When I first started to entertain the idea of canning, I’ve always pictured being in a rustic log cabin surrounded by the sounds of the forest with my fireplace snapping & popping at one end of my kitchen and my counter lined with empty, glistening glass jars just waiting to be filled with all sorts of delicious jams, jellies, fruits & vegetables. At the end of the day, I would sit in my leather recliner next to the fireplace and admire all the little jars lined up neatly in my cabinets, secure in the fact that we will not go hungry this winter due to my hard work, while sipping a nice cold beer. *happy sigh*
Back to reality.
I’ve been canning for about 5 years…well, if you were to add up all the time I actually spent physically canning, I’d be okay with saying I’ve been canning for a month. Yeah. That’s more like it. I’m not an expert by any means and I’ve made my fair share (and then some) of mistakes.
My first adventure with canning, I decided to make peach jam. I love peaches and after reading over the recipe and directions from the Ball Company, I thought that I’d give it a try.
Basically, you have to peel a ton of peaches, cut them up and boil them with sugar and water and add pectin before pouring the concoction into the mason jars and processing them in a water bath. Easy, peasy, right? LISTEN to me and listen to me good…FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS.
I’m a cook and a baker which means I take a lot of liberty with recipes because I understand the chemistry behind them. It’s not the same with canning. TRUST ME. There is a reason why there are books with explicit directions in them for canning.
I started my water bath so that all I’d have to do is pour the hot peach jam into the hot jars, tighten the lids and put them directly into the water bath (which is recommended, by the way…hot foods go into hot jars, cold into cold otherwise you run the risk of glass breaking). I decided to add more peaches than necessary which meant that I needed to add more pectin. This resulted in me panicking at the stove with tons of pots and pans boiling over fighting against time to get everything I cooked stored properly in these little glass jars. The payoff would be how pretty these little glass jars would look all lined up in my cabinets and I would admire them from my rocking chair as I calmed my nerves by the fire with a nice cold beer. *SNAP SNAP* BACK TO REALITY
Have you ever experienced a liquid sugar burn? I’ve burned myself when I was younger when making candy canes around Christmas time because I kept getting in my mom’s way. A liquid peach jam burn is on a whole different plane. You try to wipe & wipe the hot jam off your forearm, only to realize you are merely spreading the molten lava around thereby increasing the surface area of pain before seeing the kitchen faucet and turning the cold tap on full blast. BUT OH NO!!! It was HOT water that came bursting out because, in your ADD nature, you were doing way too many things at once and 30 seconds ago you were filling a different pot with hot water for something that seemed important at the time which is why you panicked at the stove in the first place when you heard sizzling, then smelled burning peaches and upon pushing the overflowing pot out of the way, you caused the air bubble that was forming at the bottom of the pot to come rushing to the surface and splash your forearm with liquid fire.
Soon, the water rushes back to cold, soothing your burn and you look over at the rows & rows of mason jars with contempt, wondering why you started this endeavor in the first place; you realize that you really need to start with a smaller batch of whatever it is you are trying to can and you need to stop being stubborn and creative and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. My goodness…you can kill someone with botulism or worst of all, lose your entire batch and that is no fun at all. I’d rather deal with another burn.
Guess what happens when you add too much pectin? Your dreams of sweet, spreadable peach jam turn to cement when you open a jar the next morning. But it LOOKS spreadable!?!?! This is one of those times that you admit defeat and go out to breakfast followed by a trip to the dumpster to trash all the new mason jars you just destroyed because you cannot get the damn jam out of them. Next time, read and FOLLOW the directions.
Fast forward to 5 years later…I’ve successfully canned tomato sauce, more peach jam, strawberry jelly, hot pepper jelly, butternut squash, collards and homemade chicken soup. There is nothing like a cool day and opening a jar of homemade chicken soup and it be just as fresh as the day you made it…you get the benefit without the hours of work.
There are two canning processes – water bath canning where you boil the canning jars in a pot of water for an allotted amount of time and using a pressure canner where you utilize the pressure for an allotted amount of time. You use the water bath for canning jams & jellies for example and the pressure canner for veggies and anything with meat. They need to process for a certain amount of time to ensure all the bacteria has been killed off so you don’t poison yourself or your family when you open the jars a few days to a few months later.
The great thing about canning is that you are the one in charge of what you are eating. There are no preservatives or additives to keep the food fresh (except pectin or salt or vinegar, etc. depending on the recipe). Once you get familiar enough with what types of food can be canned with each method and how long each vegetable/fruit/meat needs to process, you can create some pretty awesome dishes to eat later.
Right now, my canning focus has been for training purposes so I get better at it and for when my baby girl starts on solid foods. I’ve stopped buying canned & frozen veggies for when SHTF. I’m working on building up my stock of freshly canned goods. The thing to keep in mind is to date your canned goods and can monthly if not weekly so you always have fresh food on hand. You don’t want to be in a tight spot a year from now and open a spoiled jar. Treat the foods you canned just like the cans you bought from the store. Eat them. When you happen upon a sale of sweet potatoes for .39 cents per pound buy as many as you are able to afford and spend a few hours canning them up for future use. Future can be next weekend or a few months from now. By taking advantage of the sales and getting into a routine with canning, you will have yourself a nice variety of food. Feel free to can leftovers, too, instead of throwing them out or letting them sit in the fridge for days until they finally get thrown out because they spoiled. I especially enjoy being able to pull something I canned out of the cabinet when the last thing I feel like doing is cooking a full meal. Take the collards for instance…they can take FOREVER to cook, but since I have them canned, I can concentrate on the main dish and heat them up when supper is done.
I still overwhelm myself when I get the itch to can. I have not taken my own advice outlined above as much as I should so I do not have the rows & rows of pretty colorful jars of fresh food in my cabinet. I have to keep reminding myself that I do not need to can 25 jars of sweet potatoes at a shot…3 or 4 is just as good.
I’ve recently discovered that a pressure canner can cook a 12 pound pot roast in 45 minutes. Talk about a time saver. Combine that with the collards…YUM!!!