Monday, July 23, 2012

Canning the Summer Harvest

This is the time of year that God gives us a bountiful harvest. A wise and frugal person would take full advantage of the season's lower prices on fresh produce at the grocery store.  Or, even better, take advantage of the wonderful summer weather and grow some produce yourself. 

When the bounty comes in, what are you going to do with it all?  You can blanch and freeze excess vegetables and fruits. However, unless you have a extra large freezer you will soon realize that this is not the best solution.

One idea you might consider is canning your extra produce. Once you get the hang of it, it really is quite easy to do.  The key is to watch the temperature and timing.  I can a lot of different things: green beans, applesauce, apple juice, apple pie filling, cranberry sauce, tomato sauce, pizza sauce, blueberry pie filling, orange marmalade, mustard, ketchup, and peaches in light syrup. 

I would like to add to that list. If I ever get enough carrots and/or peas at one time I plan to can those as well.  In addition, I have a goal this year of canning some chicken.  It would be really convenient to use canned chicken in a quick meal when I am super busy at work.

To show you how easy it is to can produce yourself, I thought I would give you an overview of the steps involved in canning.  Now, different recipes required different canning times and low acid foods (vegetables and meats) require a pressure canner. The best book I have found on this subject is The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The recipes in this book have been tested for safety.  When you strictly follow the directions in this book you can be assured that the food you can will be safe to eat.

In the south, July is the month for peaches. It is amazing to me that peaches taste so sweet when picked right off the tree. If you have an opportunity to pick your own peaches, do so!  It is a lot of fun and the peaches are the best!  We recently took a day trip to a peach farm and bought a bushel of peaches.  That is about 46 lbs of peaches!  After eating more peaches than I can remember, it was time to do something with the rest.  I put some in the freezer.  These will be used to make peach yogurt and peach ice cream.  The rest were canned in light syrup.  Here is what I did.

I like to can peaches in slices.  I found that more fit in the jar when they are in slices (vs. halved). So the first things that must be done are to peel the peach, remove the pit, slice and treat for browning.  Peaches will brown when exposed to the air (just like apples). To treat the peaches, I dip them in a bowl of water mixed with a few teaspoons of ascorbic acid.

 While doing this, start to prepare the syrup.  Traditionally, fruit has been packed in light, medium or heavy syrup. However, in the Ball Canning Book, there are now recipes to pack fruit in unsweetened apple juice, pineapple juice, white grape juice or even water if you prefer.  I am using a light syrup.

Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar, stirring until it is dissolved. Once the syrup mixture is boiling, turn the heat down to simmer until you are ready to can. When the peaches are ready, add a layer of peaches to the syrup and heat for one minute.  Then, add another layer.  Repeat until all the peaches have been added to the syrup.

There are directions in the Ball Canning Book for hot packing the peaches (heating them first) or raw packing the peaches.  I usually hot pack.  Since I am hot packing, I let the peach sit in the syrup for a few minutes while the jars are heating up.

I would like to stress again that I am not providing complete instructions here, just an overview. Do get the Ball Canning Book and follow the directions provided in the book.

I place clean pint jars (you can use quart jars as well) in the canner and let the water get to just below boiling. 

Also while the jars are heating up, I wash new lids and set them on simmer.

When everything is hot, I pack the peaches in the jars.

When the jar is full, add some syrup to 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.  There is a tool you can use to help you measure.

Also, gently insert the tool down the side of the jar to remove any air bubbles.

Next, place the lid on the jar.  Wipe the rim of the jar with a wet cloth to ensure it is clean. The lid won't make a good seal if the jar isn't clean.

Place the lid on top and screw on the canning ring.  This ring should only be finger tip tight.  It will loosen during the canning process but that is OK. You will need it loose so air can escape. Then place the jar back in the canner.

 When you have filled all the jars, place the lid on the canner. This recipe only requires a water bath canning.  However, different elevations require different processing times. This means when the water is at a complete rolling boil, start the timer and process the peaches for the time indicated at your elevation.   

When the peaches have been processed for the required time, remove the canner from the heat.  Remove the canner lid and wait five minutes for the jars to cool slightly.  After five minutes, remove the jars and let them cool on the kitchen counter.

After the jars are completely cool, check each lid to make sure it is sealed.  The center of the lid should be tight to the jar.  If you hear a popping or feel the center of the lid move up and down, the jar did not seal.  Wipe down the sealed jars and place in storage.  If you have a jar that didn't seal, place it in the refrigerator and use the contents within a few days.

And there you have it!  Food you have canned yourself.  Your great-grandmother used to call it 'putting food up' or 'putting food by'.  Back then, it was critical to can food in the summer to ensure the family survived the winter. It is still important today because it allows you the freedom to control the ingredients you put in the jar rather than just accept what you find in the canning isle of the grocery store.

I encourage you to try your hand at canning - it's fun!

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