Tips and tricks for canning success
Now that we’ve covered the basic tools you need to become a canning maven, here are some tips and tricks to help you on your way to jam and pickle perfection.
Talk to your Grandparents
For our elder folk, canning was a way of life that helped ensure their families stayed nourished through the colder seasons. Many of our grandparents have a wealth of knowledge about the dos and don’ts of home canning. Put on a kettle of tea and sit down with them to hear about the inside scoop on how to do canning the right way.
Stick to the Directions
Sometimes when you have a great idea it can be tempting to stray from a recipe. But when you’re new at canning, stick to the directions until you have built up a good repertoire of skills. Start simple with tried and trusted recipes and work up to more complicated recipes. Ensuring you fully understand how to preserve your produce of choice will go a long way in helping your batches turn out well.
Safety is key in home canning, and it is important not to underestimate cleanliness when it comes to making sure your food is safe to eat. Not following recipe guidelines and processing times can also result in throwing your time, effort, and food away.
Keep altitude in mind. Just like altitude affects the oven time for baked goods, the cooking time for canned foods can vary with different altitudes. For every 1,000 ft. increase in altitude, an adjustment in processing times will need to be made. Here is a handy guide from the University of California at Davis on how to adjust canning times.
The Raw Ingredients
No matter whether you choose juicy berries or crisp cukes in trying your hand at canning, make sure you get the freshest in-season produce possible. This means buying direct from local farmers markets or a u-pick farms. The quality and flavour of your fruits and vegetables will be far better than grocery store fare that may be old or have been picked and shipped unripe. If you can afford it, buy organic when you can. The cost might mean a smaller quantity of produce, but the quality and taste of the finished products will be well worth it.
Make sure that your fruits and vegetables are at peak ripeness. Unripe produce means less flavour, and overripe, bruised, or spoiled produce should never be used for canning.
Sugar, salt, and vinegar are used in canning because they act as natural preservatives for foods that have a low acidity.
Try to use organic cane sugar instead of white sugar in jams, jellies, and other sweet preserves. While organic cane sugar might be a bit more pricey, it’s free of pesticides and isn’t processed with animal bone char like many white sugars are. And unless a recipe calls for it, don’t be tempted to use honey in lieu of sugar. Whatever you make will taste predominately like honey and be very runny.
Avoid using iodized salt in your recipes. Stick with sea salt instead.
Also, use white vinegar for pickled foods. While apple cider vinegar and other vinegars might seem like tasty alternatives, the strong flavours of these other vinegars will overpower any other flavours in your recipe.
Acids, such as lemon and citric acid, should be used in tomato sauces to prevent spoilage of the final product.
A Little Bit of Nippy
Liquors and wines can also be used in small amounts in preserves and pickled goods. But before experimenting on your own, seek out recipes that call for spirits to make sure your next batch of chardonnay jelly or drunken asparagus doesn’t turn into a disaster.
If you just don’t have the time to use your fruit at its freshest, freeze it until you have a few hours to set aside to whip up your next jellies and jams. When possible, though, it is best to process your all produce as soon as possible after it is harvested.
Not All Canning Methods Are Alike
Think you might like to try canning something without a preservative or using plain water? Think again. Attempting home canning without the use of a pressure cooker and the natural preservatives mentioned here will only result in food spoilage and a serious case of botulism.
Steam processing or processing of jars in the oven is also out of the question, as these methods are not reliable and will likely lead to improperly sealed jars.
The Finished Product
The work is not done once your jars have cooled down after the water bath. Inspecting your sealing caps for a proper seal immediately after canning, and again after 24 hours has passed, is important in preventing food spoilage. If you find your caps haven’t created good, solid seals, you can always use new sealing caps and clean jars and put your food through the water bath again. And if all else fails, share your “spoils” with friends and family, making sure to refrigerate the food and eat within a few days.
To make sure canned food stays at its best, store your jars out of sunlight in temperatures below 20°C (70°F). Make sure to mark your jars with a dated label so you can keep track of your batches and eat older foods first.
And a final word of wisdom: If you happen to be the lucky recipient of someone’s canning efforts, return their jars and you just might be lucky a second time around!