Home Canning Helps You Eat Safely and on the Cheap

learn to can foods yourself and enjoy many benefitsMove over, wacko survivalists. Canning your own food is coming to the masses ... even the urban ones.

Do you want to stockpile the bounty and flavor of goodies from the farmers market or your CSA membership? Live more sustainably? Save money? Or perhaps most importantly, avoid scary commercial chemicals such as bisphenol A? You can see there's more than one reason to learn this "old-skool" skill.

Be forewarned that taking to "putting up food" isn't like taking up knitting. Canning requires you to brave two frontiers: pressure cooking and successfully avoiding botulism. Because, you know, botulism is colorless, odorless and will kill you -- half the fun, right?

Seriously, canning food isn't so hard. Heck, even your grandmother can do it. So, if you're ready to learn canning, let's hear a rousing shout of "yes, we can!" and get started.

Learn to Can Food
While the process necessary to can food can be simplified to just 12 steps -- most involving boiling water and maintaining overall cleanliness -- canning is something more easily learned in a hands-on process. So, consider this a virtual tour before you do it in real life.

For those less-than-brave pioneers, find a local "intro to canning" class. Look for extension courses from your local university, or find classes offered through neighborhood groceries, community centers, and other educational or culinary groups. Also, food and nutrition consultants provide one-on-one training and you can obtain instructional DVDs for Canning 101.

Do-it-Yourself Home Canning

If you'd like to learn to do it yourself, here's a brief overview.

You'll need:
  • preserving recipe for food you're preparing to can (e.g. dilly beans versus salsa).
  • water bath canners (approx. $30) or large, deep saucepot with lid.
  • common kitchen utensils such as wooden spoons, dishtowels and saucepans.
  • glass jars, lids and bands (jars and bands can be reused; always use new lids -- try brands Ball or Kerr).
  • optionally, obtain helpful accessories such as funnels, tongs and a rack (sold separately or bundled together).
  • masking tape and pen to label and date jars
You can preserve nearly anything, but the easiest to can are "acid" foods. These include: fruits, jams, jellies, fruit spreads, salsas, tomatoes, pickles, relishes, chutneys, sauces, vinegar and condiments. Here are the basic directions and some well-earned, helpful tips. Store your canned food jars in a cool, dark area.

The benefits? Well, to start, you'll have reserves you can store for up to three years. Once this minimal effort is put into canning, each canned item becomes a convenience food of sorts: no need to buy it later, just open it up and enjoy. Many say the flavors are better than frozen foods (which don't last as long as canned goods anyway).

More in-depth details can be found at Mother Earth News. Happy canning!

Katie McCaskey is co-owner of George Bowers Grocery, a neighborhood grocery featuring specialty food and informative classes in Staunton, Va.
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