I’ll venture to guess there are some newbies to food preservation this year. It would be tough to argue the pandemic did not bring a heightened awareness to our reliance on large-scale food systems.
Let’s chalk this up as one of the good things to come from COVID-19. Vulnerability has become a driver, forcing us to think about where our food comes from. More importantly, we realized we have some control over this little life necessity. At least, that’s my best explanation for the sparse availability of canning supplies.
If you managed to get your hands on canning equipment, and you’re stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables, this is what you need to know.
First, water-bath and pressure canning cannot be used interchangeably! Water-bath canning is safe for use in acidic foods. Acidity is a factor that protects food from Clostridium botulinum toxins. For clarification, botulism is food poisoning from eating improperly canned foods contaminated with toxins made by spores of C. botulinum.
Pressure canning is necessary for low acid foods, such as vegetables and meat. Without acidity, you rely on high heat to destroy C. botulinum. That means canning to a minimum of 240 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of time, as defined by a tested recipe. The highest temperature reached in water-bath canning occurs at sea level, 212 degrees. And, the higher you go in elevation, the lower the boiling point of water. Do you see the problem?
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve consumed water-bathed green beans, it’s still a game of roulette. If you’re accepting home canned food from someone else, be sure to ask for the recipe, and confirm if it was followed exactly. If the recipe is from a trusted and tested resource (keep reading), it may be safe to consume.
Second, know there are trusted and tested recipes, there are grandma’s recipes and then there are recipes posted on the internet by anyone. The latter two grab your attention by appealing to your sense of taste and tugging at your heart strings. It’s tough to reason with emotion. However ...
Only use trusted and tested recipes. Why? Because they’re tested. Tested recipes take into account the acidity of the recipe, water activity, density and elevation when determining how long to safely process said recipe. Trusted resources include: Colorado State University Extension Preserve Smart app (or other state Extension), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ball (recipes after 1994), So Easy to Preserve and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Finally, you must adjust for elevation when canning above 1,000 feet. In water-bath canning, the adjustment refers to processing time. Start timer when the water, with jars, has reached a rolling boil.
In pressure canning, adjustment refers to the amount of pressure. The processing time stated in your (trusted and tested) recipe stays the same regardless of where you live. Don’t forget, you need to vent your pressure canner for 10 minutes before you start the timer.
Canning is but one way to preserve your food. Fermentation, freezing and dehydrating are also options. As you decide the best way to extend the shelf life of perishable food, consider your resources. Which, if you didn’t plan ahead, may not include canning jars, lids and bands this year. That’s OK. At our house, apples were dehydrated, cabbage fermented and the plums and tomatoes await their fate in preservation.
Uncertain about your technique for food preservation? Call 382-6461 with questions. Too much produce and not enough time or resources to preserve? CSU Extension’s Grow and Give has a list of local organizations ready to accept your donations. Interested in creating a small-scale food system in your backyard? Become a CSU Extension master gardener. Applications will be available in October. Follow La Plata County Extension on Facebook, or visit our website www.laplataextension.org.Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Nicole Clark