Canning, freezing
helps with tighter budgets


April 15, 2011

by Helen R. Parks , Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt
PHOTOS BY HELEN R. PARKS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Wax was used to seal canning jars until the mid-1800s when the Mason resealing lid was invented. Rubber ring clamp jars followed, and finally, Kerr invented the popular 'use once' lids. Rubber ring clamp jars have been re-introduced and can be found again in some specialty cooking and kitchen tool stores of today.
Canning utensils include a pot and lid for boiling, a colander, sterilized jars, caps and lids, measuring cups, spatula and wooden spoon and supplies like canning salt, vinegar, sugar and spices.
Family favorites include homemade bread and butter pickles and red hot salsa in Master Gardener Helen Parks' home. She also cans fruit like pears and peaches, makes grape, strawberry and fig jellies and jams along with pickled squash and zucchini relish.
Shoppers today are label-reading, diet-watching, health-wise consumers, looking for ways to reduce or eliminate certain ingredients or additives from their diets. Casein-free/gluten-free/low-cholesterol/reduced-sodium/calories/vitamin-enriched/fiber/whole wheat/herbal/organic. Haven't we all reached for an item off the store shelves and decided to buy or not buy it because of its nutritional labeling?

As our nation struggles with the obese and allergy-stricken population, every day, millions are drawn to farmers' markets, fruit stands and orchards. Families are returning to their roots and dusting off the family cookbooks to return to sensible diets, while reaping economic and exercise benefits.

Whether you garden as a hobby or to supplement grocery bills, a new phenomenon has swept the nation. Americans are tightening their budgets and making better nutritional choices along with preserving foods, which brings a new dimension to our lives and diets. It allows us to personalize our food choices. This changing lifestyle is making a difference in nearly 30 percent of Americans now choosing to rediscover the art of canning and preserving. We watch cooking shows, create personal gifts and discover herbal medicines our ancestors once used.

HISTORY

When an animal dies or crop is harvested, decomposition begins. The science our ancestors developed has enabled us to preserve foods thereby halting or delaying decomposition. This process contributed to longevity of life while changing our diets forever.

FREEZING, DRYING, BREWING AND PICKLING

Years ago, people in colder climates chose freezing, while those in hotter regions used the sun and fire to dry their foods. As far back as 12,000 B.C., ancient people dried herbs, fruits and vegetables. The art of brewing found fermented drinks were healthier than some drinking water. Fermented foods contain more vitamins. India was first to use pickling more than 4,000 years ago.

PRESERVING, CANNING

Native Americans cut, seasoned and smoked their meats. Greeks and Romans used sugar, honey and coriander to preserve their foods. Canning and curing began in the 1800s when Napoleon awarded Nicolas Appert, a confectioner by trade, a monetary prize for his perfection and invention of canning. Known as the "Father of Canning," he applied heat to sealed glass bottles fitted with cork to improve army preserved foods.

RESEALABLE MASON JAR

In the mid 1800s, only wax was used to seal jars until John Mason created the jar with the threaded resealable lid. Clamp jar lids followed, and finally Kerr invented the "use once" lids of today. Many secret recipes were shared by moms as the family preserved their harvest. By WWII, because of a disconnect in family traditions, storytelling and communication, food preservation lost its appeal. Grocery shopping from the local market became more convenient and replaced home canning.

TIPS FOR PRESERVING FRESH FOODS

Now that you've considered joining the crowd and either buying large quantities of fresh produce from the market or raising your own, how do you preserve it for future use? When canning fresh foods, it's key to destroy all micro-organisms, such as bacteria, molds and yeasts, and avoid the opportunity for organisms to re-populate after preparation is complete.

METHODS OF PRESERVATION - BOIL, ACID, SUGAR, BLANCH AND FREEZE

Boiling to preserve certain foods can be used when brought to a desired temperature for a specified time to kill most micro-organisms. A pressure cooker can maintain a higher heat-level for boiling low-acid foods, which contain more bacteria. Adding an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar prevents food contamination.

Jams and jellied fruits with high concentrations of sugars added to help preserve them are typically sealed by a hot water bath, which prevents air and water seepage and spoilage. Freezing fruits or vegetables in their natural state is a tempting practice, but the recommended practice for preserving these is by blanching in boiling water for a specified time prior to freezing to eliminate enzyme activity that can change flavor. Always select the freshest quality, wash thoroughly and discard bruised or overripe produce.

TYPICAL CANNING PROCESS

Begin with clean stainless pots and utensils. Accurately follow canning recipes, and keep utensils and canning areas germ free. Gather jars, lids and screw tops, and sterilize according to directions removing air bubbles by tapping with a spatula. Inspect jar rims for chips or cracks.

Submerge lightly closed jars filled with cleaned fruit or vegetables in a hot water bath. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Begin the kitchen timer when boiling starts, and boil for a specified time, usually about 20 minutes. Carefully remove jars.

As jars cool, a snapping sound will indicate a good seal. Label lids with contents and include the date. Any jars not sealed properly within 24 hours may be stored in the refrigerator up to three weeks with the contents safe to eat. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place. When in doubt, never eat tainted foods.

Making preserves is an easy way to start. Choose a favorite family fruit. Research the 2 million websites devoted to canning, and join the millions of Americans who are using garden fresh produce and becoming "well-preserved."
FRESH FIG & STRAWBERRY JAM

(Makes 4 Cups)
Wash and chop 1 lb. fresh figs and 2 cups strawberries.
Mix with 2 cups sugar and 3 Tbsp. lemon juice.
Let stand in stainless saucepan 1 hour. Stir.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat.
Stir frequently, about 15 minutes, until mixture forms a gel.
Ladle into hot jars and process 10 minutes.

PICKLE FAN, FACTS
*Cleopatra attributed her beauty to pickles.
*Caesar and Napoleon used pickles as staples for troops.
*Columbus rationed pickles to his sailors to help keep them from getting scurvy.
*Queen Elizabeth I and George Washington were pickle enthusiasts.
*We each consume about 9 lbs. or 106 pickles per year (15 calories each)
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.