Cool weather seems to have slowed produce production a bit for some of us. With the rains though, there seem to be bumper crops in gardens, farmers markets and grocery stores that encourage digging out the preservation equipment.
If you have more than you want, don’t forget the 6th annual Produce Bounty is coming up. CSU Extension and Cooking Matters will be accepting donated produce from the community Sept. 16-18 to share with Commodity Foods participants.
To get the best and safest product, I recommend you remember a few basics.
Any tested canning recipe from cookbooks published before 1999 need to be reviewed, particularly pickling recipes, because of product changes. Be sure to check them against current tested recipes. The water bath process is used to lower risk for foods such as jams, salsa, pickles, fruit and tomatoes (if bottled lemon juice is added). Pressure canning is necessary to get a higher heat at least for vegetables and meats.
An excellent source is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.homefoodpreservation.com. In addition to the self-study option, there is a curriculum for youth. The website provides a variety of tested recipes. One of my personal favorites is “Causes and possible solutions for problems.” The website can help answer questions such as: Why didn’t my jelly gel? Why are my pickles hollow? Why are they shriveled? The website has also added a much better option for salsa as well as relishes.
Steam canners for high acid foods such as fruits and jams are coming back. Since they don’t hold enough water to maintain steady steam for the recommended time, they are not recommended at this altitude. The water dehydrates (i.e. no steam) before the recommended amount of time has been completed. Steamers must bring water in the bottom to a boil quickly to create an even steam without air mixed in. It is important that there be enough water and steam to last for the entire required time, otherwise, inconsistent temperatures create lower quality and safety is sacrificed. The electric water bath canner is the new thing on the block. It is quite nice if it is difficult for you to maneuver in a full bath. The electric canner can be set on the counter beside the sink and plugged in. Heat in the kitchen is lower and the water seems to heat up more quickly. The electric pop can also be used for other items as well, of course.
When time is completed, the spigot at the bottom is opened and water drains into the sink (presuming you didn’t forget to open the valve inside the pot prior to starting the heat). The cost is about the same as a stainless steel water bath canner.
Other than times required for preserving, two of the most common questions I get are: “Why do I have less liquid in my jars and is it safe to eat?” The most common causes are: insufficient headspace, meaning the jars are too full; the jars are packed too tight; air bubbles were not removed prior to canning; jars weren’t covered with the requisite 1 to 2 inches of water in the canner; and the jars were removed too quickly after removing covers. Jars should sit for about five minutes after the lid is removed before removing them. The loss of liquid can cause food to darken but won’t affect safety qualities. Another common question: “There is a lot of sugar in jams and jellies. Can I just cut back on it?” Not unless you are using a low-sugar pectin in the product. One needs to understand that gelling is a complicated process that depends on proper balance of sugar, fruit, acid (lemon juice) and pectin. When using powdered pectin, know that the process is very different from liquid email@example.com or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.