Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Introduction to Water-bath Canning

     Hello All, I hope this post finds you well. For many it is a time of transition as the seasons are beginning to change. The soil and air are getting dryer and birds are migrating. Many gardeners are starting to get a yield of food that can often be more than a family can eat. That is why I want to introduce to you: waterbath canning.

     Waterbath canning is a great way to preserve food without taking up any freezer space. Essentially, you are preserving a medium- to high-acid food by sanitizing (boiling) in jars that have self-sealing lids. Therefore, as long as you have enough acidity (which can be changed with a little vinegar or lemon juice), it is possible to come up with all kinds of combinations for canning. By learning this simple rule, I was able to move from basics like canning beets and apple sauce on to dill pickle green beans, and jalapeno carrots, and zucchini tomato stew. Here, I will give you the recipe and instructions for basic apple sauce (spiced apple preserve recipe to come almost immediately after). Then I will give you comparisons to other methods of food preservation.  You do not need to can all of your applesauce, but I like to provide that option, should you choose to use it. If you are planning on storing applesauce without canning (in the fridge), then please disregard the first six items.

Prepping the Canner: Clean all of your Ball or Mason jars in hot, soapy water. Do the same for the bands and the (unused) lids. Set aside for later use.

You will need:
 - Waterbath Canner and seven "chambered" rack
 - Seven or more Ball or Mason Quart Jars (I prefer widemouth)
 - Lids and Bands (for widemouth jars if using widemouth)
 - Tongs
 - Funnel
 - Ladle
 - Blender, food processor, or pulper
 - 20+ lbs. apples (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Fuji, Jonathon, Jonagold, etc.)
 - Lemon juice
 - Sugar (to taste)
 - Cinnamon (optional)
 - 1.5 gallon pot (or larger)

     First, remove any bad spots from your apples with a paring knife.
-If you are using a pulper, leave the core intact and cut the apples in half. Place the apples in a pot with just enough water to keep them from sticking together and boil lightly until they start to turn a little soft. Press the apples through the pulper and into a pot, which separates the seeds, skins and core. Boiling with the core adds natural pectins that are present in the seeds.

-If you are using a blender or food processor, remove the core, add lemon juice, and boil lightly until they turn a little soft. Hold onto a little water left over from the boil and place the apples and water in a blender. Blend until thoroughly sauced.

     Simmer the apple juice/pulp mix until it starts to thicken. Add (roughly) 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per half gallon to prevent browning, and any cinnamon or sugar you want. The apple sauce recipe on the Ball website recommends too much sugar for my taste. Starting your simmer is also a good time to start warming up the water in your waterbath canner.

     Ladle the apple sauce into clean jars (with clean bands and clean, new lids). Seal the lids on the jars finger-tight, maybe putting a little wrist into it. When the water is boiling in the canner, add your quarts of sauce to be processed. Boil for 20 minutes.

     Remove with tongs, and set on a towel. You will hear lids flex throughout the next 12 hours. Refrigerate any quarts that do not have flexed lids, and eat them soon.

     Now I will get into some pros and cons of diferent methods of food preservation. I prefer to try a little of each, as each method has something to offer: freezing, drying, canning, baking, fermenting. Experiment and find what works best for you. If I have a lot of something basic (like apples) I will apply all these methods, because each one does turn out to be a different dish. I inherited about sixty pounds of apples and used them in all sorts of ways.
     I would next like to compare other methods of food preservation to canning regarding time consumption, economics, and nutrition (they all take about an equal amount of clean-up; approx. 20-30 minutes of dishes):

Lets talk about Economics...
     Canning generally involves spending about $40 on gear for your first time: about $20 for the waterbath, $10-$15 for Ball or Mason jars and lids, $5 for a funnel, and $5 for clamps to place/pull the jars in/from the water.  Though jars break all the time, any that you have left over can be reused as measuring cups until the next canning season comes around. In the four seasons I have been canning, I have only had to buy 3 dozen jars, all of which were in heavy rotation.
     Freezing involves very little spending, aside from a steamer for blanching ($10), a pot, and some freezer bags. However, unless you have an ice-chest freezer, space may be an issue.  
     Drying costs as much as your food dehydrator, slicer, and whatever container you put your finished product.

Now for Nutritional Value...  
    Freezing preserves the most nutrients and beneficial bacteria and yeasts, followed by drying, leaving canning in last of the three, nutritionally. When you boil the jars, you are killing the good yeasts that aid digestion. As a rule, the less processing you do to any food, the more nutritional value will be preserved.

...and Finally, Work Load/Time Consumption...  
     Drying takes as much time as it would to thinly slice all of your fruits/veggies and to place it on the rack. The rest is waiting on your equipment. My dehydrator is small, so I only get a quart of dried fruit after about an hour of processing and six hours of drying.
     Freezing takes time to slice, blanch (steam) your veggies, but not much. If you set up a pot with ice water, you can get a system going that works fairly quickly. It's possible to get several gallons of something like carrots in just an hour or two.  
     Canning can be time consuming. For something like apple sauce, you have to cut the bad spots out of your food. If you have a pulper, it can be just as quick as using a blender (you have to remove the core for the blender). You have to simmer the whole pot down until it starts to thicken to the right conistency, then ladle the sauce into a jar with clean lids and bands and then you put the jars in the waterbath canner for at least 20 minutes. It can take 2-4 hours to process 7 quarts. Try to shoot for processing six or seven quarts if you can. This is the max that a normal size waterbath holds, and the more of it you can take up each workload is the more efficiently your time is being spent. For example, spending all this time just to use up your last 2-3 jars is hardly worth it as opposed to eating the food fresh.

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