It's that time of year again when our gardens and farm stands are overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, but one can only eat so much produce during this season. Preserving the tastiest fruits and vegetables at the peak of their freshness and flavour is a great way to capture the essence of summer to enjoy all winter long!
Years ago, many families depended on canning their bounty of fruits and vegetables from garden plots and orchards to sustain them during the off season and long winters. Canning is a process in which produce is packed into sterilized jars with either a syrup, water or brine, then processed at a high temperature to kill off microorganisms which could cause food spoilage or possibly even botulism, depending on what you are canning.
A few tips to remember when filling your jars before any processing method, will help eliminate food spoilage or possibly food poisoning.
1) Always make sure that you sterilize the jars first...you can heat them in boiling water, place clean jars in the oven (set at about 200 degrees for approximately 20 minutes) or you can utilize the extremely high water temperature of your dishwasher. Next, place the insert of your lid in a bowl of hotnot boiling water to soften the rubber ring which will help ensure a proper vacuum seal.
(*boiling water could damage the delicate ring of rubber on the lid insert)
2) When filling your jars with preserves, leave the correct amount of head space, according to what your recipe calls for...(head space is the area between the preserves and the underside of the lid). Too much space can cause discolouration of your preserves or hinder the seal. Usually the head space is anywhere between 1/4 - 3/4 of an inch depending on what you are preserving.
3) Always wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth...if there are any drips of liquid on the rim, that could also hinder a proper seal. Remove the lid inserts from the bowl of hot water, dry them off and fit into your screw bands...
4) Screw lids onto jars finger tight...if the lids are too tight, any air trapped in the jar will not be able to escape during the hot water bath process, possibly trapping bacteria in the jar as well.
One way to process your preserves is the hot water bath method...
This method involves filling a large kettle with water and placing your jars of preserves onto a rack which is then lowered into the water...once the jars are fully submerged, the water is then brought to a boil...the heat of the boiling water will force air out of the jars, eliminating any bacteria that may be present and form a vacuum seal on your jars of preserves.
This is the type of rack that is used in a water bath kettle...this rack has spaces for the jars to sit upright and it ensures that the jars do not touch the bottom of the pot which could cause them to crack from direct heat...it has handles that are handy to use for lowering jars safely in and out of the hot water and are also used to hook over the sides of the pot when the process is complete.
Using the handles of your canning rack, lower the jars into the water...the jars should be completely submerged with at least 1-2 inches of water covering the lids. Once the jars are fully submerged, place lid on kettle and bring the water to a boil. Keep the water at a constant heat and maintain a gentle boil for the specified time called for in your recipe, depending on what you are processing.
I like to heat the water up before I add jars of preserves to the water...if the water is cold and your preserves are hot, that could cause the glass to crack.
Once the specified processing time has been reached, turn off the heat to your stove top and carefully raise the jars out of the water and hook the rack handles over the edge of your preserving kettle until they are cool enough to handle.
Remove jars from the rack and place on a tea towel on your counter top to cool completely...you will begin to hear the lid inserts pop as the sealing process is complete. Some people remove the screw bands from the lids and store the jars upside down but I don't...I'm a rebel that way!! Let the preserves sit on the counter for about 24 hours to ensure every jar has sealed...if there are any non-sealers, you can store those little buggers in the fridge or try the process again to reseal those particular jars. Label and date your preserves, then store in a cool, dark, well ventilated area.
..and just like that, you are now Olivia Walton hunkering down for winter...wait a minute...no way, I'm Olivia Walton...you can be Caroline Ingalls!!
** meats, fish and certain low acid vegetables should not be canned using this method...a pressure cooker is generally required for processing of that particular nature.**
** if you live in an area of high altitude, adjust the length of you processing time...higher than 1000 ft, requires longer processing.