Home Canning 101

Cooking How-To, How-To, In Season, Summer
on September 1, 2007

Every fall, my girlfriends and I get together for the weekend. We laugh, drink good wine and . . . can. That’s right, can, as in “putting up” or preserving like your mom or grandma used to do. For them, it was about stretching the food dollar; for us, it’s a chance to bond, enjoy some good conversation and camaraderie, and make some great food at the same time.

We “can-can divas” are not of the “grow and save everything for all eternity” school. Some foods just taste better when they are fresh or frozen, and with today’s modern grocers, plenty of fresh foods are shipped in year-round. That means you’d be hard pressed to see us preserve mushy peas or pickle green beans. But some things taste better when you’ve canned them. They also happen to be things you won’t find on a grocery store shelf. That’s why we’re more apt to concoct a wickedly hot salsa or whip up some rum raspberry preserves.

In fact, canning my own salsa has spoiled my taste buds so much that I won’t even consider dipping my chips in supermarket varieties, even the gourmet kind.

Canning itself is not a difficult process, but it can be tedious, especially if you’re trying to remove the seeds and skins from a bushel of tomatoes. It’s a culinary experience that is best shared with friends, as divvying up the slicing and dicing duties makes the process of canning 18 pints of salsa a lot easier.

It also helps to have some canning accoutrements on hand. A modern canning kit (about $10) is a wise investment. The magnetic lid lifter and canning tongs prevent a lot of burned fingers, and the wide mouth funnel limits spills. Just add jars and lids, and you’re good to go. Then, when you open up a jar of salsa in the middle of winter, you’ll savor the taste of summer and remember the good time you enjoyed with your friends.

Keep it Clean

Jars, lids and screw tops must be sterilized in a hot water bath before being filled with food. High-acid foods, including tomatoes and most fruits, should be preserved using the hot water bath method. Low-acid foods must be canned using a pressure steamer. After pouring sauce or preserves into the jars, be sure to clean the rim with a hot, damp cloth. Also leave 1/2 inch of space between the food and the top of the jar. When the jar is sealed, there should not be any “give” when you press the lid. If it gives, that means it has not sealed, and you will need to reprocess the food or store it in the refrigerator.

By Jeanette Hurt, a food writer in Milwaukee, Wis.