Canning preserves food by sealing it in an airtight container, to keep it from decaying – aside from the obvious cans, jars and bottles are also used. Not so long ago, growing and preserving one’s own food was more convenient than commercially canned products. There are still plenty of home canners today, but it’s more on a hobby level than for subsistence.
I decided to take up canning a couple of years ago – our 50s-era house has a cold room with plenty of shelving and I had plenty of cucumbers that year.
I picked up a canning starter kit for $50 from Canadian Tire and some canning jars, which come with one-use lids and reusable rings (250mL, 500mL, and 1L are the most common sizes). Most of my canning has been pickles – cucumbers, green beans, jalapenos, and green tomatoes. Jams and jellies are another popular choice for home preserving, but I find pickling is less work.
As with our mead-making, sterilization is key for home preserving. We don’t want to botulize ourselves! The lids and jars are sterilized in hot water – we had to run the dishwasher anyway, so I loaded the jars in there and ran a sani-wash. The lids I tossed in the canning pot -the jars can also go there as well.
Meanwhile, I made the salsa – follow along in the previous post.
The hot water bath process I’m using is only suitable for acidic foods, with a pH less than 4.6 – pickles, jams, etc. High school chemistry taught me that sour = acid, so I should be fine, right? I’d rather be safe than sorry since I don’t have instructions or experience canning this recipe.
As luck would have it, I’d purchased a fancy digital pH meter a couple of hours ago! We’ve taken a couple of cooking classes from local personal chef Elaine Wilson, who’d recently come to a crossroads and decided to move away from some of the aspects of her business. This meant no longer requiring supplies, and we gratefully rehomed a digital pH meter! It will be helpful for mead as well.
The next step is jarring. I fill each jar to 1/2″ headspace (PickYourOwn.org has been a helpful resource, and they have a great primer on headspace), stir out any bubbles, and wipe the rims with a paper towel.
The canning kit comes with a lid lifter, which is basically a plastic wand with a magnet at the end. The lids go on the jars, the rings go on the lids, then the jars go in the pot. They’re sitting in a rack so I can pull them all out at the same time. I only noticed this morning that these are 250mL and not 500mL jars – they only needed 15 minutes, but more time is fine.
The jars come out of the rack with a jar lifting tool. They will sit for 24 hours to ensure that they seal – this happens with an audible popping sound. If anything has not sealed, it can be re-processed with a new jar and lid or put into the fridge for immediate consumption. Everything sealed!
Canning is a pretty lengthy process (here’a a PDF outlining everything), but making and preserving your own food is something to take a lot of pride in. It’s not an insignificant investment, in terms of supplies and space, and this is part of what makes it into a lost art. Fortunately, with an abundance of farmers markets during the summer months, anyone can enjoy small-batch food!