Preserving heritage and flavour, all in your own kitchen
Folks have long relied on canning as way to stretch seasonal foods through the long cold months of winter. Over the many years of home canning methods have varied slightly, especially after it was learned home preserved foods could be a playground for botulism and other foodborne illnesses. While the premise remains the same, the method is now safer.
The history of canning goes back to the 1790s, when Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner, began experimenting with preserving food in glass bottles during the Napoleonic wars. Home canning began in the United States and Canada in the latter part of the 19th century and grew in popularity right up until after the Second World War when people began to opt for commercially produced foods at supermarkets.
Preserving your own
I love to preserve field tomatoes. I have come across flavourful canned tomatoes but they lack the satisfaction that comes from preserving your own. There is also the concern about bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical additive that mimics the hormone estrogen, linked to the resin used by many can manufacturers to prevent corrosion.
The initial start-up cost of canning may seem expensive, due to the cost of mason jars, but I strongly recommend that you choose jars meant for the purpose of canning, as the lids and seals give a perfect airtight fit. Think of it as an investment in food safety. Jars are often found at yard sales and flea markets at a substantial reduction in price, needing only a good sterilizing and new set of seals and lids, which are sold separate from the jars.
You will also need a large pot. There are pots specifically designed for the purpose of water bathing but any large pot with a heavy bottom is sufficient.
If repurposing a pot you already own, you will need to place a rack of some sort between your jars and the bottom of the pot; I use a round cooling rack meant for cakes, which works well.
The other tool you will need is a jar lifter for removing the jars; this requires a bit of strength so if you feel that it’s too heavy, I suggest you invest in a purpose-designed pot as they come with a rack for settling and lifting six jars in one movement.
It is very important to sterilize your jars before placing food inside. Some people wash their jars and place them in a 250°F (120°C) oven for a minimum of 15 minutes; I prefer to simply run mine through the sanitizing cycle on my dishwasher.
The jar lids and seals also must be sterilized. This can be done in a pot of simmering water—not boiling, as the seal is rubber and you do not want it to break down. Once sterilized, leave lids and seals in the hot water until ready to use.
I use a preserving funnel for placing food in the jar (filling to within an inch of the rim). Place the jar in the water bath for the desired time—the water should come about three-quarters of the way up the side of the jar—before placing the jar on a drying cloth, and thoroughly wiping the rim. Next add the seal and the lid (note: finger-tighten the lid only at this point). Within 15 to 20 minutes (sometimes sooner) you will begin to hear the lids pop, which indicates a tight seal. If you’re unsure of the seal, simply run your finger over the dimple in the top of the lid; if it is raised, let it sit a little longer until it depresses. In some cases it is necessary to reprocess foods if it doesn’t seal after an hour or so. Or simply keep that jar in the fridge for immediate use.
Foods that have been properly sealed can be stored in a cool dry place for up to six months at the peak of freshness, but as long as the seal is intact it will easily last another six months.