You CAN Do It!
Canning sounds like such a lovely, retro idea — a throwback to when grandma could produce a homemade tomato sauce in mid-February with produce she had pulled from the vine six months earlier.But it's not quite as simple and homey as it sounds. Canning fruits, vegetables, jams, jellies and sauces is a special kind of alchemy that is as much science as it is tradition, focused specifically on preserving foods safely.That's why you can't wing it. Or take chances. You're well advised to be prepared — with the proper ingredients, equipment and knowledge from trusted sources.How's this for a twist? Never get advice on canning from a blog or a website. And as delicious as grandmother's blackberry preserves were, don't just pull out and use her old family recipes."The rules for canning are continually being updated. This is why it is so important to use the proper sources for information and recipes," says Jeanne Evers, education program assistant at Oregon State University. "Always be cautious about using food preservation information on personal websites, recipe sites and cooking exchanges."Kia McQueary, a certified food processor and master food preserver at the university, explains that older recipes, for example, might not advise home canners to adjust boiling times for elevation or take into consideration changes in some essential canning ingredients."Vinegar, for example, is no longer 8 percent," she says, referring to the acidity content. "You have to use vinegar that is minimum 5 percent and some vinegars today are 4 percent. And vegetables have been hybridized and have lost some of their acidity. You have to know what you're working with."Both canning pros agree that the best place to start is with the most current "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving" and/or instructions from state- or university-run extension programs. Picking up a guide from 1960, they agree, could be a costly and dangerous mistake.Once you have recipe from a reliable source, stick to it. You might have to stifle your creativity a bit, but for good reason."Never play with a recipe. Don't assume you can vary the quantity of one item or replace it with some other fruit or vegetable," Evers says. "Canning recipes are tested and safe. It is a science. Times and methods are based on the acidity of the product, the consistency of the product, the size of the jar, your elevation, and other issues that will be covered in each recipe. It's best to have an understanding of the entire method before starting."It's also important to understand that canning is not a quick project. Even the simplest recipes, such as pickles or corn relish, take about four hours. Doing anything with tomatoes adds another two.One of the nice things about something as scientific as canning is that it's an easy-to-follow formula that, as long as you actually follow it, is almost guaranteed to produce the result you're seeking. New home canners run into trouble most often when they try to rush or cut corners or otherwise go rogue.Ultimately, canning is a time-tested way to save money and to assure that your family is eating healthful foods."Be sure to preserve only what you can reasonably eat in a year," Evers advises. "Some products last longer and are safe, but quality goes down after a year. And remember to use quality fresh produce. The old saying, 'junk in, junk out' is definitely true."