When it comes to food, I like to remember the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper. While the Ant spent his summer stocking up on food for winter, the Grasshopper frivolously spent his summer eating through the many delectable leaves of his domain, saving nothing for the winter to come. Some years I’m the Grasshopper and some years I’m the Ant.
During the intermittent year that I’m the Grasshopper I don’t feel that I have the time to preserve food for the coming winter. I have become very good at coming up with reasons that I shouldn’t take up my time with food preservation. My brain tells me, “It’s easier to just go to the store and pick up whatever I need”, or “It’s cheaper if I wait until whatever I need is on sale”, or “It’s just as good as what I put up”, even “I’m too tired” or it’s too hot”. The last two are when I’m really in a whiny mood and can’t come up with anything else.
To tell the truth, during the years that I’m in Ant mode, there is a real feeling of satisfaction when I look at the shelf where my preserves set and think to myself, “Yes, I did that and isn’t it pretty.” There are real benefits to canning your own food. You know who preserved your food. You know what is in that jar of peaches or pears because it was within your control the whole time. You know when the food was preserved, thus how long it has been in the jar. You know where your food came from and in my case that it was from a local farmer. You are spending money in your local area so it benefits the local economy and so is the farmer that just received your hard earned money. You know how the food was handled. You know why you do canning, for purely hedonistic motives. What, you might ask, is the historical significance? Why I remember my Grandmother canning Tomatoes and fruits when I spent summers there. So, I can still keep the feeling of those days gone by. This is one of those comfort memories that makes me feel good.
The science of canning is fairly straight forward. For high acid foods like tomatoes, fruits or anything made with fruit, and anything that is pickled, the heat of a Hot Water Bath Canner, also called a Kettle Canner is sufficient. For all other vegetables and meats a pressure canner is a necessity. When your jars are filled and the lids and bands have put into place they are then placed into the canner. When you heat the jars their contents start to expand and the air that is left at the top is forced out. This happens even if the lids are on tightly. After the allotted time has passed the jars are removed from the canner and left to set and cool at room temperature. The contents start to contract and PING, the vacuum seal is made. The heat destroys bacteria, molds and enzymes that cause food to spoil and yeasts that cause fruits to ferment. Basically the seal keeps all the good stuff in and bad stuff out.
Preserving food by this method is not hard to succeed at as long as you pay attention to the details. Having a good book on canning on hand is a great idea. The Ball Blue Book is my favorite and it teaches you a lot along the way. Making sure everything that touches the food, whether it is cold packed or hot packed, is sterilized in boiling water is very important. Also, the suggestions for the amount of time to process the jars in the boiling water or under pressure should be followed. I haven’t canned in almost 10 years so I bought a new Ball Blue Book and spent an evening reading through it a little before I embarked back on this adventure.
There are some basic supplies you will need. A pressure canner or a hot water bath canner is your initial investment and it will give you years of return on your investment. This item can also be borrowed from a friend or relative who might also be willing to help by passing on their knowledge of canning. Second, an assortment of jars, either regular or wide mouth, that are meant for canning. You can use used canning jars, but you have to be diligent about checking them for chips or cracks that could spoil you canning experience. Always use new lids on the jars although the rings can be used over and over. Other things like a food funnel for putting the food in the jar neater, a jar lifter for moving the hot jars, and a thin blunt utensil for releasing air bubbles from around the food in the jar before you put the lid on are handy but not necessary. A butter knife works well for releasing air bubbles. Clean old towels to set the hot jars on to cool. You don’t have to have the most expensive equipment. It’s better to just keep it simple.
I remember those hot fall days in my Grandmas kitchen with my mom and aunts canning everything in sight, including me if I didn’t get out of the way. It was sweltering and messy and in the mind of a kid I wonder who would ever want to do this every year. Now I think to myself, as I look at the pretty rows of preserves on my shelf, who wouldn’t want to do this. Now, on to Apple Sauce.