By Erin Olschewski, Sustainability Resource Center
As the air gets cooler and the growing season comes to a close, it’s easy to feel like your access to fresh foods is too. While our climate here in Salt Lake City doesn’t allow for us to grow many fresh fruits and vegetables year round, there are some ways to preserve your favorite farmers market finds throughout the winter. Freezing, dehydrating (drying), and canning are all excellent ways to eat local and delicious tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers, and a number of other perishables at any time during the year.
As freezing and dehydrating are relatively simple and self-explanatory, I’ll leave you to Google to further investigate those methods. However, canning is a form of food preservation that is rather involved. Unlike with freezing and dehydrating, resorting to any old recipe on someone’s blog is not the safest when it comes to canning. Canning is an exact science and if crucial aspects of the process are modified incorrectly it can result in bacteria, molds, and potentially botulism. However, there are a number of safe resources approved by the USDA to use while canning, including:
- The National Center for Home Food Preservation: The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (Housed at the University of Georgia)
- The Ball Canning Company: Blue Book of Preserving
- Utah State University Extension
There are two primary types of canning processes: boiling water bath canning and pressure canning. Depending on the acidity of the food you want to preserve, one process will be better than another. For example, if you want to can a low-acid food, like beans, pressure canning is definitely the process to use because it reaches much higher temperatures with pressure over a longer period of time to kill microorganisms. High-acid foods, like citrus fruits or tomatoes, are generally better suited for water bath canning.
How to Can using the Boiling Water Bath Canning Method
While many people invest in ceramic or porcelain canners for boiling water bath canning, it is possible to use a large sauce pot instead. You will also want to have a rack to separate your jars from the pot and each other.
And of course, mason jars! You can reuse mason jars from your kitchen cabinet, but make sure you purchase new lids with un-used seals.
Some other items that you will want to have on hand:
- Jar lifter
- Wooden spoon
- Additional sauce pot for blanching
With all recipes, you will want to follow the same basic instructions for using the water bath method:
- Read through all instructions before beginning any recipe.
- Prepare the jars by washing thoroughly and making sure there are no imperfections. Dry the bands completely.
- Heat water in in a sauce pot and keep clean jars in the warm water until your recipe is ready. By keeping the jars in hot water (but not boiling) it prevents any cracking that may occur by putting hot foods in cool jars.
- Prepare canner by bringing half a pot of water to a simmer and keep covered with a lid until the jars are full and ready to be placed in.
- Make your favorite canning recipe! I will list some basic, tested recipes later on.
- Remove jar from hot water and add the food to the jar using a funnel and ladle. Leave either ¼ inch or ½ inch headspace at the top of the jar, depending on the recipe.
- Clean jars and lids to get rid of any messy food residue and then place on lids and bands. Twist the band only as much as it needs to start spinning on the table and then stop. Do not screw them on tight like you might when keeping dry goods in the jars.
- Add the jars to the rack and then place the rack into your canner or sauce pot. Be sure to leave at least 2 inches of water on top of the jars and do not crowd the pot. At this point, bring the water up to a nice, rolling boil.
- Process the jars in boiling water for the amount of time listed on your recipe. It’s also very important to adjust for altitude. Here in Salt Lake we are at about 4,330 feet above sea level, so you will want to add 10 minutes to your processing time.
- Remove lid from canner, turn off heat, and let jars adjust to room temperature for about 5 minutes before taking them out of the canner, making sure to hold them upright with your jar lifter. Leave the jars sitting upright on your counter for 12-24 hours undisturbed.
- Label and store the jars (making sure that they have a good seal first) in a dark, cool place and consume within a year.
Now that you have the basics of the boiling water bath process, you are free to can all the acidic foods your heart desires! Here are some links to USDA certified, delicious recipes to start canning right now:
There are a ton of different recipes for all sorts of different foods on the resources listed earlier. Try one, try them all! Invite some friends over and make it a canning party.
As tomorrow is the last University of Utah Farmers Market, be sure to stop by Tanner Plaza between 10 am and 2pm and stock up on your favorite fresh produce products to can (or freeze or dry) this weekend. In a few months (or weeks) you will be so happy that you did as you enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of your labor.
Erin Olschewski is an undergraduate student in Communication. She is a sustainability ambassador with the Sustainability Resource Center.