Some of the traditions that are popular this time of year include trips to family farms, pumpkin carving, leaf pile jumping, book reading, cooking, football watching, friendship building, the list goes on. However, for me, one of the most iconic pictures of late summer and fall is the expansive amount of food preservation- canning, dehydrating, freezing, etc. I love the smell of cooked jam or smoked fish wafting through the house and through the windows. Especially in this season when the air is brisk, the trees are losing their golden leaves, the constant sound of rain, and comfort is found in the soft light and the warm smell of hot food in the ever busy kitchen.
The wonderful thing about home preserved food is that if it is done correctly, there is no flavor to match it. Nothing beats the taste of home canned peaches, tomatoes, and green beans- home dried mushrooms, peppers, and sweet potato fries- or home smoked pork, salmon, and brisket.
There was once a time in this country when people were encouraged to grow and store their own foods. They were encouraged to learn how to cook and preserve produce and how to be prosperous by their own means. And before the times of the mid 1900s, most people lived off of food that they procured themselves. It has only been in the last century that people have lost almost complete contact with their food sources.
But that hasn’t changed the way a child feels when they open up a jar of mom’s or grandma’s strawberry jam and put it on a nice warm piece of toast. The jam makes the toast automatically better, yes. But it’s knowing that the jam was made for them, by someone they love, that it is all the more sweeter.
Food preservation isn’t just about saving food- it’s about saving the heart of what makes people feel good. You can’t explain to someone the sound of opening a jar of homemade pickles. The lid on that jar has such a different one than the lid from the one you buy at the store. And if you get the right recipe, there is nothing that tastes better.
The best resource for beginning to advanced canning recipes is the Ball website: freshpreserving.com
If you go to the website and are completely overwhelmed by all the high tech canning supplies, take a deep breath. It’s not as scary as it looks, and you don’t need all the gadgetry to be effective in your purpose. Quality is important. But it also doesn’t need to be shiny and digital to serve its function.
For those of you who are starting out, start with easy recipes such as peaches, salsa, pears, cooked jams, etc. Then progress to the more advanced levels such as pressure canning or fermented pickles or non-pectin jellies.
For those of you who are getting into pressure canning, remember to breathe. It is extremely important that your equipment is in working order, and that you have the ability to meticulously monitor the pressure. If the pressure is too low, your food isn’t safe, if it is too high, everything in moderate proximity isn’t safe.
Make sure that your gauges are checked by those who know what they are doing- a great resource is your county Extension office. Search: “your county here 4H” online, call their office, and ask if they will check the gauge on your pressure-canner. Many Extension offices will do this for free and they will be more than willing to answer any questions you may have.
It is more important that you ask a question if you have ANY doubt, than it is to assume you have the answer. Remember that when you are preserving food, yes it is fun, but it is also something than can have adverse effects if done incorrectly or unsafely.
Note: There are many options when canning. But it is very important that unless you are beyond expert level in this delicate art, that you stick to the tried and true Ball Blue Book recipes and do not alter them. When you do not take every precaution, altering recipes alters pH levels and can lead to spoilage, botulism, and other issues creating food that is EXTREMELY unsafe to consume.
HOWEVER. Do not let these concerns stop you from learning this valuable skill. Canning is incredibly fun and something that the entire family gets to enjoy! So long as you follow the rules and play it safe, then the benefit from this activity is superb. Once you get the hang of it, preserving food becomes a fun tradition that kids never forget!
And who doesn’t like the taste of their favorite home canned fruit?
As always, comment below if you have any questions or would like more information on this topic.