I grew up knowing what fresh food was, what it meant to “put up” food, and some of the processes involved. I learned between the ages of 7-12. Formative years. Unfortunately nothing was written down and, as I engaged more in scholastics and the determination to kill off a few brain cells, I lost the knowledge given me by my grandmother, my aunts, and a few of the church ladies.
The urge came back to me about in the late 90’s. I really wanted to preserve my own food, but I had a small kitchen and no “canner.” I was able to set up a way to water bath. This allowed me to make pickled beets and jam, but that was the extent of the experiment.
Enter last year and a friend who “lent” me a 10 quart pressure cooker/canner. It sat on the shelf mocking me. I would look at it periodically, full of fear. What if I did it wrong? What if I made someone sick? What if the food exploded in the canner? All these questions, and an injured shoulder, kept me from experimenting.
Re-learning the Canning Process
This is one area where my professional experience didn’t help. We aren’t allowed to can food in professional kitchens, not unless you are government certified. So I did not learn the steps involved in the process. I do understand that we can injure and even kill someone if we don’t know the proper canning methods. And that was part of my fear.
I knew that the only way to push through this fear was to pull out the canner and do my research. So I read. I researched. I asked questions of knowledgeable family members. And, because the canner I was given did not come with instructions, I was able to find the manual online and learn how to use and care for it. I read through all the information and finally stretched my skills to include methodology that I knew when I was 8 years old but had forgotten.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned is that you do not want to “can” refried beans. There is a risk of explosion. I’m sure somebody out there can explain the science of why, but a fellow blogger provided a blow by blow account of their experience with refried beans. The same goes for pumpkin. You can preserve chunks of pumpkin for later, but not the puree. Freeze any puree you make.
Why I Enjoy Canning
The beautiful thing about the canner I was given is that it cooks as well as cans. I can cook two pounds of beans in under 30 minutes. Then clean out the pot and pressure can 10 jars of beans. The actual canning part does take a while (70 minutes for beans), but the end result is worth the time it takes to make your own jar of beans. I can control the flavor and the amount of salt that I include in the final result.
Other advantages are that I can buy fruits and vegetables in season, when they cost less, and make preserves and jams. I can pickle and preserve foods like cauliflower and carrots.
I’ve been happy with all of the results so far. I’ve canned strawberry jam, blueberry jam, peach butter, pinto beans, black beans, and chickpeas. I’ve also pickled jalapenos. Ultimately the goal is to have soups and some vegetables canned as well as jams and beans. It would be nice to have that spring vegetable soup in the middle of winter instead of running out and buying the commercial version.
I haven’t had any major canning accidents yet, but I know the risk is there. I check my jars periodically. I did lose an entire jar of roasted salsa, which made me very sad, but taught me to be more careful when I seal the jars.
As I was going through the process of preparing and canning the various items, I reflected back on my childhood and those days in Grandma Lamby’s kitchen when the smell of paraffin and corn were prevalent. My little hands learned how to wipe the mouths and close the lids on the jars. I was trying and trying to remember the things she told me about the process. Some of it came back and some of it didn’t. What lingered was the love she transmitted to me about preserving the food from her garden that she had grown as well as the food we received from friends and neighbors.
I’ve provided a few links you can use to get started on preserving and canning food. There are also entire online communities dedicated to keeping this part of cooking alive.
Links to canning, preserving and pickling.