Monday, August 22, 2011

My addiction: Canning- Is There a Twelve Step Program?

I remember when Ryan was about four, he came to me in the kitchen and said, "Mommy, stop canning, I miss you!"  My poor children become canning orphans, and my husband a canning widower when this time of year comes around.  I am addicted to canning.  On years that I have a big garden, I just can like a madwoman to keep it all from going to waste.  I have been known to can late into the night only to get up early and hit it again.  I just love canning.  There is something really satisfying about spotlessly clean jars being filled with my own food to feed my family.  I love the smell of simmering salsa, and processing peaches, and the tang of vinegar from making pickles.  I love the beautiful noise of jars sealing on the counter. When I go down to my pantry on a winter day, and can pick out a lovely red quart of my tomatoes and some beautiful peach halves to use for making meals, I feel like I have accomplished some level of self sufficiency.   It is like I bottled up my Summer for safe keeping.
I love to can green beans which requires pressure canning, so I also got into doing that.  I used to make batches of beef stew and ham and beans and pressure can them for lunches.  It is awesome to have already cooked dried type beans on hand, as they can be pretty pricey in the store, and always have that salty slimy liquid on them.  I've made catsup, relish, spiced cabbage, sauerkraut, you name it, if it can be canned, I've done it! 
When I can, I use jars that have been passed down to me by my family.  Some of the jars are feeding a fourth generation, and I know which ones were Grandmas, and Aunt Vestas, or my Moms by the jar design.  I use my Grandmother's pickled beet recipe, and it always makes me remember being in her kitchen helping peel beets with the heady smell of the pickling liquid. 
Canning isn't as hard as it may seem.  It is becoming a lost art, as people get farther and farther removed from the source of their food.  To start out, you don't need fancy equipment to can, just a large pot, some overturned teacups, and a flat rack or plate, and enough room to cover the jars with water by at least half an inch.  My traditional canning kettle has a wire rack that holds the jars off the bottom of the pan, but the set up I described above would work great for jellies or pint jars.  You do need a jar filler, and a jar lifter,  low cost items that are necessary to handle and fill hot jars. Then of course there is the jars and rings, which can be second hand, and new lids.  If you do buy jars second hand, make sure the rim, or sealing edge of the jar is free from nicks and pits.  This happens as jars are pried open, so it is common, but will make your seal unsafe.  
I have been canning a lot lately.  Mostly pickled beans when the store has them on sale, but also some regular pickles here and there.  I bought a twenty five pound box of peaches on Saturday,  and really got into the canning groove.  I wasn't able to do all the peaches, because they just didn't want to peel.  I'll process them in the morning now that they are a couple days riper.  I came across some nice pickling cucumbers, and bought a flat of tomatoes, and got fifteen quarts out of the cucumbers, and two batches of pints of salsa, so fourteen jars. 
The best part of making my own, is that working under some restraints due to the acidity level of certain foods, I can adjust for my own taste, and dietary needs.  I do use sugar to can my peaches and other fruit, but only 1 cup for 10 1/2 cups of water.  The fruit tastes very much like fresh, and NOTHING like what you buy in tin cans.  I added dried anchos and chipotle peppers to my salsa, and extra garlic and little dried hot peppers to my pickles, because that is what my family likes. 
I started helping my mother to can when I was big enough to stand on a chair and peel peaches and tomatoes the process is ingrained in me.  It is not a hard process though.  Acid foods like fruit, tomatoes, and pickles and salsas only need water bath processing.  They are safe and easy recipes.  Sterilize the jars you'll need.  Make the syrup or pickling liquid, etc...  Dip the fruit or tomatoes in boiling water then into cold water so the skins will come off.  Halve, quarter, chop and put in the jars.  Add hot liquid and lids and put in boiling water bath for the time it says. 
Tomatoes are the easiest.  You just keep shoving the whole tomatoes down in the jars until they squish out enough liquid to fill the jar, and add a little canning salt.  There is no addition needed of water or tomato juice, just pure tomatoes.  This is a far superior product to the ones in the tins. 
Next time you come across the Ball Blue Book at the store, take a look at the recipes.  They not only have canning recipes, but also lots of freezer food ideas, and also dried food techniques.  It is possible to teach yourself to can with this book. 
Come on, give canning a try won't you?  That way I am not the only one at the AC meetings.  Hello, my name is Tina and I am a canning addict.