Canning Part 2 - The Process
Welcome back to this mini-series of canning articles. Today we will be discussing the actual canning process. I’ll dispense with the usual anecdote so we can dive right in.
Use Care and Caution
Even though canning is a fun project, approach it seriously. You’re dealing with heat, boiling water and hot equipment. Work carefully to avoid burns and scalds. Additionally, there is the possibility of food poisoning if the equipment and food is not prepared and handled properly.
On With the Show!
We are going to deal with the canning process only. My wife keeps her private stash of recipes under lock and key; however, suffice it to know that there are an abundance of recipes available on the Web. I’ll give you a great resource at the end of this article, both on the process and on the recipes.
The Three Ps of Canning
The canning process can be broken down into three phases. Here they are:
1. Preparation of your equipment
2. Picking your recipe and preparing the food
3. Preservation, the actual process used to can the food
Preparation of Your Equipment
You should clean and inspect your jars, rings and lids. The rings, jars and lids should be washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed thoroughly. The jars cannot have any nicks in the seal surface. Additionally, check for nicks or cracks on the jar surface. These can inhibit a good seal and also cause the jar to break under pressure.
The rings should be clean and fit easily onto the jar necks. Carefully inspect the sealing lids and make sure there are no bad spots on the seals. Remember: lids can only be used one time, while jars and rings can be used as long as there is no damage. Ensure that the rings are dry before using them.
If you are preserving high-acid content foods, you will be using a boiling water cooker. You don’t need to buy a special piece of equipment, however. Any large pot that is tall enough to hold enough water to cover the jars will do. It should have a rack for the jars to rest on to prevent damage from direct heat contact.
Start by filling the pot about half the way up and heat the water to a simmer. Place the jars and lids in the water, keeping them hot until ready for use. This reduces the possibility of hot food cracking a cold jar, called thermal shock breakage.
The preparation is similar for pressure cooker canning. Keep the jars heated in a large, half-filled pot, not in the cooker itself. Additionally, heat the lids in a smaller saucepan, being careful not to boil them. That would ruin the sealing surface. The pressure canner should be filled with water to a depth of two or three inches and heated to a simmer until the jars are inserted.
Preparing the Food
There are so many recipes that I can’t go into a lot of detail on this. However, in many cases you will be heating the food, actually cooking the food or performing a process called blanching. Blanching entails submerging the food into boiling water or steam for a short time. You then immediately cool it rapidly in ice water. This is used to make the food easy to peel or skin and to stop the cooking process. It can also remove harsh, undesirable flavors. It also keeps some vegetables from getting soggy.
Make sure your recipe is designed and tested for canning. After the food is ready, it’s time to fill the jars. Remove the hot jars from the pots. Ladle or spoon the food into the heated jars carefully. A canning funnel helps make filling easier. Leave about ¼ to ½ inches of air above the food. This is called headspace and allows adequate room for food expansion and adequate space for a strong vacuum seal. Air bubbles should be removed if the recipes states that. Clean the rim of the jar.
In both pressure cooker canning and the boiling water method, place the lids on carefully and hold them in place with the rings. The rings should be finger-tight. If they are too tight, the air will not escape and a vacuum will not be formed.
The pressure cooker should be checked to make sure there is still two to three inches of water. Place the jars in the cooker, attach the lid and raise the heat to a medium-high setting. Allow steam to vent until there is no air in the canner and then proceed as recommended by the manufacturer. When the food has been heat-processed for the requisite time, carefully remove the jars using tongs and set them aside to cool. Do not try to retighten the rings or disturb the seals. Sealing could take from 12 to 24 hours.
When using the boiling water method, place jars in the pot, ensure they are covered with one to two inches of water and cover the pot. Bring the water to a full rolling boil and start the timer. When the time required has passed, remove the jars and allow to cool 12 to 24 hours.
Some lids have a seal indicator button. If not, check the seal by pressing on the lid. It shouldn’t flex at all. You can check the seal by trying to pull it off with your fingertips. If a jar does not seal, immediately reprocess or refrigerate the jar.
A Great Resource
Many are familiar with the names Ball® and Kerr®. They are now part of the Jarden Home Brands and maintain an excellent site at http://freshpreserving.com . There are superb resources there such as tips, recipes and terms. Equipment can also be purchased through the site.
Steve Maurer is a freelance writer in Northwest Arkansas. He and his wife, Mary, are avid gardeners and love sharing their harvest with friends, neighbors and charity organizations. Visit their gardening notebook at http://stevesnotebook2.wordpress.com
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