Gardens are now producing because of the monsoon season, and many gardeners are preserving their produce.
After seeing many of the canning entries at fairs in La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties, I want to share a few tips about the process and explain the reasoning.
Canning preserves the safety, nutrient content and quality of a product. Canned products are cooked for a specified length of time and sealed in jars. When you realize that produce is the primary source of food poisoning, canning properly makes a difference.
When I discuss safe techniques and time requirements, I occasionally get told, “No one has ever gotten sick in the 25 years that I have done it my way.” Well, the car I drive today has many more safety features than the car I drove 25 years ago, and the roads are different, too. Safety needs change over time, and a person’s needs change, too.
When it comes to canning, there are new bacteria that were not identified 25 years ago. So even if you didn’t get sick in the past, specific techniques can prevent food poisoning today.
Whether you choose to ferment, pickle, make jams and spreads or can fruits and vegetables, it is all about killing the specific bacteria. Jars must be processed and sealed correctly to kill that bacteria.
Our elevation makes a difference in canning. In Southwest Colorado, people live between 6,000 feet and 10,000 feet above sea level. At these elevations, water will not get any hotter than 198 degrees, compared with 212 degrees at sea level.
Because of this, when water-bath canning (fruits, tomatoes, salsa, pickles and jams), we need to keep the item in the water bath longer. If a recipe says the product needs to be water-bathed for 15 minutes at sea level, the additional time needed is 1 minute per 1,000 feet. So that 15 minutes becomes 22 minutes (15 + 7) if you live at 7,000 feet. For recipes that call for 20 minutes or more, we need to add 2 minutes per 1,000 feet, so 25 minutes for the recipe, plus 14 additional minutes, becomes 39 minutes. A surprising number of entries at the fairs neglected to adjust for the altitude.
Labeling the product as well as using tested recipes from 1994 to today are the other kickers. An excellent resource for tested recipes for any preservation need is National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Whether you are entering your product in the fair or saving it in your pantry for use during the year, the proper techniques have a purpose.
Phyllis Lee (my predecessor in this position) taught many of us safe food-preservation techniques during the 25 years she was an Extension agent. I, too, learned a great deal from Phyllis and wish her family as well as many community residents good memories and quality skills.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.