Posts Tagged ‘Canning How-To’

The Incredible, Edible Canning Adventures of Laura Bruno

Perhaps I should begin this post by admitting that it is ever so much easier to be a Lazy Raw Foodist than an Amish poseur/faery homesteader. Indeed, spiralizing, Vita-Mixing and dehydrating have nothing on canning when it comes to complexity and sheer multitasking brain power. Nonetheless, I’m having fun with it and thought I’d share some tips and mishaps that might either encourage and help others or maybe send them running for the nearest Whole Foods salad bar. Whichever.

First, the gear. You’ll need:

1) A large canning pot
2) Clean canning jars with brand new lids
3) Several other pots, depending on your recipe — one or two for whatever’s going into your jars, plus one to warm the lids
4) A funnel that fits into your jars
5) A clean cloth to wipe the jar tops so you get a good seal
6) A mini spatula to help release air bubbles from each jar before sealing
7) A jar picker-upper
8) Magnetic lid lifter
9) Timer
10) Towel to protect your counter from very hot jars
11) Large ladle
12) Produce scale
13) Recipes designed specifically for canning. Unlike raw food, canning is not forgiving of substitutions and changes to ingredient proportions. It’s chemistry, baby, and changing the acid balance could leave you with botulism, so express you’re inner rebel in some other food venue. Canning requires exactitude.

(You can sometimes find most of the specific canning items bundled together in a complete canning kit and a set of new jars with lids. My canning kit came with some other tool that I’ve still not figured out what it is or why it’s there.)

Optional, but very helpful:

1) One or more silicon gloves for BBQ-ing, so that you can reach into the pot of boiling water without scalding your hand, as well as keep a good grip on the jar picker upper without getting scaled by steam as you lift the jar.

2) A hair tie if you have long hair

3) An apron. Because … in my kitchen anyway … canning is rather messy:

Laura in apron

The Good News.

Canning is bizarrely addicting in a pain in the elbow, completely overwhelm your kitchen and kill three hours kind of way. It also uses up bumper crops or cheap bulk purchases from the Farmers Market. In our house, it means being able to customize canned foods with foodie flavors and healthier ingredients than we’d ever find on store shelves. I’ve primarily used recipes from the book, “Put ‘Em Up,” as well as an online Jalapeño Jam recipe using Pomona Pectin, which allows you to sub birch sweetener, honey or other alternative sweeteners for the sugar, as well as lowering the amount of required sugars. Canning also makes for fun little gifts for friends and family — a way to share your garden harvest with people who can’t just pop over for some fresh tomatoes and kale.

The Slightly Frustrating and Humorous News

Did I mention multitasking? Get your brain on straight, and don’t even attempt canning if you’re tired, have brain fog, sore muscles or a lot of distractions. Certain parts of canning require uninterrupted concentration and perfect timing, so don’t be trying to answer the phone, make sandwiches and play on Facebook at the same time.

David snuck this photo when I was concentrating so hard I didn't even know he was standing there.

David snuck this photo when I was concentrating so hard I didn’t even know he was standing there.

You really do need to have a sense of humor, because sometimes a few details slip — like the time I heated up the lids but forgot to put water in that pot. Doh! Can you say, “Burning plastic melted onto the metal pot?” We did. Toss any questionable lids. It’s a waste, but they won’t seal properly if you’ve mangled them or used them previously. The rings and jars can be reused, but not the lids. We get BPA-free lids from Ball.

I’ve not canned that many times, but each time has brought some kind of unexpected (or several unexpected) things to deal with in the moment. We have very hard water here and use a water softener. All but our cold water faucet in the sink gets softened. One time, I forgot to fill the big canning pot with hot water, so not only did it take eons to heat, but all my jars had a lovely hard water mineral film on them after processing. David’s former home-ec teaching mom gave those jars the safety approval, but they look pretty grainy on the outside!

When I made the jalapeño jam, I neglected to wear gloves while chopping fourteen incredibly hot peppers from our garden. I did wash my hands, but apparently, not enough, before putting them into the silicon gloves. At first, I thought the gloves were leaking, because my hands just burned whenever I got near the canning pot. Then, I realized it might have something to do with the peppers, so I washed my hands again. And again. And again. They finally felt better, until I put the gloves back on — gloves that were now coated with jalapeño oil. To make matters worse, I had little paper cut-like slivers in both hands from wrestling with a tomato plant the day before.

Let’s just say that by the time I finished canning that jam, I was actually hopping up and down in the kitchen and blowing on my hands to cool them. I tried vinegar, as recommended online, soap, cold water, aloe, MSM cream with peppermint oil. Nothing worked for more than about 45 seconds. In the end, those hands just burned for about 14 hours. The next time I put on the gloves as a test, the fun began again! Ohhhh, the fun. There’s nothing quite like having your hands burn so bad that you can barely move your fingers. I washed and washed out the silicon gloves, and I’m happy to report, they’re fine now. Sheesh, though! Potent lesson. Wear latex or some other kind of disposable gloves when you chop hot peppers, especially if you’re going to stick those hands in heat resistant gloves. Trust me when I say, “You will feel quadruple the heat of both the peppers and the hot water if you combine those experiences.” O.M.G.!!!

Moving on now … that was three canning adventures ago. 🙂

Tomato salsa’s a bit tricky. You really need to lift those air bubbles out before putting on the lid. Otherwise, you’ll have a lava lamp looking salsa to wow your friends. Oh, yes, we do.

Today’s canning really took things to a new level in terms of mishaps. I decided to make the pickled beets with cumin and cloves recipe from Put ‘Em Up. I boiled the beets until slightly tender, just like it said, chopped them into 1/4″ slices, just like it said, although not how the photo looked. Hmmm … Then I neglected to trust my intuition that told me a double recipe of that would fill 7 pint sized jars not 6 like it said. Sure enough, I got the six filled and had just enough beets to fill a 7th jar, which I heated and prepared like the rest.

The trouble arose when I poured the brine over the beets. Um … I doubled the recipe for brine, but it only filled half my jars. Check, double-check, triple-check. OK … it’s the acid ratio that’s key, so I made another batch of the vinegar-birch sweetener-water-salt brine and poured it over the beets. That worked perfectly.

Then, I sealed the jars lightly, also as recommended. You’re not supposed to strangle the lids with those rings, so I didn’t. While texting with my sweet friend Tania Marie –who had just opened a goodies package I’d sent her earlier– I commented about how good our kitchen smelled while those jars were processing. (Once the jars are sealed, you really don’t smell what’s in them.) I also mentioned that my friend Tim Glenn had alerted me that Jupiter was exactly squaring my natal Uranus at 6 a.m. this morning. “Expect the unexpected,” he advised “… and don’t push it.” Those two lines of texting should have clued me in as I waited for the timer to count down on those jars, but no.

Sure enough, when I opened the lid after the ding, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A whole messa beets, that’s what! All over the canning pot. At first, I thought a jar exploded. Great Jupiter energy, but no. It was more of a wacky Uranus thing, since one ring had unscrewed itself to free the beets. Here’s the creepy looking scene after removing the other 6 jars:

beet mishap

What a mess! The good news is that I had been thinking I needed to put vinegar in the pot to clear out the rest of the mineral crust from the hard water mishap. Done! I had also been thinking I wished I had just saved some beets for myself to have on my artichoke, raw goat cheese, mixed green salad. Also done. The vinegar from the pickles has done a lovely job dissolving those minerals, and I must say, that well-earned lunch totally rocked. Super awesome. Plus, we now have 6 jars of cumin and clove pickled beets:

pickled beets

Like I said, it’s a lot easier to be a Lazy Raw Foodist than a pretend Amish woman/faery homesteader. Of course, I do have the star — a favorite of Amish homes and witchy gardeners alike. When David’s dad saw it, he said, “That’s the closest thing to an Amish hex sign I’ve seen around here.” Why, yes, it is. Only good faeries and happy friends and family are welcome in my garden. 😉

Star hex

Star hex