Beginners Guide to Canning Food
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Home canning is a good idea for so many reasons, the only real question is how to go about it?
The good news is that many great (and free) resources are available for beginners. Your local cooperative extension system is a great source of information. Many have books and websites covering all the basics, including recipes and canning guides. Not all recipes found online are reliable, so stick with those approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Jean Weese, professor and extension specialist at Alabama’s Auburn University, recommends the National Center for Home Food Preservation (found at www.UGA.edu/nchfp) for a complete listing of USDA tested recipes. Several recipe books also are available, the “Ball Blue Book” being a perennial favorite. Ball also offers tutorials, instructional video, and step-by-step recipes on its website, FreshPreserving.com.
All about the acid
Whatever resource you choose to guide you, the bottom line is this: The golden rule of canning is “acidity is everything.”
“Foods that do not have acid require pressure canning. These are foods such as green beans, peas, corn, potatoes and many others,” Weese says. “When you place food with no acid in a jar and seal it with a vacuum, you have created a great place for Clostridium botulinum to grow. This organism, when placed in the vacuum environment, can start growing and create the deadly botulinum toxin, which causes an illness known as botulism. If a person consumes even a small amount of this toxin it can result in death.”
The natural acidity found in some fruits and vinegar provides an inhospitable environment for botulism-causing microorganisms. Foods without this acidity must be processed at a temperature that cannot be reached in a boiling water bath, and so a pressure canner must be used.
Spoilers are everywhere
The causes of food spoilage are constant: loss of moisture, enzyme activity, exposure to oxygen and microorganisms. The process of canning slows the activity of spoilage enzymes, creates a vacuum that seals in moisture and keeps oxygen out, and prevents growth of undesirable microorganisms like mold, yeast and bacteria. Choosing fresh produce and cleaning it thoroughly also is important because micro-
organisms live on the surface and can spread in bruised or insect-damaged fruits and vegetables.
Weese recommends jams, jellies or pickles for the beginner because the recipes are simple and forgiving. In that light, we’ll go step-by-step through a simple Apple Jelly recipe that is as delicious as a glaze for pork loin as it is spread on English muffins.