Beginners Guide to Canning Food
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Putting on the pressure
Pressure canning can be a little intimidating for folks unfamiliar with a pressure cooker. When I first began canning, I would only approach my pressure canner using a pot lid as a riot shield. (Later, through a Google search, I learned that the pressure-regulating weight on my particular model is supposed to rock “more aggressively” than other models; at the time, though, I was convinced I was going to be killed in a tragic green bean accident.)
You also will need jars with two-piece self-sealing lids in an appropriate size for the type of food you are preparing. (Do you really need a half gallon of jelly?)
Remember that bands and jars can be reused (as long as the rings are free of rust and the jars are free of scratches or chips), but the lids cannot. You must use a new lid every time to achieve a good seal. You also will need a plastic spoon, a ladle and a funnel. Other inexpensive canning tools are available to make the job easier and safer. Jar lifters, headspace tools and magnetic lid lifters will keep your fingers out of trouble and can be found wherever canning supplies are sold.
Take the plunge with Apple Jelly
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll start with a high-acid recipe for Apple Jelly that requires a boiling water canner, which is simply a deep pot outfitted with a lid and a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot.
Once you have assembled your tools, it’s time to pick your produce – in this case, apples. Choose the freshest produce available, both for the prevention of spoilage and because you can only get out the quality you put in.
Step one: Wash jars, bands and lids in warm, soapy water; rinse and dry the bands well. Use pint or half-pint jars for this recipe. Next, sterilize jars by placing empty jars right-side-up on the rack in your boiling water canner and then adding hot, not boiling, water to cover the tops of the jars by 1 inch.
Bring water to a boil for 10 minutes. (Note: At elevations greater than 1,000 feet, add one minute for every additional 1,000 feet.) Remove jars one at a time and save the water for processing later. Place your clean lids in simmering, but not boiling, water over medium heat.
Step two: Select 3 pounds of tart apples. Apples are naturally high in pectin (a complex carbohydrate found in fruits that causes jelly to gel), and the more tart the apple the greater the pectin content, so using 1⁄4 slightly under-ripe and 3⁄4 fully ripe apples will allow your jelly to set nicely. Wash them well, and, without peeling or coring, cut into small pieces. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until apples are soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth to extract the juice.