Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Quarter Century Firsts

Last week was an age 25 first for me: preserving!!

Brandon and I have been talking about canning/preserving for months now and I finally utilized my 20% off coupons from Bed, Bath & Beyond and bought a canning "rack". We had already purchased a huge stockpot for our homebrewing adventures.

So between the ginormous stockpot, a newly purchased canning rack and all of the deliciously home-grown tomatoes from our garden, it was the perfect chance to make a big batch of sauce and preserve it so we can enjoy it during the depths of winter.

If you are like me, and live in a place where the sun shines for 70 days out of the whole year and the winter lasts for 9 months, you are going to want to get on the preservation wagon so you can save all the freshness of summer to help get you through another winter.

do. it.

what you'll need...
  • big stockpot/saucepan, keep in mind you'll need something to completely cover the jars
  • jars (I like the pint jars, but quart jars work well too) and lids (the kind with a cap and band)
  • canning rack. Actually, you can use a cooling rack if it will fit into your pot - ours is square and the pot is circular, so that didn't work. 
  • something to preserve, the kind of canning I'm talking about is for high-acid foods like sauces and salsas. You need a pressure canner if you want to do vegetables, meats and seafood.

First, find a recipe or make one up yourself - salsa, marinara sauce, etc.... If you use a canning recipe (check out this site) you get the bonus of them telling you exactly how long to process your jars for. I made my sauce a day in advance in the slow cooker, quick and easy.

Second, once your sauce (I say sauce because that's what I did) is ready to go, fill the stockpot with water and bring it to a simmer. Clean your jars and lids thoroughly.

Third, fill the jars with your sauce. If the food is hot when it goes into the jars, it is recommended that you warm the jars and lids first - either by boiling them or using the dishwasher to heat them up. Make sure you leave some head space for expansion (quarter inch for soft spreads such as jams and jellies and fruit juices; 1/2 inch for fruits, pickles, salsa, sauces, and tomatoes). Once the food is in there, remove any air bubbles by sliding a rubber spatula down and around the sides of the jars. 

Fourth, clean the rim of the jar so there is no food left on it when you put on the lid. Put the lids on the jars and close til they are "finger tight".

Fifth, place jars in the canning rack and put them into the stockpot of simmering water. Make sure you have an inch or two above the top of the jars.

Sixth, process the jars for their allotted amount of time. If you didn't use a recipe specific for preserving, estimate your time by using a processing time that is use for a similar type of food (again, you can find those recipes here). Tomato sauces are in the 35-40 minute range.

Seventh, after processing, remove from heat and allow jars to sit in water for another 5 minutes.

Eighth, carefully (use a hot mitt!!) remove jars from the canning rack and set somewhere where they can cool and sit for 12-24 hours, undisturbed.

Ninth, check the lids for a seal. The lids should not flex up and down if they are sealed correctly. You can also check them by removing the band and trying to lift the lid off with your fingertips - it shouldn't move. If they didn't seal properly, you can reprocess them immediately or just use whatever you are trying to preserve!

Oh, and speaking of preserving our harvest from our garden. Look at what we harvested on Saturday:

Yup, that's a tiny ear of corn!!! It was about 1/18th the size of the Ohio Sweet Corn you find at the farmer's market, but it was just as delicious!


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