Monday, July 14, 2008

Preserving Class

Our garden produces more than we know what to do with, and I always wanted to learn how to can and preserve the excess. I envisioned a pantry packed with homemade jams, jellies, pickles, tomato sauce, and salsa. But so far, all I’ve managed in two years was to cook and can a single batch of pepper jelly. It took me a while to muster the courage to do it, too, and the help of a friend with a bit of canning experience.

Canning always seemed like a tricky and mysterious business to me. Fears of invisible bugs and the food police were enough to dissuade me. I just wasn’t bold enough to try it without the guidance of an expert.

So yesterday I attended a day-long class at the Preserve. The “classroom” was nestled in a lush edible garden.

Our instructors were perfect opposites. One was an animated storyteller and comedian.

“When local and seasonal becomes something fancy, you know we went somewhere weird,” she did not hesitate to share her opinions. The other relied on recipe booklets and a flipchart.

She was the consummate home economist. Quite the pair, they had us giggling all day long. We learned the basics of jam making, pickling, and canning fruits and tomatoes. They demonstrated a batch of lemon verbena-infused strawberry-raspberry jam with homemade apple pectin and currant pectin, canned raw-packed apricots, canned plum tomatoes, and sauerkraut. They made it seem so easy.

I was just disappointed to learn that I can’t can my homemade salsas with a water bath canner. Either I have to follow a tested recipe in a book (yeah, right) or use a pressure canner. I wonder if they offer a class on pressure canning?

Today I bought four cases of canning jars. This weekend I think I’ll harvest our black currants and make the French uncooked jelly recipe. Turns out canning is pretty simple, I don’t know what I was so afraid of.


Lori said...

pushaw about the salsa. I make mine every year since 2003. My recipe is adapted from Chevys Salsa. The acid in the tomatoes is a natural perservative. Not to mention you do add some white vinegar. I fire roast my tomatoes over mesquite or hickory chips (this makes an incredible difference). I puree the tomatoes and add cilantro, jalapeno (grilled as well), Spanish onion chopped and white vinegar. Everyone loves it. I cook the mixture then cold pack for about 20 minutes. I wonder why they told you that?

Lucy Vaserfirer said...

They didn’t say not to can any salsa in a boiling water canner, they just said not to do it with a salsa with an unknown pH. In order for a food to be considered safe for processing in a boiling water canner, it must have a pH of 4.6 or lower. Recipes published in canning books are tested to be in the safe zone, but who knows about the salsas I throw together at home? I do add freshly squeezed lime juice to my salsas, so it certainly seems like there would be enough acid. But the only way to know for sure is to use an expensive pH meter. So what they say is just pressure can. As always, better safe than sorry.

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