Canning and Preserving Class
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Lesson 1: Tools & Ingredients
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Introduction: Tools & Ingredients

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Introduction to Canning & Preserving

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!


Why Food Spoils

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:

  • enzymes
  • molds
  • yeasts
  • bacteria

*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

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

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.

YEASTS

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

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.


WHAT SPOILERS NEED TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE

All four of the above listed food spoilers need certain things to survive and thrive:

  • water
  • temperatures between about 40° F and 139° F
  • oxygen
  • a low-acid environment
  • unsanitary conditions

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'.


A Note on Safety

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.


A Note on Freshness

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.

USA - state by state links from Field to Plate, an awesome 'food as medicine' education site
North Eastern USA - this one is super comprehensive
British Columbia, Canada
Ontario, Canada
United Kingdom

South Africa


General Kitchen Tools & Equipment

The following general kitchen tools are ones I'll be using in the suggested projects to illustrate the techniques throughout the class. The only one that you may not already have is a scale. This is a very important tool for this class, so I recommend investing in one*. I'll follow this list with lesson specific tool and supply lists.

I've provided purchase links for all the items that are either exactly the same as the ones I use, or the closest thing available to the more senior items I use that are no longer available new, like my white enamel pots and vintage jar lifter.

A Note on Kitchen Scales

The most accurate way to prepare the correct amount of ingredients for the desired number of jars, is to use either a manual or digital kitchen scale. Both work well. The only disadvantage to having a digital scale is that if you zero out your scale for a bowl you'll be loading up, then cut up your ingredients and start loading up the bowl, the digital scale can just turn off, erasing all memory of the bowl's tare weight. This means you have to weigh the bowl and write down its tare weight so you can subtract it form the total weight. Not a big deal, but math. With the manual scale, once you zero out the weight of the bowl, it's there until you manually adjust it for the next thing.

*Pro tip: You can also use the scale in audreyobscura's Bread class!


Boiling Water Bath Canning Tools & Ingredients

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Tools for Suggested Projects

The list of specialty tools for boiling water bath canning is wonderfully short. Which means that there's a very low barrier to entry, both in cost and time invested to track down what you need to get started.

NOTE: All purchase links for this list are below in the descriptions.

  • Deep canning pot
  • Round jar rack
  • Canning jars (5 half pint & 6 pint)
  • Magnetic Lid lifter
  • Jar lifter
  • Canning funnel
  • pH meter (optional)

Deep Canning Pot

The 3 most useful sizes of canning pots: 5.75-quart (5.4 liters), 11.5-quart (10.9 liters), 21.5-quart (20.3 liters)

I recommend choosing the size you buy based on how many people are in your household and the kinds of things you'd like to can.

  • The 5.75-quart pot (10.5" W x 5.5" H) fits seven 4oz jars that work best for jams, jellies, spreads, and fruit butters.
  • The next size up, the 11.5-quart pot (11.75" W x 7.25" H) will hold seven 1/2 pint or pint jars, which I like to use for spreads (8oz), whole fruit, applesauce, as well as picked veggies like dilly carrots (see next lesson).
  • The 21.5-quart (14" W x 9.5" H), fits seven quart jars perfectly and works for whole fruit, tomatoes, pasta sauces, etc.

Because there are only two of us at home, the largest canning jars I use are the pint sized ones, because I'm confident that once opened, we'll eat that amount before it goes bad in the fridge. If you have more mouths to feed, then you will want to consider using the quart sizes for recipes that accommodate that.

If you only want to invest in ONE pot to get started, I recommend going with the 10-quart, as it will cover most of your beginner canning needs without taking up too much cupboard space.

There must be at least 1-2" of space for water above the jar lids for proper/safe canning to occur.

The only important thing to remember is that whatever pot you choose, it MUST BE big enough to allow for 1-2" of water above the jars you're using in order to properly, and more importantly SAFELY, can.

Round Jar Rack


Official racks are made to accommodate 6-7 jars.


Top view of loaded rack. A seventh jar could be added in the center.

Adding a round rack to the bottom of your canning pot (to raise the jars up off the bottom of the pot) is necessary to prevent the jars from cracking. You don't have to buy an official one (some canners I know use 7 lid rims tied together with baker's twine), it just has to be something that is approximately the size of the pot bottom and will elevate the jars without floating to the surface and getting in the way of the canning process.

Other options: How about a round silicone trivet or a round pastry rack? Even a dishtowel will work in a pinch!

Canning Jars

There are many different sizes and shapes of canning jars. There are both wide mouth jars and regular - the regular having a 'shoulder' on the jar where it goes in to meet the smaller lid. This can be helpful for avoiding 'float' in which the canned food floats up and out of the canning liquid. (This isn't harmful, but it can cause the exposed fruits or vegetables to dry out and/or discolor.)

Choose your jars based on the serving sizes that you want or need for your family size. If the recipes I provide in this class don't align with the amounts you want to make, a quick check on the internet will help you find the correct info (size and number of jars along with canning times) for making a bigger batch.

A note on lids: The flat sealer lids are meant for one time use only. Never reuse these. Always use brand-new and clean lids every time. The rings may be reused without issue.

Magnetic Lid Lifter, Jar Lifter & Canning Funnel

These little specialized canning tools are inexpensive and SO USEFUL! Definitely worth getting to make your first time canning a pleasant, tidy, and pain-free experience. (Remember, this is called BOILING water bath canning.) :)

The magnetic lid lifter is used to pick up the metal sealing lids out of warm water and place on the jars. This hands-free exchange prevents potential contamination and saves your fingers from having to take a dip in hot water.

The jar lifter, in my opinion, is essential. It's used to put in and remove the jars from the boiling water bath. Its shape is designed to fit to the contour of the jars, and therefore, safely move them without risk of dropping them back into the hot water which could splash on you or your hands. That's some pretty inexpensive safety!

The canning funnel sits comfortably in the opening of all jar sizes and helps tidily corral whatever you're canning into the jars. Less mess is best!

OPTIONAL TOOL:

Digital pH Meter

If you plan on only following recipes when canning, then you will never need this tool. But if you are an inventor at heart and want to come up with your own recipes to can, you will need a good pH meter in order to know whether or not your creations are acidic enough (below 4.6 pH) to be boiling water bath canned.


Vinegar Pickling Tools & Ingredients

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Tools for Suggested Projects

The list of specialty tools in this lesson is even shorter!

Note: One of the suggested projects utilizes boiling water bath canning, so if you choose to try that one, you will also be using the specialty tools from the canning lesson.

Ingredients for Suggested Projects

  • 2 pounds of small pickling cucumbers*
  • 2 pounds of carrots
  • 1 large bottle White wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Light honey
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Whole mustard seeds
  • Whole black peppercorns
  • Grape leaves**
  • Fresh or dried dilll
  • Dill seed

*You can substitute these small, jar sized cucumbers for pretty much any vegetable! Carrots, green beans, cauliflower, and asparagus are all delicious options, to name a few.

**Grape leaves are sold in jars packed in water or oil. I found mine at Whole Foods, but any Mediterranean market will also carry them. They are optional - they help keep the pickles crunchy - so don't worry if you can't find them!


Lacto-Fermenting Tools & Ingredients

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Like the Pickling specialty tool list, this one is super short! :)

Tools for Suggested Projects

Ingredients for Suggested Projects

  • 2 pounds fresh green beans
  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 cups of de-chlorinated, distilled, or filtered water*
  • Kosher salt

*The chlorine in unfiltered tap water can kill the good 'lacto' bacteria, inhibiting proper fermentation. To de-chlorinate tap water, leave the amount you need out on the counter (uncovered) overnight and the chlorine will evaporate. If you forget to do this ahead of time, use filtered water or run out and buy distilled water.


Freezing Tools & Ingredients

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Tools for Suggested Projects

  • Freezer safe moisture-vapor proof containers:
    • glass, plastic, metal containers with secure lids
    • heavy duty freezer bags
  • Butcher or freezer paper
  • masking tape

Ingredients for Suggested Projects

  • Whatever you plan on freezing (fruit, veggies, meat or fish)
  • Ascorbic acid (only if freezing fish)

Drying / Dehydrating Tools & Ingredients

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Tools for Suggested Projects

*Please read the section 'Using a Dehydrator' in Lesson 7.

Optional:

  • Craft wood as spacers (1/8" or 1/4" x 1/2" x 16")**
  • Craft wood as leveler (1/4" x 1/2" x 16")**

**These are used for a little system I made to get my leather to be a uniform thickness. Check it out in the fruit leather step! Similar wood strips are available at art supply or hardware stores.

Ingredients for Suggested Projects

  • Fresh herbs
  • Ripe Pears (or apricots, peaches, plums, berries, apples)
  • 1 fresh lemon
  • Tomatoes
  • White vinegar

What's Next?

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!

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project