Thursday, February 13, 2014

Canning: First Time for Everything!

So, last year for Christmas my husband bought me all this canning stuff:  canning supplies, canning cook books, etc.  Part of this was to help fulfill our desire to be able to not only grow our own food but to be able to keep it as well.  I've never canned before because well, the freezer is just so darn easy.  I've made freezer jam, I've blanched, sealed and vacuumed sealed all kinds of veggies.  Whenever I make pasta sauce, I usually eat it all within a week or two before it gets funky, so there was never really a need.

But last year, with our own semi-successful garden and our CSA, I realized that we had more vegetables than we could physically eat before they went bad.  It also didn't help that I would often then go supplement our vegetable horde with a flat of Strawberries or a couple Cantaloupe or several pints of blue and blackberries.

I'm not a shopper and usually get by with what I have but my two weaknesses in this world are shoes and fruit.

Anyway, I realized that 1) our freezer isn't’t big enough to freeze all of this stuff, 2) we do not have space for a deep freezer, and 3) that if I didn't do something quick, a lot of the goodness from our farmer friends and the edibles the good Lord provided to us in our back yard were surely and soon to be wasted.

I thought I would get into canning this summer, but I didn't really have a canning pot.  I mean, I have big pots, but not TALL pots.  So finally this winter I got a for-real canner from my mom for Christmas and I finally broke down and read a few of my canning books.

I have the Classic Ball book.  Which is great and simple and very straightforward—but it also assumes you already know how to can.  So I studied the book posted below:  
Even though I think some of her recipes are  “foody” (she even admits in her introduction that these recipes are to HER taste), and even though I know that “foody” is just my way of saying—ok, weird, I would never eat that or put that together, Krissoff's introduction to canning is probably the best thing I have found about why we can, and then why once we decide to do it, why do we have to do it a particular way.  Why is acidity so important and why is a vacuum seal paramount?  I won't go into all this here, but Krisoff really explains it in a basic way that makes you go "ooohhhhhh" without having to be a food scientist to understand.

So, I decided to get over my fear of canning and go for it.  It was actually kind of easy, but I learned some critical things along the way. 

I make tomato sauce very very often. We eat a lot of pasta and homemade pizzas in our family, so I figured this was a natural step.  You’d think tomatoes are really acidic, so you wouldn't have to worry with the amount when you can.  Well, tomatoes are acidic, but depending on the type of tomato the acid can really differ.  So most tomato sauce canning recipes call to add citric acid to be safe and sure.

Most tomato sauce recipes use fresh tomatoes.  I was using already canned whole tomatoes-and as you can see here—they already have citric acid in them.
Don’t ask about the calcium chloride…the cans for $3 for 5 cans.

Prepping for canning is paramount.  As I discovered, it’s very important to have your empty sterilized mason jars as close as possible to the food you are putting in them, because I tell you, I dripped tomato sauce all over my kitchen.  Also, when they say, “Fill up your canning pot…” they don't mean to really fill it up.  Fill it like, half way---if that.  If you fill it up all the way like this dummy, you will have boiling water explode all over your kitchen and flood your counter tops.  Also, you don’t have to have your water boiling when you put your filled cans in there  I'm sure this point helped my explosion.  Sterilize your cans in very warm simmering water, remove them, fill them, put a lid on them and a ring and then put them back in the simmering water—THEN bring to a boil.  This also will help in case you did put too much water, you can ladle out before you have water fireworks.  I was so concerned with having at least an inch of water over my cans to seal them that I didn't realize the mistake I was making i.e. the incoming hot water storm.  Luckily no one was hurt, just my cat was terrified and hid under the bed all day.  So word for the wise and for the future, put less water than you think.  You can always add more to get that 1 inch over your cans and bring up to a boil. 

But I was successful and have sealed cans!!

Here’s my recipe for tomato sauce:

Make yourself a friend in a food processor and chopp your onions and garlic together the easy way.  I used a couple cloves of garlic and one medium sized white or yellow onion.
Put that  in your pan with some olive oil and salt and pepper over medium heat.  Usually I add fresh basil at some point in the process, but since it’s January I popped in one of my olive oil/herb mix cubes I made in the early fall by freezing olive oil and herbs in ice cube trays.
Since I found a deal on whole peeled tomatoes, I also “crushed” them by processing them in the food processor.  You can use canned crushed tomatoes or whatever else you like, or you can use fresh and peel, seed and crush them yourselves---just make sure if you are going to can them you look up a receipe for how much citric acid you need to use.

Once the onions and garlic are translucent and golden, pour in all your tomatoes and stir. At this point I usually add some dried Italian seasoning or my fresh basil if it’s summer time.  You can let this cook for as little as 30 minutes or as long as you want, just monitor your heat and stir often.  The longer you cook the more rich and intense the flavor is—it also will reduce down quite a bit and get thicker as the water evaporates.  I usually adjust my heat to a simmer, stir every 10 minutes or so and at about 30 minutes begin tasting.  I keep tasting until it tastes so good I could just sit there and eat the whole thing as a soup.  Then it’s ready!

Here are some more canning pictures:

Sterilizing Cans.

Fililng Cans.

Tightening Rings on Cans.

Processing.  Notice the water everywhere!


A note:  We've since tried the sauce after a few weeks in storage and we are still alive.  Hooray!

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