PLAYING WITH FOOD: My Adventures in Canning

240183_2145750367147_1283284_oMy grandmother had a green thumb. She wrote a weekly gardening column for the paper in Haskell, Texas. Her gardens were overflowing, whatever the season. Although I didn’t inherit her thumb, I love to garden. My husband and I have planted many over the years, enjoying fresh fruit and veggies from our labor of love.

A couple of years ago, our garden produced a bumper crop of yellow squash, cucumbers and tomatoes.  I decided it was time to learn how to can.  I remember my grandparents and parents doing this. My preferred method of food preservation was freezing or dehydration.  The first thing I did was buy the ubiquitous, Canning for Dummies book. It contained good information, but said something that scared me. To paraphrase, DO IT EXACTLY LIKE WE TELL YOU OR YOU’LL KILL SOMEONE. I felt like a dummie for even thinking of trying this obviously dangerous pursuit. I was paralyzed with fear. I’m not known for my domestic skills in the first place. What little reputation I do have would plummet if someone died from my canning.

My friend, Inez, cans a lot of her food, so I called her to express my fear about poisoning someone with botulism, or some other dreaded germ. She laughed and told me how her mother used to can everything–fruit, vegetables, meat, left-over spaghetti, soups, etc. No one was harmed.  She shared a few tricks with me, and combined with some information from the book I read, I soon heard the beautiful sound of a canning lid sealing themselves in the kitchen.  To date, no one has gotten ill or died from any of my efforts.

I’ve used the water bath method of canning which works for high acid and pickled foods. We recently bought a pressure canner, which I’ll use to can soups, meats, fruits and low-acid vegetables such as green beans. There is so much “how-to” information available to help the novice canner get those jars filled and sealed. Here are a few links:

Also, be prepared to employ your skills in the following areas:266401_2268870525074_3328718_o

  • Project Management – canning is a project that requires planning, before, during and after the ordeal.
  • Financial Management – factor in the cost of jars, lids, and equipment. Jars and equipment are reusable.
  • Space Management – you need to make sure you have room to work, a place to put the jars while they cool, and a place to store the finished product.
  • Materials Management – food, jars, lids, canner, tools, spices, etc.
  • Time Management – time required to complete the entire canning project (including food cleaning, cutting, prepping. Some recipes call for overnight brining), plus the timing of the process itself to insure success and safety.

It’s helpful, and more fun, to have a friend, family member or neighbor help you. I discovered that the right tools are a must. After hand-chopping 20 cups of onions and 20 cups of yellow squash for a relish recipe, our neighbor bought me a food processor, which did all the work in a fraction of the time. My husband has a passion for power tools. Now I see why!

It seems that canning is part art and part science. Canning stretches that grocery dollar and can provide healthy alternatives to store-bought canned food. There is a lot to learn, and a lot of work, but the rewards are worth it!




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