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Cheat Sheet

Canning & Preserving For Dummies All-in-One

Canning and preserving foods is an easy way to accumulate a healthy variety of foods for your pantry. You can store everything from herbs to fruits, vegetables to meats, in ways that preserve the flavor and make the foods convenient to use.

Reap the Benefits of Canning and Preserving Food

Canning and preserving are ways to protect food from spoilage so that you can use the food at a later time. There’s no doubt that being able to offer fresh-tasting, home-canned, or -preserved foods to your family and friends throughout the year is definitely one of life’s luxuries.

Whatever preservation method you choose, your efforts will benefit you in many ways:

  • A pantry full of fresh, homegrown foods: Having a stocked pantry offers a cushion against the fluctuating cost of healthy foods.

  • Convenience: You can build a pantry of convenience foods that fit into your busy lifestyle and that your family will enjoy.

  • Protection against rising food costs: The whole idea of canning and preserving is to take advantage of fresh food when it’s abundant. And abundant food generally means lower cost.

  • A sense of relaxation and accomplishment: For many people, working in the kitchen and handling food provides a sense of relaxation, and watching family and friends enjoy the products of your efforts gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

  • Confidence in the ingredients that go into your food: If you love fresh ingredients and like to know what goes into your food, doing your own canning and preserving is the answer.

  • A good time: Producing canned and preserved food in your kitchen is fun and easy — and who doesn’t like fun?

The price of food has skyrocketed in the last few years. Food safety has become a concern for everyone. Canning is the answer to both the price dilemma and the desire to offer nutritious foods throughout the year.

Basic Techniques for Canning and Preserving Food

You’ll have no doubts about preparing safe home-canned and preserved food after you discover what each method does, which method is best for different foods, the rules for the technique you choose, and safe food-handling techniques.

Canning food is the most popular preserving method used today and is the process of applying heat to food that’s sealed in a jar in order to destroy any microorganisms that can cause food spoilage. All foods contain these microorganisms. Proper canning techniques stop this spoilage by heating the food for a specific period of time and killing these unwanted microorganisms. Also, during the canning process, air is driven from the jar, and a vacuum is formed as the jar cools and seals. This vacuum prevents microorganisms from entering and recontaminating the food.

Although you may hear of many canning methods, only two are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • Water-bath canning: This method, sometimes referred to as hot water canning, uses a large kettle of boiling water. Filled jars are submerged in the water and heated to an internal temperature of 212 degrees for a specific period of time. Use this method for processing high-acid foods, such as tomatoes, fruit and items made from it, pickles, and pickled food.

  • Pressure canning: Pressure canning uses a large kettle that produces steam in a locked compartment. The filled jars in the kettle reach an internal temperature of 240 degrees under a specific pressure (stated in pounds) that’s measured with a dial gauge or weighted gauge on the pressure-canner cover. Use a pressure canner for processing vegetables and other low-acid foods, such as meat, poultry, and fish.

Other methods for preserving food include

  • Freezing food: Freezing food is the art of preparing and packaging foods at their peak of freshness and plopping them into the freezer to preserve all that seasonal goodness. Freezing is a great way to preserve foods that can’t withstand the high temperatures and long cooking of conventional canning methods. The keys to freezing food are to make sure that the food you’re freezing is absolutely fresh, that you freeze it as quickly as possible, and that you keep it at a proper frozen temperature (0 degrees).

  • Drying food: When you dry food, you expose the food to a temperature that’s high enough to remove the moisture but low enough that it doesn’t cook. Good air circulation assists in evenly drying the food. An electric dehydrator is the best and most efficient unit for drying, or dehydrating, food.

  • Smoking, salting, and curing food: Smoking foods, especially meats, adds a new dimension of flavor to your diet. Smoking is a simple process that infuses smoky flavors into ordinary cuts of meat. Applying rubs and curing in brine, in addition to smoking, increases the number of ways that your ho-hum meats can become spectacular.

  • Fermenting: Fermenting is the process of introducing good bacteria into foods, in a safe way. Much more than beer-making, fermenting is the technique behind the sour tang of sauerkraut, vinegar, and yogurts. Fermenting is also the perfect beginner’s preserving technique because it takes very little time and requires a short list of ingredients.

  • Juicing: Juicing is a wonderful way to introduce healthy eating in a playful (and delicious) way to anyone who eyes a salad with suspicion. Juicing includes fruits, greens, and vegetables in combinations that may surprise you. Full-bodied and filling, juicing is a great way to bring tasty foods that might otherwise be overlooked to the table.

Follow Canning and Preserving Rules

When you can and preserve foods, it’s important to follow all the steps for each method. You compromise the quality and safety of your food if you make your own rules. An example is when you shorten your processing period to try to cut corners and substitute important parts of recipes. It’s always best to start following directions to the letter, until you become fluent in the process.

Here are some general rules for handling, preparing, and processing your food:

  • Start with the freshest, best products available. Preserving doesn’t improve food quality.

  • Know the rules and techniques for your canning or preserving method before you start your work. Don’t try to learn a technique after you’ve started your processing.

  • Work in short sessions to prevent fatigue and potential mistakes. Process no more than two items in one day and work with only one canning method at a time.

  • Stay up-to-date on new or revised guidelines for your preserving method. You can go to websites like www.freshpreserving.com, created by the makers of Ball canning supplies, to find tips and directions for canning just about anything.

  • When canning, use the correct processing method and processing time to destroy microorganisms. The recipe will tell you what method to use, but it helps if you understand the difference between high- and low-acid foods and how the canning methods for each differ.

  • Know the elevation you’re working at. Adjust your processing time or pressure when you’re at an altitude over 1,000 feet above sea level.

  • Put together a plan before you start your preserving session. Read your recipe (more than once). Have the proper equipment and correct ingredients on hand to prevent last-minute shortages and inconvenient breaks.

  • Test your equipment. If you’re using an electric dehydrator or pressure canner, test out the equipment to ensure that everything’s working properly. And always check the seals on your jars.

  • Use recipes from reliable sources or ones that you’ve already made successfully. Follow your recipe to the letter. Don’t substitute ingredients, adjust quantities, or make up your own food combinations. Improvisation and safe food preservation aren’t compatible. This approach also means you can’t double your recipe. If you require more than what the recipe yields, make another batch.

How to Detect Spoiled Foods

No one can promise you that your home-canned foods will always be free from spoilage, but you can rest assured that your chances for spoiled food are greatly reduced when you follow the precise guidelines for each preserving method.

If you suspect, for any reason, that your food is spoiled or just isn’t right, don’t taste it.

Just because your food doesn’t look spoiled, doesn’t mean that it’s not. Signs of spoilage are

  • Bulging or loosened lids on canned jars

  • Weeping or leakage from under a previously sealed jar

  • Bubbly or foamy contents of canned food

  • Visible mold or mildew on the lid, inside the jar, or on the food itself.

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