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Fall Canning Guide: Preserving for Beginners

It’s doubtful that anybody was thinking about food allergies 200 years ago when the practice of canning food to preserve it for future use began. Fact is, canning or preserving food was mostly a necessity in order to ensure food was on the table during winter, long after the summer growing season was snowed over.

Funny how things come full circle -- in 2018, folks are canning with greater regularity as a means to eliminate harmful chemical preservatives found in many store-bought items, and reconnect their souls to simpler times in the process. Such is certainly the case for Oklahoman Wynne Marsh, who loves to fish, camp, and raise chickens, as well as monarch butterflies when she’s not tending to her full time professional career. “I discovered I had food allergies in my early 40s, so I had to figure out a way to eat foods that were totally gluten free, because even commercially produced canned fruits and vegetables sometimes contain wheat preservatives,” says Marsh, a happily married mom to two great children.

“I told my husband Paul we were going to take much greater control of our own foods. I was tired of buying a can of tomatoes, and the list of ingredients containing 20 chemical preservatives,” she says. The Marsh family now has a backyard complete with peach trees, apple trees, plum trees, gardens, and egg laying chickens. They’ve not only taken much greater control of the food they eat, but they also feel better connected to nature, healthier, and sentimentally attached to Wynne’s family roots when she’d spend hot summer days in the 1970s having fun with her beloved “Granny” while canning. The Marsh Family follows a few simple tips to canning and preserving foods. Those interested in getting started, can utilize the following steps to also begin the healthy and rewarding tradition.

Essential tools and equipment for canning

The good news is the necessary tools are rather simple and affordable. In fact, complete kits containing the following can be purchased for around $70.
  • • Water bath canning pot
  • • Jar rack for inside canning pot
  • • Vinyl coated jar lifter for handling hot jars
  • • Magnetic lid lifter to handle hot lids
  • • A headspace measuring tool to allow proper space between the food, liquid, and lid
  • • Funnel for filling jars with food

Jars and lids are easily found at many retail locations. And while jars can be washed and re-utilized for decades, it’s critical to use brand new lids each time a food item is canned in order to assure a safe and proper seal. While pickling and canning recipes can be found online, a $20 recipe book always proves to be any canner’s best friend and a treasured on-the-counter reference tool for decades.

How to can food at home

Food prep prior to “processing” varies greatly from peppers, which require very little effort, to bread and butter pickles that require brine, which typically takes a day to prepare, or tomatoes for example, that require blanching and peeling. An inexpensive “canning and processing” recipe book is critical to not only providing tasty pickling and preservation juices, but also very important direction for safe and proper filling and processing of the jars. Canning is a rather simple process, but great attention must be given to assure the sterile preservation of food items throughout the steps below.

  1. Wash your jars, rims and lids thoroughly in very hot soapy water.
  2. Fill the waterbath container about 2” above the empty submerged jars as they sit on the rack inside the pot, and boil jars for 10 minutes.
  3. Once you’ve sterilized your jars for 10 minutes, remove them from pot, onto the counter, and fill them with the food item and associated pickling juice of your choice. But make sure you are certain to leave proper ‘headspace’ between the liquid and the rim of the jar. Recipes tell you how much headspace various food items require, and the headspace measuring tool simplifies this process, to assure a good and safe seal of the lid.
  4. Once you’ve filled your jars with the food item and associated pickling juice by using a ladle and a wide mouth funnel, remove any obvious air bubbles on top of the food product. Then, place the lids and rings on the jar tightly. Note: Use the magnetic lid lifter to lift the lids, which should still be very warm after washing them.
  5. Once the lids are on tight, use the jar lifter to pick up the hot and sterile food-filled jars, bring the water back to a boil in the canning pot. Place the jars back on the rack inside the boiling canning pot for whatever number of minutes are required by the recipe for each and all particular food items.
  6. After the ‘processing’ is complete inside the boing pot, let them rest in the hot water for 5 minutes, and then remove them with ‘jar lifter’ tool to rest on counter for 12 to 24 hours. This allows ample ‘set-up’ time so you can then examine each lid to make sure there is no flex.
  7. If you can press downward on the lid, and it is forgiving, your lid has failed to seal properly, and you must refrigerate or eat the contained food item immediately, because long term, safe preservation of the food item is not safe. Warning: Food-borne botulism is the greatest threat to improper canning, it cannot be detected by sight or smell, and it is life threatening.
  8. Lids that prove tight and properly sealed on the jars indicate they are ready for long-term storage and enjoyment.

Mrs. Marsh says you must never try to reuse lids for future canning. Jars and rings can be reused for decades, but not lids. Lids are a ‘one time’ use only item in the canning process. Attempting to re-use lids will likely result in a poor seal, and that’s when air gets in to lead to life threatening botulism.

And you must make sure: If you’re ever fortunate to receive a jar of yummy home canning product, be sure to return the clean empty jar to the one who graciously gifted it to you, if you expect a refill.

Canning is fun, and canning is a path to healthier living by allowing each of us to have far better control over the preparation of foods we enjoy. And perhaps best of all, are the life enriching experiences that begin with planting a fruit or vegetable, watching it grow, and then harvesting it to be shared with loved ones either immediately, or long after the growing season through canning.

Not only does it help her avoid food allergies, but also as Wynne smiles in conclusion, “Every fruit and vegetable season has a peak growing season. And for example, you can only feed your family so many different variations of a zucchini. For about three weeks, I made everything from fried zucchini to zucchini bread, until my neighbors and family were like, “Please! No more zucchini!” -- but through canning I can preserve all the good things we grow to be enjoyed throughout the entire year, and also better control the food safety of my family and friends.”

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