Food Preservation Through Water Bath and Pressure Canning

Reader Contribution by Sean And Monica Mitzel
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Canning for Food Preservation Basics

In a time where everything you could possibly want comes pre-packaged, pre-canned, filled with preservatives and is processed to last, why should we learn to can? Why should we use our valuable time and resources to learn a skill that has almost become obsolete? I think I can answer these questions in three simple words: to be prepared.

We will all admit that there are many things we cannot control, but one thing we can control is how prepared we are for any type of emergency (think long term power outage or natural disaster), and preparation on any good farm or homestead always includes food preservation, I believe learning to can, or “put up,” should be at the top of every list.

Now, having taught a basic canning course I have found that the greatest obstacle to wanting to learn this valuable skill was the fear many people had of killing their family. Botulism is a frightening word and any loving parent/spouse does not want to be the reason for their loved ones demise.

But thankfully, this need not be a reason to avoid the canning adventure, and honestly, canning today looks very different than it did 50 or 60 years ago; the advancement in food safety guidelines, convenient tools, and the wide array of recipes available in books and online has allowed for easier and safer canning practices.

A word of warning, however: Canning may become addictive, and I bear no responsibility for the lack of cupboard space that could potentially follow a new canner, nor any missing items due to a canning obsession. Having said that, I am just going to highlight a few important items you will want to keep in mind when beginning to “put up” the harvest.

Types of Canning and Essential Tools

First, there are two types of canners out there: a pressure canner and a water bath canner. For those who don’t understand the difference, in a nutshell, a pressure canner is used for alkaline foods — meat, broth, and most vegetables; while a water bath canner is used to prepare acidic foods — jam, jelly, salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc.

These are two of the several absolute essentials tools required to can. Another necessary component is jars intended specifically for home canning (please do not use jars from things you bought at the grocery store: peanut butter, jams, jellies, etc. (You cannot guarantee the strength or durability of the glass.) You will also need lids that are free of rust, blemishes, and dents, and rings that are free of rust.

Lastly, you will need a jar lifter, some way to measure head space, and a tool to remove bubbles from the jars (usually non-metal). With all your tools in place, you are ready to find the recipe for your particular food and follow that tested recipe to ensure proper processing and storage.

I do want to emphasize a couple of things: Before you put the hot lid on the jar, be sure to thoroughly wipe the rim of the jar. If there is debris, syrup, or oil on the rim, it may potentially keep the lid from sealing correctly.

Additionally, when your jars are ready to be removed from the canner, remove them carefully with the jar lifter and place them on a towel or cooling rack, then leave them undisturbed until they are fully cooled. Don’t be tempted to shake them or mess with them while they are completing the sealing process this could compromise their seal. Lastly, store your jars without the rings. This will decrease the chance of rust and allow you to see if one of the jars came unsealed much easier.

Canning is actually a fairly easy way to preserve the harvest or store food long-term in case of emergency. This is something I’ve come to greatly appreciate as we’ve adjusted to homestead life here in Northern Idaho. As winter approaches, it is very comforting to know we will have plenty of meat packed in sealed jars ready for us to use in case of loss of electricity — or if I feel like making a quick and easy soup on those frigid, snowy evenings.

I encourage you to get a book on basic canning and listen to our podcast which will give a little more detail.

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and strategies for the property. The property will eventually become a demonstration and education site where they raise dairy goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted more then 50 productive trees and enjoy wildcrafting, propagating mushrooms, and raising and training livestock guardian dogs. Listen to The Courageous Life Podcastand read all their MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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