I am thrilled that Jeanne Gibbons, who participates with Bountiful Baskets in Arizona, is willing to share her experience with us when it comes to food, and especially, canning. Jeanne is a fount of knowledge when it comes to food preservation, which she often shares on our Facebook page. Without further ado:
One wonderful advantage of participating in Bountiful Basket’s co-op is the availability of flats of produce for canning. Have you eyed that entry for apples or tomatoes and considered passing on them because you don’t have the freezer space? There are lots of resources to teach yourself how to can that are safe and easy to follow.
So, where do I go to get safe, thorough instructions for preserving? My first thought is to buy a book. I strongly recommend buying a Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, considered to be the bible of home preservation. You can find them on Amazon for a very reasonable price. I have used mine so much, the book falls open at the pages covering how to sterilize my jars and several of my favorite jam recipes. It’s easy to understand and worth the investment.
Maybe I learn better by having a structured environment, and being led step by step with pictures? There are answers for that type of learning, too. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia offers a free, self-paced online course. This class will give you the latest recommendations and explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of canning.
So now, I’m standing in front of a steaming vat of applesauce and I have questions I need answered. I’d like some hand-holding, please. How much cinnamon can I add to this? Will it get bitter if I don’t eat it right now? There are so many groups that will help you at this stage that I don’t think I can give justice to them all. If you are on Facebook, SB Canning springs to mind. There are lots of people there that will answer every question. There are two of my favorite newsgroups on Yahoo!: Canning2 and Home Canning. Both groups are very friendly to newbies, and their recipe files alone are worth your time to subscribe. I will warn you, though, that both groups are very actively posting so if you subscribe, be sure to select the digest form of email notification or your in-box will be flooded!
Preserving your own applesauce or salsa is time-consuming compared to buying a jar from the local grocery, but is very satisfying. I find that knowing exactly what goes into my food gives me peace of mind. There are no unpronounceable preservatives or potentially damaging chemicals leaching into my food from plastic containers and I control the quality of the produce I use. I don’t have to trust a business conglomerate or a government bureaucracy to promise me healthful nutrition. Canning is a hobby that is both useful and enjoyable to me. If you decide to take the plunge, I hope that you find it enjoyable, too!
Notes: ClearJel is the FDA approved modified food starch that has the unique ability to stay liquid until it cools, which allows the heat of the kettle to thoroughly pasteurize the pie filling. You *can’t* substitute cornstarch or flour or potato starch or anything else for this ingredient if you plan on holding the filling for *any* length of time on the shelf. At the risk of picking a fight, I, personally, am non-negotiable on this point. Yes, your Grandma canned apple pie filling using cornstarch. Yes, we all didn’t die. But she also water bath canned green beans and sweet corn, which are low acid vegetables and need pressure canning, for 90 minutes at the risk of causing botulism. Use your own judgment. /end rant.
Regarding bottled lemon juice: Personally, I detest the taste of bottled off –the-shelf lemon juice. It reminds me of lemon Pledge so I prefer to buy Minute Maid unsweetened lemon juice from the frozen section of our local grocery. It’s pricey, but it tastes like lemon and it’s standardized for acidity. If you’re really paranoid, add a half teaspoon of citric acid to each quart. There have been tests on fresh lemon juice that show that most, but not all, lemons are safe for this application (see Real Lemon vs RealLemon). Use your own judgment here as well.