest. It will be a lot better than anything you can buy. If you are going to use canned veggies with your tomatoes, I suggest buying the big gallon cans, but that also depends on how many tomatoes you have.

If you are new to canning or want to expand your knowledge make the investment and buy the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It is well worth the cost and you can always tweak the recipe, I do.

I hope you enjoyed this little venture into canning. Guys I hope you see you can do it too. This should be something the whole family does. Canning will help you make sure you have a full tummy and a healthy body, because you know everything that goes into your home canned foods. Now if you will excuse me, I have apple jelly to make.

I Wish you Rural Dreams and Homestead Wishes.

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