Posts Tagged: home canning
Making jam, preserves, or jelly using the waterbath method is one of the easiest ways to make an entry into canning. Several years ago I started a jam contest in my office as a covert way to get rid of my proliferation of Elephant Heart plums. At first, my co-workers were reluctant to join in the fray, until I told them, "You know that saying 'Easy as pie'? That's a lie. Pie is hard. Jam is easy." And easy it is.
If you're ready to try your hand at preserving, the University of California and UC Cooperative Extension offer a wealth of information for home preservers.
First up, are UC ANR's free downloadable publications on home preservation and storage. Included in this list is the series Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. From apples to tomatoes, these handy publications include tips on food safety as well as recipes. I made a very tasty jam from the publication Peppers: Safe Methods to Store Preserve, and Enjoy and wrote about it in an earlier blog post.
Also making a big comeback are the UC Master Food Preservers (MFP). Akin to the UC Master Gardeners, these UC-trained volunteers have completed a 12-week session led by UC-certified Master Food Preservers. Once trained, MFP's pass on their knowledge to the public and commit to completing 30 volunteer hours and 15 continuing education hours each year.
At present, a limited number of UC Cooperative Extension offices offer the program, but it is growing strong. The web sites of these UC MFP programs also contain a wealth of information for home preservers.
If you can't get into a UC MFP class, the Ball website has an extensive list of classes.
The UC Center for Food Safety's website contains an exhaustive list of resources from universities, the USDA, as well as links to manufacturers of canning supplies. My favorite is the encyclopedic Judging Home-Preserved Foods from the University of Georgia. This would have come in handy for the plum jam contest!
By the way - if you have a favorite canning jar, I recommend buying early in the season to make sure you get your favorite while it is still in stock. My favorite, the half-pint wide mouth jar, is impossible to find after the end of June.
I brought my camera with me to a Master Food Preservers class Saturday at UC Cooperative Extension Sacramento County on pressure canning. In case you’ve been thinking about participating in a Master Food Preservers class, here’s a peek inside the Sacramento demonstration kitchen:
“Cooking is a whole different ball game from canning — a whole different science,” Prendergast said. He's been a UC Master Food Preserver since 1995, and regularly teaches the monthly Saturday morning classes in Sacramento county. Next month's Saturday morning class will be on dehydrating, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Dec. 10.
UC Master Food Preservers is a volunteer organization structured in a way similar to UC Master Gardeners. Master Food Preserver candidates complete training to become knowledgeable in food preservation and then are required to volunteer time sharing their knowledge with the public by teaching classes and answering questions.
UC Cooperative Extension currently has Master Food Preservers in four counties:
In Sacramento County, the Master Food Preservers offer a monthly class on Saturday mornings that focuses on techniques of a specific preservation process – either water-bath canning, pressure canning or dehydrating. Once a month on Wednesday evenings, the group offers classes that focus on preserving specific fruits or vegetables.
This Wednesday’s class is on “Fall Fruits and Winter Squash” which will include quince and pomegranates among others. The class is 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 4145 Branch Center Road in Sacramento; registration to attend is $3.
When we think of preserved food, however, we often conjure up thoughts of sticky, sweet jams and jellies and salty pickles and sauerkraut. The treats from the kitchen of a home food preserver are tasty, but it's not exactly health food, right? Well, you might be surprised to learn that this is not necessarily the case.
The many benefits of fermentation
Typical fermented foods include yogurt, soy sauce, miso, tempeh, buttermilk, pickles and sauerkraut. Fermented foods have been used for centuries in almost every culture for long- term food storage, to flavor foods and in times of food shortages. These foods offer a wide variety of health benefits due to the process of fermentation, which actually increases nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12, nicotinic acid, riboflavin, and thiamine. Fermented foods also have "friendly bacteria" or probiotics, that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in our gut. More research is needed in this area, but some studies show promising results in treating bowel diseases and stimulating the immune system with probiotics. Additionally, the process of fermentation partially brakes down lactose, making it easier for lactose-intolerant people to consume milk-based products such as yogurt.
When food is cooked, dried, frozen and reheated, there is always a loss of nutrients.
Vitamins A, C and B are often degraded through the cooking process, however, some cooked vegetables actually supply more cancer-fighting antioxidants than their raw forms.
For instance, researchers at Cornell University found that heat from cooking actually increases lycopene content and overall antioxidant activity in tomatoes. Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical (or "phytochemical") found in tomatoes that decreases risk of cancer and heart disease. So what does this mean, exactly? Is it better to eat our veggies raw or cooked? Well, raw tomatoes are undoubtedly a great source of Vitamin C, but it's also a good idea to eat some canned or cooked tomatoes to benefit from the high levels of lycopene and antioxidant activity. This is true for many other vegetables in our diet, as well.
What about all that sugar and salt?
Sure, jams and jellies are often made with a good amount of sugar, and we need to use salt to ferment pickles and sauerkraut, but there are ways to preserve food without high amounts of salt or sugar.
We can't remove the sodium from fermented pickles or sauerkraut (unless we rinse them before eating), but sodium can be removed from fresh-pack pickles. You can find delicious, low-sodium recipes on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/diet_pick.html). One concern we may have about canned vegetables (whether homemade or store bought) is that they are often high in sodium. Well, the salt in canned food is only used to season the food, it is not necessary for safety. So, if you desire to keep sodium levels low, you can omit the salt when canning and use salt substitutes when you're ready to eat the food. Cooking with garlic and fresh or dried herbs is also great way to add flavor to a low-sodium canned food.
There are a variety of fruit spreads that can be made lower in sugar and calories than regular jams and jellies. There are also two types of modified pectin that can be used that require less sugar. Recipes for low-sugar fruit spreads can be found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can7_jam_jelly.html).
You can also use gelatin as a thickening agent in low-sugar recipes, but these fruit spreads must be refrigerated and used within a month or so, rather than canned for long-term storage.
Fruits can also be canned more healthfully in water or 100% fruit juices, rather than sugary syrups. These fruits must be ripe but firm and prepared as a hot pack. Refer to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for more information. Splenda is the only sugar substitute that can be added to covering liquids before canning fruits. Other sugar substitutes can be added when serving.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor
The next time you enjoy a jar of home canned vegetables or fermented pickles, think cancer- fighting antioxidants and friendly bacteria for your gut. Not only are you consuming produce that was preserved at the peak of its freshness, but you are certainly doing your body some good!
When we first moved to California our rental house came with a prolific lemon tree. New to a climate where citrus could be grown, we thought this was the greatest thing ever -- lemons right outside our door during the rainy gloom of winter. When dinner and party invitations started coming in, we started arriving with lemons as gifts. But when our hosts invariably greeted our lemony bounty with clenched smiles and "Great! Lemons!" we were perplexed. Only later did we realize that practically everyone has lemons.
I recently told this story to someone at a party and they replied - "Of course, lemons are the zucchini of winter! Everyone has more than they know what to do with."
So what do you do with an abundance of lemons?
Marmalade is an easy choice, and one that uses lots of lemons. So is freezing the juice for use in lemonade when the heat of summer arrives. But my new favorite way to use lemons is making salted preserved lemons. They're easier to make than marmalade and a tasty addition to many recipes.
The basic ingredients are lemons and Kosher salt. But I use Paula Wolfert's recipe that also includes spices. Besides adding extra flavor, the whole cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaf look nice in the jar.
Make sure your lemons are very clean. Backyard lemons often have a rougher outer texture that may take a little extra scrubbing.
Starting with a layer of salt on the bottom, pack the lemons into a sterilized jar and layer them with salt and spices.
Press the lemons to release their juice as you pack them. Finish by adding enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover.
Now all that's left is time. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place for 30 days, shaking the jar every day or so to distribute the salt, spices and juice. The lemons will start to break down, so don't be alarmed if the lemons are no longer submerged in juice.
Whether to save money or to dine on fresher products, more Californians have been buying locally grown food and growing their own lately. They also have started home canning what they can’t eat right away. But be aware that if you put them up incorrectly, those garden goodies can be deadly.I’m no domestic goddess so I learned a lot about home canning recently while watching Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor for Santa Clara County, make a 2-minute video describing safe canning tips.
Meats, vegetables and any food containing meats and vegetables -- such as salsa or spaghetti sauce -- have to be pressure-canned to prevent botulism, a paralyzing illness that can kill the person who eats the contaminated food. Botulism is caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. A less serious consequence of not following a scientifically tested recipe is foodborne microorganisms can survive and spoil your canned foods.
I used to wonder why people would pickle green beans or cauliflower. They seemed like odd foods to pickle. Now I understand.
If you prefer to home can low-acid vegetables such as green beans using the boiling water bath instead of a pressure canner, you must first pickle the vegetables to ensure the final acidity is too high for Clostridium botulinum to grow.High-acid foods such as peaches naturally have a pH of 4.6 or less and contain enough acid to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum so they can be home canned using the boiling water bath method. However, processing times must be followed precisely to ensure that all bacteria are destroyed using a water bath canner—so, following a standard recipe is very important!
“Certain foods, such as tomatoes, pears and figs, have a pH value close to 4.6 and must have acid added to them to lower the pH enough to use the water bath method,” Algert told me. “The pH can be lowered by adding commercial lemon juice or powdered citric acid.”
She added, “You can’t use juice squeezed from a fresh lemon that you picked from your backyard tree because we don’t know exactly how acidic the juice is. Commercial lemon juice meets a standard acidity.”
Here’s a general guide to help decide which canning method to use:
Low-acid foods that must be pressure canned:
- dairy products
- all vegetables
- combination products using these foods
High-acid foods that can be canned in boiling water bath:
- most fruits
- properly pickled vegetables
Foods that require added lemon juice for boiling water bath canning:
For more information about safely canning food, visit the University of California’s Food Safety website at http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/Consumer_Advice and the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp.
UC also offers publications at http://ucanr.org/foodpreservation on other methods of safely preserving and storing foods, from apples to tomatoes.
Algert's home canning overview: