Ah, the satisfaction of a successful garden can be one of life’s greatest delights. A fresh strawberry salad or slicing into a juicy tomato for a quick BLT in the afternoon… Yes, all summer long the reaping of your garden can be mighty savory. However, you also have to think out of the box and learn a thing or two about canning.
But what about during the winter months? Unless you live in some exotic faraway land (like Florida, or something), chances are, once the cold months set in, you will cease to enjoy those fresh summer salads, and will revert back to your old buying-stale-vegetables-from-overpriced-supermarkets-habit.
The problem that arises from the coming of the cold months has been a problem for food gathers since the beginning of any recognizable time. There is, however, a fairly easy and very worthy solution to this problem of nature.
Obviously, all the fruits that you reap from your spring/summer garden cannot be eaten, and its shelf life isn’t all that long. This conundrum brings the realization that those raw veggies will not make it through the entire winter, therefore, not supplying you with sufficient stock.
Here is where the fun stuff comes in:
Oxidation reactions are responsible for a lot of alterations in organic molecules. They commonly alter the molecules in stored food, causing the degradation of taste and nutrition.
By sucking most of the air (and therefore oxygen) out of mason jars packed with veggies, the stored materials undergo far fewer oxidation reactions. Adding little packets of oxygen-absorbing chemicals enhances the effect since not all the air is sucked out by the sealer. This is the reason for canning.
Organisms that lead to food spoilage are always existent in the air, water, and soil. These are bacteria, molds, and yeasts. Enzymes that can cause distasteful changes in color, flavor, and texture are present in all raw fruits and vegetables.
The canning process changes these natural functions. When you can these foods, you heat them to the point that any spoilage organisms present are destroyed. This heating (also known as processing) also eliminates the action of those natural enzymes.
Processing is done in two ways:
The kind of canner used will depend on the kind of food you are attempting to can.
Choosing the Correct Canner:
- Boiling-water-bath Canner– This canner will be used for fruits, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables. The boiling water method will ensure the processing of high-acid foods safely.
- Steam-pressure Canner– This method is to be used for all vegetables (except tomatoes). To process low-acid foods dependently in a rational length of time requires a higher temperature than that that is reached when boiling water.
Preparing the Equipment:
Here is a small DISCLAIMER: Though there is a safe way of doing this sort of work, it can and will be dangerous if you do not follow the proper procedures.
For the safe use of your canner, first and foremost, use a string or strip of cloth to clean the petcock and safety-valve openings. This step must be done at the beginning of the canning season as well as throughout (between each use, in theory).
Next, you will want to check the pressure gauge. The pressure gauge is there to ensure accurate processing temperatures needed to make the food keep. A weighted gauge must be cleaned thoroughly. A dial gauge, old or new, should be checked often throughout the canning season. If the gauge is off by five pounds or more, a new one is required. If it is not more than four pounds off, you can correct it.
Be sure that the canner is thoroughly clean; wash the canner kettle by wiping it with a soapy cloth, then with a damp, clean cloth, then dry well. Do not submerge the cover in water, clean it the same way as the kettle.
Any big metal container may be used as a boiling-water-bath canner just so long as it is deep enough that the water is well over the tops of jars (two to four inches) and has space to boil freely. This canner must have a tight-fitting cover and a wire rack.
If a steam-pressure canner is deep enough, you can also use this as a water-bath-canner. Simply cover it but do not fasten down the lid, and keep the petcock wide open so that the steam can escape keeping the pressure from building up inside the kettle.
Simple enough thus far, right?
Suggested article: How To Preserve Food In The Ground Like The Pioneers
The jar is, for obvious reasons (and some not so obvious), an extremely important piece of the entire process. You must be sure that all your jars and closures are in perfect shape. Yes, this does matter. Discard any jars or lids with cracks, dents, chips, or rust, as these defects will prevent airtight seals, therefore defeating the entire purpose.
Common Canning Approach:
Selecting Fruits and Vegetables
Choose fresh, firm fruits and young, tender vegetables. It is best to can them before they lose their freshness, but if you must store them for a spell before canning, do so in a cool, airy space (such as a root cellar).
Washing The Goods
Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Some of the hardest bacteria to kill exists in the dirt. Wash small lots of the produce at a time under fresh, running water. Don’t let the produce soak, as this will make them lose their flavor and food value.
Filling the Jars
Two choices here: Raw pack or hot pack: Produce can be packed raw into glass jars or preheated and packed hot. Generally speaking, there are directions for both methods for most of the foods you’d wish to can. Most raw fruits and veggies should be packed tightly into the container because they will shrink during processing (however, a few- such as corn, Lima beans, and peas-should be packed loosely due to their expansion).
Hot food should be packed somewhat loosely and should be at or near the boiling temperature when packed. If the food at the top is not covered with liquid, it tends to darken; there should be enough syrup, water or juice to fill in around and cover the solid food in the container.
Some space should be left between the packed food and the lid. Each type of food has its own directions for the amount of space to allow at the top of the jar.
Closing Glass Jars
Two types of closures:
Metal screw and flat metal lid with sealing compound:
Wipe Jared rim clean after packing in produce. Put the lid on with the sealing compound next to the glass. Screw the metal band down hand tight (when the band is tight, this type of lid has enough give to allow air to escape during processing).
Porcelain-lined zinc cap with shoulder rubber ring:
Being careful not to stretch unnecessarily, fit the wet rubber ring down on the jar shoulder. Fill the jar, then wipe the rubber ring and jar rim clean. Next, screw the cap down firmly and then turn it back a quarter inch.
Remember, process fruits, tomatoes, and pickled veggies in a boiling-water-bath canner according to the directions given. And process vegetables in a steam-pressure canner according to those directions given.
Cooling Canned Food
As you remove jars from the canner, complete seals if necessary (when using porcelain-lined zinc caps, this is required). Cool jars top side up, giving each jar enough room to have air at all sides. Never place a hot jar on a cold surface; rather, set all the jars on a cooling rack or a folded towel. You want to keep the jars away from drafts, but do not cover them as this will slow the cooling.
Testing the Seal:
Test the seal on glass jars with porcelain-lined caps by turning each jar partly over in your hands. On a jar with a flat metal lid, check to see if the lid is down and doesn’t move; if such is the case, it is sealed.
You can also tap the center of the lid with a spoon. A clear, ringing sound means that the seal is good.
Storing Canned Food:
Once finished, properly canned food will retain good eating quality for up to a year if stored in a cool, dry place. Storing jars in a warm place near hot pipework, a stove, furnace, or indirect sunlight can cause the food to lose some of its eating qualities in just a few weeks or months.
Too much dampness can lead to the corrosion of metal lids and cause leakages, making the food spoil faster.
Shielding Against Spoilage:
If a canned food shows the slightest sign of spoilage, do not use it. Always, before opening a jar, closely observe it for bulging can ends, jar lids, or rings, look for leaks, for any signs of spoilage. Once you open it, look for further signs such as a spurting liquid, mold, or a strange smell.
It is also possible for canned vegetables to contain a poison that can lead to botulism while never actually showing signs of spoilage. To avoid this risk, it is essential that you follow the exact and proper procedure for canning. To test a new can before eating, boil it. Heating will usually make any odor of spoilage more obvious.
After opening a can of vegetables, bring them to a rolling boil; then cover and boil for a minimum of ten minutes. If it looks spoiled, foams up, or gives off a funky odor during heating, destroy it immediately. Burn or dispose of the food so that it will not be consumed by humans or animals (don’t just chuck it to the dog, unless you are ready to deal with those consequences!).
Related reading: Prepping Your Pantry For The Long Haul
There you have it. The basics of home canning for a long-term food storage. Learning these age-old trades can be a true lifesaver in the cold, harsh months of winter, as well as ensure that you will still be eating “high on the hog” by your own hand!
All you have to do now is jump on finding the specific directions to the fruits and vegetables that you wish to can. It is easy as that. Well, in all honesty, it is quite a bit of work (not overwhelming, though). But what better work to spend your time on than ensuring that the family will be eating mighty good while Khione blows her wintry mixture across the lands.
Remember to keep in mind how direly important it is to follow each step of the canning process to the tee. Use the skills found in this article to further your knowledge of self-reliance an important aspect of making as a prepper/survivor!
This article has been written by Jonathan Blaylock for Prepper’s Will.