Today I learned to can. I’m a very strange girl in her 20’s who obsesses about things such as canning. I’ve been trying to find someone to show me the wonders of this jar-art all summer. Well, I understand already how wonderful it is, so maybe more the intricacies of canning was what I needed to learn.
And finally, an opportunity! The Concordia Sustainable Food Festival and a one-hour “learn to can” workshop. There was a hand-out. I sat in the front and was the overly eager student who asks a ton of questions, not even noticing the people around me and whether or not they were becoming pissed off. Fortunately there was a lot of time to ask questions, and nobody got to the point where they started yelling at me to shut up and watch. So that was good.
The jars were pre-sterilized before coming to the site (20 minutes at a specific temperature. Look it up! Or clean them in the dishwasher, or my aunt’s method of 20 minutes in the oven at 220 Fahrenheit), which is not ideal, but they got warmed in boiling water so they wouldn’t burst when put back in boiling water once stuffed with vegetables. The vegetables were all pre-sliced (raw) – carrots, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, onions, garlic – and some standard spices (coriander, black pepper, and fresh thyme.
When you warm the jars, don’t wait for the water to boil and then put them in. That defeats the whole point. You don’t want to shock the glass by putting them directly into the boiling water. Better yet, just leave them in the water after sterilizing them, until you’re ready to fill them.
When you stuff vegetables you want to avoid touching the lip of the jar. That was important. That can cause contamination. That’s why you want to sterilize immediately before stuffing, if possible.
Always follow a recipe! An online recipe is fine, but don’t just wing it unless you’re a Grandmother who’s been doing this all her life, and even then you’d have to be a Grandmother who was okay with potentially dying from botulism. I mean, you really only ever want to be so old anyway, right?
Use an old yogurt container as a funnel to pour the brine of vinegar, water and salt into the jars stuffed with vegetables into the bottom of the jar lip. Stuffed – as in really full. All-you-can-eat sushi kind of full.
Once the brine is in the jar use a spatula or chopsticks or something pointy and thin to push any air bubbles out from under the vegetables. You want them as packed in as possible. The brine should come up a few centimetres above the vegetables, so it shouldn’t overflow the jar, but make it pretty full.
Use tongs (or chopsticks) to take the heated and sterilized sealing lid (the tops that pop on jars of homemade things when you first open them…in theory). Don’t pick it up with your hands or all your careful sterilizing will be for naught.
Then you can use your hand to pick up the sealing ring (the thing that twists) and place it over the lid, and tighten it. Not too tight, but just closed solidly without too much extra tightening.
You’ve got to do all this before the jars cool off or they may explode in the boiling water. You can also put them into not quite boiling water and then start timing the 20 minutes to seal them once the water returns to a boil.
Boil 20 minutes on a high rolling boil. DO NOT lower the heat. It’s like lobster – just let it boil.
Wait 3 or 4 weeks (or less depending on the vinegar, or the pickling method, apparently, since pressure cookers are different and different methods that don’t use vinegar may give different times, or if the vegetables, sauces or fruit are already cooked they may not need much time.
To put the jars into the boiling water and take them out you’re going to want to invest in just one item: a jar lifter. Not too expensive and well worth it.
Just make sure the jars are covered by at least two inches of water when you sterilize and when you boil them after stuffing. Very important.
Some places say turn them over when you remove them from the boil at the end to seal, but some don’t, so just follow a recipe you trust. The workshop people recommended a blog called “Food In Jars” for lots of tips and recipes.
Why I love canning:
You can buy in bulk and eat local all winter if you can stand a ton of sugar or vinegar or lactic acid or oil.
You don’t actually have to cook the vegetables! It’s not “raw” food since some things get boiled (the vinegar and all and the vegetables sort of get cooked, but I’m sure it’s better than boiling the heck out of the zucchini in the first place.
It’s so versatile! Everything from sweet sauces to infused liqueurs, to jams, jellies, pickles, fruits, herbs, etc. Brilliant.
There are no preservatives!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s so affordable and you can recycle jars (the jar itself and the tightening ring, but not the lids). So all those jars of preserves you didn’t want? Well, if you didn’t re-gift them on someone else you can suffer your way through them and then sterilize them and make something even more delicious. At then you”ll understand all the work that went into making them in the first place.
Next stop, chili peppers.
Happy canning…er, jarring…er, happy disturbing canning?