Welcome to my class on Canning & Preserving! In this class I'll be teaching you several simple techniques to preserve foods so that you can enjoy your favorites year-round.
Food preservation has been a part of most every culture since the origins of humankind. Finding ways of 'putting food by' or preserving it, was imperative to surviving seasons when food was more scarce.
And though we no longer have to rely on what we alone can grow, raise, or harvest to survive (thanks grocery stores!), learning these skills is still a wonderful way to spend quality 'making' time with friends and family, save an overabundant harvest, solve the Christmas gift conundrum, establish a deeper connection with the food you eat, or simply extend the life of your favorite fruits, veggies, and meats so you can enjoy them year round. Whatever your reason for taking this class, I know you'll come away with skills that will bring you a lifetime of satisfying and delicious fun!
While there are more ways of preserving food than the 5 techniques you'll be learning in this class, these 5 (in my opinion) are the least expensive and most foundational for modern life. These techniques are also easy to do no matter where you live - you can do them even if you live in a small apartment with no outdoor space!
Why do we need to preserve food? Because if we don't, it will spoil - and being aware of what causes food to spoil will help you understand why preserving techniques work, and most importantly, why they are safe. It's easier to keep the HOW of food safety in mind if the WHY is clear.
There are four spoilers that you need to be familiar with:
*The last three things are always present in the air, soil, and water.
All four spoilers play an important role in the life cycle of all things, including the life cycle of foods. They are what we must out-fox by using proper preserving techniques that prevent them from getting a foothold and doing their jobs.
Enzymes are the microchips of all living things. These naturally occurring biochemicals provide the information needed for the growth, development, and ultimate decay of a food. They are programmed to promote the ripening and maturity of a plant or animal, and once that food has reached maturity (ripened), the enzymes run the decomposition 'program', which starts breaking it down. This causes changes in color, flavor, and texture, making the food inedible - taking it 'back to the earth'. It is this decomposition that our preservation techniques aim to slow down or prevent entirely.
Molds are microscopic fungi that are always present in the air and whose dry spores can land on food and grow into a mat of fuzz. (You know what I'm talking about yogurt.) While there are a few select molds that are intentionally introduced into some foods (ex: 'blue' cheeses), the old adage "a little mold won't hurt you" has been scientifically proven to be untrue. Molds can produce toxins called mycotoxins that can be very bad for your health, so you should avoid eating foods that have started to mold. Additionally, molds eat acids present in food, which lowers the acidity that protects against more dangerous toxins and poisons.
Yeast are also fungi grown from spores that contribute to food spoilage, but these more friendly micro-organisms are not toxic and can be controlled to be a benefit in certain foods and processes. Yeasts cause fermentation and when used in correct amounts, are responsible for the deliciousness that is beer, leavened bread, and sauerkraut among other yumminess. But when it shows up uninvited, like in applesauce that's gone off, no one is singing its praises.
Bacteria are the toughest of all spoilers. These are the little jerks that can cause a range of health issues from gastric discomfort, to food poisoning, to the VERY occasional death. (I'm looking at you Clostridium botulinum, aka Botulism.) However, don't let news of their potential presence alarm you. In the following steps and lessons, I will teach you how to easily prevent them from doing any harm.
All four of the above listed food spoilers need certain things to survive and thrive:
Each preserving technique has, over centuries of trial and error, found a way to manipulate enough of these 'needs' to create an inhospitable environment for the bad gush, and safely extend the life of foods. In their respective lessons, I'll go over how each preserving technique provides solutions to the above problems and as a result, is a SAFE way to 'put food by'.
One common ally against spoilers that all preservation techniques share is: SANITATION
One of the best, and easiest, ways to keep spoilers at bay is to simply wash them off and prevent them from returning by keeping your hands, work surfaces and equipment clean throughout each preserving process. This best practice will go a long way toward helping you achieve safe preservation.
NOTE: Cleanliness is a must to ensure safe & successful preserving!
The other weapon? Keeping foods that easily spoil at room temperature, like dairy, meat, and soft fruits and vegetables, out of the temperature danger zone: 40° F to 139° F. Do not allow any of those foods to stay at room temperature for any length of time, as it's the optimum growing temperature for the spoilers listed above. Keep everything risky refrigerated until you're ready to preserve it, and again, keep everything clean throughout the process.
Another very important component to successful food preservation is using the freshest ingredients possible. Preserving isn't a way to save food that's on its last leg. The quality of what you put into the can is what will come out, so make sure that you are starting out with the best quality and freshest foodstuffs available.
The best way to do this is to be familiar with your local seasonal harvest calendar.
Although a trip to a nearby farmers market will give you a good idea of what's currently in season in your area, being aware of your local seasonal harvest calendar is a great way to plan both your garden (if you're lucky enough to have one) and your canning schedule. Planting vegetables that will all be ready at the same time will make for some very busy weekends as you try to keep up with preserving the excess bounty. Try to spread out both your garden choices and preserving sessions, planning ahead with what you want to can, pickle, and preserve throughout the year.
Living in California, I'm not as disciplined about year round canning as I could be, considering something is always in season no matter what time of year it is. Instead I tend to focus only on the things I like best, so I won't miss them when their seasonal time is up. This certainly is a modern luxury that preservers of old didn't have. They needed to put food by to stay alive through the winter and to not waste precious, hard earned foods. I am constantly reminded of my good fortune every time I go to the grocery store.
Below are a few links that lead to seasonal harvest calendars. For those whose location isn't covered, I'm afraid you'll have to ask the internet oracle or your local agricultural office for your own seasonal info.
Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for creating things, I pursued a BFA in Product Design from Parsons School of Design in NYC.
I went far from the world of Western Canada and my family's history as farmers. Both of my parents grew up in a time and a world of growing and preserving food. It wasn't until I became an adult myself that I began yearning to reconnect with that history and not be the break in that chain. Working with food is a tremendously satisfying experience and learning how to preserve it, as my parent's families did, was a wonderful experience. It is now a part of my life both as a way to keep the cupboards full of my favorite things and as a tip of the hat to the 'old ways' of my world.
In my professional life I've done work for Martha Stewart Living, Sunset Magazine, Fossil, Design*Sponge, and my own ceramic design company. I now have the most fun ever as a full time designer and content creator for Instructables, making a wide range of projects from food recipes to furniture. You can check out all my Instructables here and my ceramic work here. The following are a few of my favorite Instructables projects I've made so far:
In the next lesson, we will begin our adventures in preserving! First up is Boiling Water Bath Canning which is a classic (and fun) way to preserve fruits in all forms as well as pickled vegetables. Let the homestead renaissance begin!
Share a photo of your finished project with the class!
Nice work! You've completed the class project