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With the abundance of fresh, local produce available these days, many are turning to canning as a way of preserving it.
As a former chef-turned food blogger at Simple Bites, Aimee Wimbush-Bourque says while much of your garden’s bounty ends up on your dinner plates, baked into goodies and eaten fresh as you pick it, there is generally an excess of fruits and vegetables.
“After all, you can only eat cucumbers at every meal for so many days in a row before you start to feel like you are, in fact, a cucumber,” says the mother of three who lives in a lakeside cottage just outside of Halifax, N.S.
Canning is a wonderful way to store your fruits and vegetables from the garden or the farmer’s market while they are in season and make the harvest last through winter when local and seasonal foods are scarce, says Wimbush-Bourque.
Before starting on a canning mission, there are a few key things to note.
In her blog post Canning 101: The Basics, Wimbush-Bourque first outlines the necessary equipment needed to start. This includes canning jars and seals, a wide-mouthed funnel, ladle, large pot, and tongs.
Canning enthusiast Laurie Hayden of Elliotvale, P.E.I., says to be sure the equipment is clean. To sterilize jars and canning equipment, they should be boiled for 10 minutes. Any bit of dirt or even a hair on the rim of the jar can ruin a seal.
Always use new liners for the lids.
In her blog post, Wimbush-Bourque outlines the step-by-step process. After the jars and lids are sterilized, prepare the fruit or vegetables.
Hayden says to use the best quality produce you can find, and to make sure they are clean.
“There is nothing worse than putting all that work into it, only to find mold when you open a jar,” she says.
It is best, says Wimbush-Bourque, to can your fruits and vegetables immediately after you harvest them for the highest vitamin and nutrient concentration. The longer a fresh piece of produce sits, the more vitamins it loses.
Hayden stresses the importance of always following the recipe.
If you are making jam, using a commercial pectin, you need to use the amount of sugar listed in the recipe. People often think that it's too much sugar, and they want to cut down on the amount of sugar they consume, so they reduce it, only to find that their jam turns into sauce instead, says Hayden.
“I have shared some of my own recipes, and when the person made it, they say it doesn't taste as good as the original or have the same texture. They decided to reduce sugar or vinegar or omit something else,” says Hayden.
While people love to experiment when cooking, canning isn't the place to get creative, says Hayden.
Food safety experts agree that certain amounts of ingredients, such as sugar, are crucial to the safety of the product. Ingredients like sugar or salt are important for providing a less than hospitable environment for bacteria to grow.
When filling the jars, Wimbush-Bourque says not to fill them to the top as produce expands during the boiling process.
If using a pickling solution or juice, pour it to cover up to the top of the produce, ensuring there are no air bubbles along the sides of the jar and that the produce is submerged in the liquid.
If the recipe calls for a water bath, this means placing the sterilized empty jars in a pot of water, then bringing it to a slow boil.
It's important to note that only high-acid foods can be preserved by water bath canning. This includes most fruit preserves, including jams, jellies, and fruit canned in syrup, and many pickles. With pickles, you are adding salt and vinegar, so it is safe to use this method.
Other produce, like vegetables, are a low-acid food that need special attention and should be preserved in a pressure canner.
Foods that are hot water bathed require a certain level of acidity to be deemed safe, says Hayden. This is why vegetables should be pressure canned, as the pressure and length of time are needed to kill harmful bacteria. Times vary as well because of the density of certain foods, she says.
It is important not to skip this step, as a water bath or pressure cooking heats the food, killing any microorganisms that may grow, and also creates a vacuum seal in the jar, says Wimbush-Bourque. The vacuum seal will prevent any air from coming in contact with the preserved food that could encourage cell growth and cause the food to spoil.
A pressure canner is especially necessary for canning meat, because it can reach the necessary higher temperatures to safely preserve it.
In St. John’s, N.L., Templeton’s, in the late 1800s and early 1900s created a factory that could safely can lobster in a modern and hygienic way. Today, they continue to sell canners, complete with an instruction sheet and information for domestic canning of fish, moose, seal, and rabbit. (PDF)
Like with fruits and vegetables, they advise only canning the best quality, and absolutely freshest fish and shellfish or meat.
According to the Templeton’s website, the canning process isn’t complete until the heat is applied, and the quickest and safest way to do that is with a pressure cooker.
Generally, food is at its best for about a year, says Hayden. After that time, even though still edible, it can start to lose its colour or flavour. Pickled food tends to hold up to time better than say, canned peaches or fruit. That said, Hayden says she knows some who still use their canned goods for several years.
Other tips from long-term canners from the Backyard Farming & Homesteading Newfoundland Facebook group include taste testing before sealing.
“I ruined an entire batch of mustard pickles. I had to throw all of it out. It was not fit,” said Alice Guadet Reid.
Another member, Anna Zotter says she followed a recipe from YouTube and tried to can corn, which turned out to be a complete disaster. Corn, she says, has to be frozen not canned!
And please, never put raw garlic in a jar with oil. This can cause botulism if not handled correctly.
Besides being a great way to preserve produce, canning helps with food scarcity, says Hayden. Pressure canning vegetables when they are plentiful and in season, or meat when its available, ensures you have access to good nutritious food anytime, she says.
“Think about us, in particular, living on an island,” says Hayden. “COVID-19 has been a wakeup call for preparedness. Trucks couldn't get over the bridge, grocery shelves were emptying, and people started to panic and stockpile. Those of us who had canned food had better options for meal preparation.”
If you follow the steps using sterilized equipment, and don’t get creative, anyone can be a canning genius!
Cheryl Harris, Nictaux, N.S., frequently cans jalapenos for her family.
One pound of jalapenos equals approximately one quart. I sterilize my jars in a low oven, she says, add sliced jalapenos to a hot jar and pour the brine over them to within 1/4 inch and then seal.
– 1 1/2 cups water
– 1/2 cup white vinegar
– 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse (pickling) salt
Combine and bring to a boil and pour over vegetables (this amount will do a quart).
– 14 cups water
– 2 cups white vinegar
– 1 cup coarse salt
Let the jars cool and store in a cool, dark place.