Pings of Satisfaction

It was a beautiful, busy day here at the Lynch’s Country House.  After much delay, my tomatoes and green beans have finally begun producing in large enough quantity to can for winter, so this week has been a flurry of string, snapping, skinning, chopping, simmering and sealing.  My friends, if you’re new to the world of canning, there are fewer things as satisfying as the PING of a sealed jar and few things are as simple as water bath canning.  Trust me on this one.

It’s getting late in the season, but let’s just jump into this and talk about simple canning!  Water-bath canning (WBC) is the method for canning high-acid produce (apples, peaches, pears, berries) or for veggies to which a strong acid such as vinegar, citric acid or lemon juice has been added (Ex: pickles, salsa).  WBC is a very simple, very safe method for canning that requires very little equipment and is typically a confidence-building first step into the world of food preservation.

Equipment is minimal.  You need canning jars and a water-bath canner, which is nothing more than a deep pot with a lid and a trivet that keeps your jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot.  You can find these new at Walmart or Rural King, or pick them up inexpensively at yard sales.  If you go the yard sale route, inspect the bottom of the canner for holes and be sure there’s some kind of trivet or rack and a lid.  Other necessary equipment is a ladle, funnel, lids and rings and a jar lifter; there’s an inexpensive kit at Walmart that has all these things for under $10.  Once you’ve made this investment, the only thing you’ll have to buy is lids as needed.

By far, the easiest canning recipes are pickles and applesauce.  I won’t give you exact steps, but an overview.  I want you to see that if you are able to cook the simplest meals, you can WBC.

To make pickles, you slice cucumbers, salt them and allow them to sit and “weep” for a short time. This reduces their water content and makes for crisper pickles.  After they’ve wept, you rinse the salt and pack the cucumber slices into pint jars.  The next step is to create a vinegar-based brine, which is nothing more than bringing vinegar, water, salt and (sometimes) sugar and spices to a boil and then carefully pouring it over the sliced cucumbers.  Wipe down the rims of the jars, add the lids (finger-tight) and carefully lower the jars into a canner of simmering water.  Most pickles require 10 minutes of simmering.  Remove the jars after the prescribed time and set on a cooling rack or cookie sheet to cool.  Easy, right?

To make applesauce, you must choose a variety of apples that cooks down to mush.  Certain apples will, certain apples won’t, but it takes very little research to figure out which is the best varieties for sauce.  To make the sauce, you peel, core and roughly chop the apples and put them into a pot with a very small amount of water.  Cook them over low heat until they’re saucy and then sweeten and flavor to taste.  (We love cinnamon and ginger added to ours.)  Ladle the hot applesauce into pint jars, clean the rims and put on the lids.  Carefully place the jars into a canner of simmering water and process for the required amount of time (typically 10 minutes).  Use your jar lifter to remove the jars from the water and let them cool on a rack or cookie sheet.

Seriously folks, that’s all there is to it.   Of course there are a few other small steps along the way that you have to follow, but for the most part, that’s it.  The acid and heat kill any bacteria in the jars or on the produce, and will keep your food fresh and delicious for a year or more.

I DO have one caveat for you: You NEED reliable, up-to-date sources for recipes and instruction.  When you delve into the canning world, you’ll find folks who don’t follow recommended procedures and justify it with comments like “Well, this is how my Grammy did it and she never killed anyone.”   Well friends, my Mamaw smoked the dried beans off Catalpa trees and gave babies whiskey for their colicky tummies and didn’t kill anyone—but that doesn’t mean it was safe.  While modern canning is very, very safe, you must stick to tried and true recipes and procedures or you do risk sickness.  So, after that warning, let me give you some of my favorite books and sites. This is the holy grail for all things canning related. It covers both WBC and pressure canning, as well as other forms of food preservation.  This is a very trustworthy site and you can depend on the information you find here.  Once you’re comfortable with the essentials of canning, you can find some great, creative recipes and ideas here.– Great seasonal information to be had here.   If you only buy one book, this has to be it. You can find it at Walmart, Rural King or Meijer (seasonally) and it covers everything from WBC applesauce to pressure canning Beef Stew and everything in between.  It covers every single step from start to finish and includes color pictures.  Buy one, my friends!  If you can’t afford one, I’ll share mine with you.

Now, go can something!  Til next time…