Basic Techniques for Canning and Preserving Food - dummies

Basic Techniques for Canning and Preserving Food

By Consumer Dummies

Part of Canning & Preserving For Dummies All-in-One Cheat Sheet

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.