General Canning Instructions

This section explains the canning process. First you prepare and pack the food; then you process it using either a water-bath method or a pressure-canning method; and then you cool the jars and store them. (And finally, if all goes well, you eat your good canned food!)

Preparing and Packing

1. Run your finger around the rim of each jar to check for nicks. A nicked rim can't be depended on to seal properly.

2. Wash jars in hot soapy water till clean. If you can't get a jar clear-clean, don't use it to can. Get a head start on this part by getting the jars thoroughly clean after you take food out of them, so they'll be all ready for the new year. Store them upside down or covered with old lids to keep out dust and the like over the winter. Then wash each jar before using it again, and rinse thoroughly.

3. Give jars a scalding rinse and turn upside down to drain on a clean folded cloth. A dishwasher is not a necessity, but if you have one, you'll find it a real help and time-saver when canning. You can use it to wash batches of canning (or freezing) jars and to keep them hot until needed. If you are doing a hot pack, keep the jars hot so they won't break from the contact with hot food. Never pour boiling water or hot food into a cool jar, and never place a cool jar directly into boiling water. You can keep jars hot by soaking in a big kettle of hot water until you're ready to remove and fill them. NOTE: For food products that will be processed less than 15 minutes by either water-bath or pressure methods, it is recommended that you use a sterilized jar. A sterilized jar is one that has been boiled for 10 minutes.

4. If you are canning high-acid foods with the water bath method, now fill the water-bath canning kettle with water two-thirds full, and put it on to boil. You need a very big, hot burner or a very hot stove top to can with this method. If you have trouble with your water boiling down in a water-bath canner, keep an extra pan of water boiling on your stove and add boiling water from that to the canner.

5. Put a pan that holds about a gallon of water on to boil to make your canning liquid.

6. Follow your recipe for food preparation. You'll find canning instructions for specific vegetables and fruits under their entries in Chapter 4 and Chapter 6, respectively. You can add or omit salt in any canning recipe as it suits you; it will not affect the processing time except for brined pickles, where salt content is critical for safetyf

The food to be canned should not have bruise spots or decay and should be as freshly gathered as possible. If you can manage 2 hours from garden to jar, you'll be a wonder and have the best-tasting canned food possible. Be especially careful not to let any dirt into the jar or food mixture, because bot bacteria live in soil. Thoroughly wash all food to be canned. The best results come from washing small batches at a time under running water, or in and out of several changes of water. Lift the vegetables out of the water so that any dirt gets left in the bottom of the pan. But don't soak the food, because then it loses vitamins and can get soggy. Scrub root vegetables especially well.

Here are more fruit-canning hints and options:

• To easily remove the skins of tomatoes and some fruit, drop them into boiling water for a minute or so, until the skins peel off freely.

• To prevent discoloration when peeling large, light fruits for canning, keep them in a brine (2 t. salt per quart of water, or 2 T. salt and 2 T. vinegar per gallon water). Remove the fruit within 15 minutes. Or you can not worry about darkening and just work fast, which is what I do; keeps down the salt intake.

• To prevent darkening and loss of vitamins, add ascorbic acid (a form of powdered vitamin C). Use lh t. powdered ascorbic acid per quart of fruit. Mix it in with the water/syrup that will cover the fruit in the jar.

For other fruit pre-treatments, see the "Freezing" and "Drying" sections on fruit pre-treatments.

7. Fill your clean jars with the fresh-cut food, leaving at least Vi inch headspace (see Step 9). Food can be packed raw in the jars (called "raw pack"), or the food and its liquid can be preheated first and then ladled hot into hot jars (called "hot pack"). For packing instructions for the specific vegetable or fruit you're canning, see its entry in Chapter 4 or Chapter 6. For a quick reference, see the tables "Packing High-Acid Foods for Water-Bath Canning" and "Packing Low-Acid Foods for Pressure Canning Only." If packing halved large fruit, pack it with the inside down to get more in.

If you are canning juice, tomatoes, or something else that doesn't need liquid added, skip the next step and go to Step 9.

8. Prepare canning liquid by adding sugar, honey, or a combination to hot water. Sugar helps fruit hold its shape, color, and flavor, but you don't have to add it to safely preserve food. You may can food in plain water or use much less sugar than the usual recipe says. Or you can use a honey solution, can in fruit juice, or use no sweetening or water at all! Refer to the table "Standard Syrup Mixtures" for suggested combinations. See "Freezing" section for syrup recipes. Or you can add sugar directly to hot-packed juicy fruit. Use Vi c. per quart of fruit, heat to simmering, and then pack.

For info on honey canning, see You Can Can with Honey by Nancy Cosper. Or use plain hot water. Sorghum, molasses, or brown sugar are other possible sweeteners but are less preferable because they tend to overwhelm the flavor of the fruit.

After mixing the ingredients for your syrup, heat and stir until in good solution.

Standard Syrup Mixtures (in Cups)_

Light Corn Syrup Water or

Sugar or Honey Fruit Juice*

Thin 2 0 4

Medium 114

Medium 0 14

Heavy 4 0 4

Heavy 0 4 4

*Any combination of water and juice (from the fruit you're canning or from another kind) is OK.

9. If hot packing, pour liquid over the fruit in the jars. Leave enough headspace between the food and the jar lid. Too little headspace doesn't allow the food inside room enough to expand when hot and boiling during processing. Too little headspace can result in liquid being forced out of the jar during processing, and a failure to seal. Usually your recipe says how much headspace to leave. But here are the guidelines that recipe writers follow: Jellies, fruit syrups: lA inch headspace Jams, preserves, pickles, relishes, syrups, juices: lA inch Canned fruits: Vi inch

All meats, poultry, fish, and low-acid vegetables (except limas): 1 inch

Lima beans: VA inch (pints), IVi inch (quarts)

10. Release any air trapped in the jar by running a thin flat plastic or wood (not metal) utensil around the side of the jar. This will cause air bubbles to come to the surface. A thin plastic spatula works perfectly for this. (Metal may crack or chip the jar.) Be especially careful to get the bubbles out if you have a product that has been in a blender. You do this because trapped air can emerge later and ruin the seal. Add more water if needed to maintain the proper headspace.

11. Wipe clean the rims of your jars before putting on lids. Use a wet cloth for syrupy contents, a dry cloth if there may be fat droplets.

12. Get your lids ready by heating them to simmering in a pan of water. Then remove from heat. Don't let them boil.

13. Put the flat metal lid on the jar, "composition" side next to the glass. Screw the metal band on over it. Screw down firmly by hand. Don't use a jar wrench for screwing down bands because lids must be loose enough so air can escape in the canner.

If you are water-bath canning, proceed by the following directions. If you are pressure canning, skip to "Pressure Canning Procedure," which follows "Water-Bath Canning Procedure."

Water-Bath Canning Procedure

1. Load your jars into your rack. (You can load jars with the rack either inside or outside the canner, but when it's time to take them out, leave the rack inside the canner and take the jars out one by one to avoid accidents with boiling water.) If you loaded outside the canner, holding the rack by the two handles, lower it into your canning kettle. Adjust the water level so that it is at least 1 inch above the tops of the jar lids. Work quickly enough so that your jars are still quite hot from the hot liquid being poured in; otherwise, they may crack when they hit the boiling water. (Commercial jars, like mayonnaise jars, crack more easily than regular canning jars.)

2. When the water in the kettle returns to a cheerful boil (don't confuse the bubbles of air escaping from the inside of the jars with a boil), start timing and boil it the recommended processing time, being careful that it never drops below a boil, in which case you'll have to start your timing all over again. The "Processing Times for Water-Bath Canning" table shows how many minutes to boil various high-acid foods. If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level, adjust the processing time as indicated in the "Altitude Adjustments for Water-Bath Canning" table.

Processing Times for Water-Bath Canning

Minutes

Altitude Adjustments for Water-Bath Canning

Food

Pints

Quarts

Apples

20

20

Applesauce

20

20

Apricots

25

30

Berries

15

20

Cherries

25

25

Cranberries

15

15

Currants

15

15

Figs

45

50

Fruit Juices

5

10

Peaches

25

30

Pears

25

30

Plums

10

10

Preserves

20

20

Rhubarb

10

10

Strawberries

15

15

Tomatoes

35

45

Tomato juice

35

(feet above sea level)

Processing Time

Under 1,000

1.000-3,000

3.001-6,000 6,001 or more

Time called for in recipe Time called for plus 5 minutes Time called for plus 10 minutes Time called for plus 15 minutes

Now skip to "Cooling, Storing, and Using."

Pressure Canning Procedure

This is the bot-safe method for canning low-acid foods: meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables (except rhubarb and tomatoes). Technically you can also pressure-can fruit, and some people do. But the canning times are so short that most people think a pressure canner is a pure nuisance to use for canning fruit, because fruit requires only about 8 minutes or less of pressure canning, and it gets frustrating to wait for the thing to heat up and then cool down so you can get on with the next batch. That's why we prefer to can fruit water-bath-style.

NOTE: If you have a dial-gauge canner, have the gauge tested every year before canning even one batch! Call your cooperative extension office to find out where to get this done. Even a brand new one must be tested before use, since shipping can make it inaccurate. When your canner lid is tested, you'll also get information about any recommended changes in time and pressure and procedure of canning.

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1. Put wire basket in your pressure canner.

2. Follow instructions for your particular size and style of canner as to the amount of water to put in—probably enough to cover the bottom 1 to 3 inches deep, maybe 1 or 2 quarts. Read the manual. Follow its instructions. You have to keep your mind on a pressure canner! They can be very dangerous!

3. Put filled jars with tops screwed on into canner on the wire basket. (Setting jars directly on canner bottom will break them.)

4. Put lid on pressure canner and screw on until it is tightly closed.

5. Check petcock valves with a toothpick if you haven't used the canner lately, if you have that style.

6. Turn up the heat. Watch for the steam—when you hear it, start timing. Watch for a steady flow of steam coming from the vent for 10 minutes. This is air leaving the jars and canner. It's called "exhausting" or "venting" the canner. You want the air trapped in the canner to escape through the petcock or steam valve. If the canner isn't properly exhausted, the air will cause the reading on the gauge to be inaccurate, and your canning temperatures may be too low to be safe.

7. After the canner has exhausted for 10 minutes, close the vent or place the weight control over the steam valve.

8. Watch for the pressure gauge to reach the correct pressure for your altitude (see the "Altitude Adjustments for Pressure Canning" table). Then set your timer or look at the clock and begin the designated processing time, as shown in the "Processing Times for Pressure Canning" table. If you are processing food in jars of a half pint or smaller, use the time listed for pints.

Processing Times for Pressure Canning

Minutes

Altitude Adjustments for Pressure Canning

Processing Pressure Altitude_Dial Gauge Weighted Gauge

Minutes

Food

Pints

Quarts

Meats

75

90

Fish

100

100

Asparagus

30

40

Beans, snap (green or yellow)

20

25

Beans, lima

40

50

Beets

30

35

Broccoli

25

40

Brussels sprouts

45

55

Cabbage

45

55

Carrots

25

30

Cauliflower

25

40

Corn

55

85

Greens

70

90

Hominy

60

70

Mushrooms

45

NO!

Okra

25

40

Onions

40

40

Parsnips

20

25

Peas

40

40

Peppers, green

35

35

Peppers, pimentoes

35

35

Potatoes, white

35

40

Pumpkin

55

90

Rutabagas

35

35

Squash, winter

55

90

Sweet potatoes

65

95

Turnips

20

25

Below 1,000 feet 1,000-2,000 2,001-4,000 4,001-6,000 6,001-8,000 8,001 or more

9. Adjust your heat source so the gauge stays at your determined temperature. If it's showing a higher temp, turn down heat a little. If lower, turn up heat. If you have a gauge that has to be watched, turn it so you can keep an eye on it as you do your other work in the kitchen.

10. When the jars have been processed the correct amount of time, take the pressure canner off the heat (use dry potholders or heavy towels) and let it cool. Let the pressure go down of its own accord. Don't try to rush it. On the average it takes 45-60 minutes for the pressure to go down in a pressure canner.

11. The steam and heat inside even a "cool" canner can be dangerous. Wait until the pressure gauge has gone down to zero, or until steam isn't visible rushing out when the regulator is nudged (with a pencil or long-handled fork, not your finger I). You will hear a hissing sound whenever you nudge the regulator, but if you don't see steam, it's ready for you to remove the lid.

12. When you can see no more steam, first open the petcock or remove the weighted gauge (not with your fingers!). Open the petcock valve slowly. Let the canner cool further. Then unlock the canner lid. Slide lid across the top of the canner toward you, thus letting steam escape from the far side of the canner. Leave lid sitting loosely on top of the canner for two more minutes. Remove canner lid. Take your jars out after 10 minutes. If you leave jars in the canner too long, they may not seal and they may overcook.

Cooling, Storing, and Using

1. For proper sealing, the jars must be removed from the water while still hot. Use your jar lifter to take out each jar one by one. You should use a jar lifter because it helps you keep them upright as they are moved from canner to cooling place. This is a dangerous time. Have the children out of the way of scalding hot drips. Don't wear shoes with slippery soles.

2. Set jars aside to seal on a surface warm enough that they won't crack because of a temperature contrast—a board, a cooling rack, or several layers of newspaper or towels—not a cold surface. Turning jars upside down is no longer recommended, for jam or any other food. Leave a couple inches between them for air to circulate. Don't cover them. Don't tighten the lids. That could break a seal which has already formed. Let them finish sealing on their own.

3. The beginning of the cooling causes a vacuum to develop inside the jar that sucks the lid down tight. You can often hear the pleasant "ping" popping sound as it seals. Test for the seal when the jar has cooled off. Most seal almost immediately, but some seal a little later on.

The sealing takes place when airflow between the jar and the outside is cut off. The air inside the jar contracts because it is cooling, so you have a vacuum effect inside the jar, which pulls the lid downward and reinforces the seal.

You can sometimes tell whether or not the jar is sealed by looking at the lid. You can feel the seal too, the downward-to-the-center (concave) curve of the lid. Whether the lid moves when you press it down is also an indicator. If it stays down when pressed, the jar is sealed. But if the lid pops back up, it's not sealed. Some lids have a "safety button" in the center. When this button is flat, the jar is sealed. If it is popped up or later pops up, the jar is not sealed, or the seal has broken.

And you can hear it! If it is sealed, you'll hear the difference for sure if you tap it with a fork or spoon. A sealed lid makes a clear ringing sound when tapped with metal because of the tension on it. The only exception to this would be if the jar is too full and food is touching the lid. Then you can't know if it's sealed so must assume it is not, because it wouldn't make the canner's famous and beloved "ping." If the lid is not sealed, the sound is lower-pitched and not musical or prolonged. After you've heard the difference a few times, you'll never mistake it. (However, hearing isn't as reliable as seeing and feeling the seal.)

If a jar does not promptly seal after processing, re-process for the full canning time using a different lid, or leave off the lid, put jar in fridge, and use within a week. But reprocessed foods will be distinctly overcooked.

4. Let sealed jars cool undisturbed 18-24 hours. Don't move them or tighten the rings any more because that can cause the seal to be broken.

5. After at least 18 hours have passed, take off the rings (screwbands) so liquid under them won't cause rusting. Wipe any stickiness off the outside of the jars. Label them with type of food and date.

6. Store in a dry, cool, dark place. A root cellar or regular cellar is ideal. You have to store the food someplace where it can stay cool but can't possibly freeze. Freezing would break your jars as the water expands. In general, the cooler the storage, the better the quality retention. Leaving at least Vi inch headspace in the jar protects it from freezing to a certain extent but not entirely. That's why canned food should be stored together with root vegetables in your root cellar, if you have one. Otherwise it needs a cool, dark place such as a basement. The coolness helps hold down enzyme and microbe activity in stored food, and the dark helps protect the color. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, canned food arranged on shelves is very vulnerable to the slightest tremor. In that kind of area, store canning jars in boxes flat on the floor, with cardboard strips as cushions between the jars. When you run out of floor space, use strongly attached shelving with edging strips to prevent the jars from falling off.

7. When you open ajar, check for signs of spoiling. Do not taste if you have any doubts. If you don't hear air rush in, that indicates it was not sealed; discard it. If the cap bulges upward or the food has a strange smell or look, don't taste it; discard it. Some bacteria produce "flat-sour spoilage"—sour spoilage with no gas—in canned goods. Some cause gas formation, and you get a bulging lid. Spoilage can make food either more acid or more alkaline, depending on the beastie. Some, such as botulism bacteria, leave no sign of their presence at all—no taste or smell—but nevertheless make the food poisonous.

On the other hand, if the underside of your metal lid has turned dark, don't worry about it. The natural acids and salts in certain foods can interact with the metal and create those harmless brown or black deposits under the lid. They are not harmful to you.

8. If in doubt, throw it out. Don't throw it to the animals, because if there is really bot toxin in there, it would poison them. The USDA says, "Due to the risk of botulism, low-acid and tomato foods that are not canned according to . . . USDA . . . recommendations should be boiled before eating, even if you detect no signs of spoilage. Boil foods for 10 minutes at altitudes below 1,000 feet. Add an additional minute of boiling time for each additional 1,000 feet elevation. This is because bot toxin breaks down when heated. Boiling it covered gives you a higher temperature in the pan. If a canning procedure is not USDA-recommended, it says so in this book. If you followed the recommended processing times and all the rules, if your pressure canner was in good condition, and if the pressure gauge was accurate, your food is safe."

But I repeat, if in doubt, don't taste it; don't try to salvage it by boiling; just throw it out.

Continue reading here: How Long Will Canned Food Keep

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    How to do old fashioned vegetable canning?
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