Preserving foods while they are at their fresh from the garden peak of perfection is only part of what home canning is all about. Just as important to today’s health conscious consumer is having 100% assurance their food is preserved without harmful chemicals, food coloring or preservatives.
Home canners don’t need to wonder if their food looks as good as that portrayed on the professionally photographed label, or worry about reading the fine print on a label to detect impurities; they can see their hand packed food clearly through sparkling clean glass jars, and any label applied will be their own.
Preserving foods at home in glass jars eliminates the possibility of food contamination from unhealthy metal or plastic lined metal cans; and unlike cans, jars open cleanly without the possibility of the outside of can tops touching the food inside during the opening process.
Home canners have vital information about where and how their foods were grown. Canning home-grown foods, or shopping for foods at a reputable organic farm allows those wishing to eat or serve only organic foods complete assurance that the their foods are pesticide-free. Home-grown foods have the added bonus of having been harvested by the very people who will be eating those foods. Who touched the raw food and how it was handled prior to arriving in the home canners kitchen is a known factor.
Additionally, home canned fruits, vegetables, and meats have not been stored in distant warehouses with unverifiable sanitation prior to canning, nor have they been transported in trucks that may have also carried non-food items.
Since there are only two commonly approved methods of home canning, the basics are easy to understand. The boiling water, or water bath method is suitable for most fruits or other acidic foods. The other method, steam pressure, is recommended for such low acid foods as most vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood.
Both methods kill enzymes, bacteria, molds, and yeasts that produce food spoilage, and create a lasting vacuum seal between the jar and lid. However, produce and meats must be thoroughly washed or cleansed prior to placing in jars, and jar rims must be wiped clean of any residue from the packing process before topping them with lids. Many fruits and vegetables must be blanched, or briefly dipped into boiling water prior to packing in jars for canning.
Canning with method #1, the boiling water method, involves placing filled, lid and ring topped jars in a metal rack and placing that in a container tall enough to cover the jars with water. The jars are then boiled at 212 degrees for various lengths of time, depending upon their contents. For example, pint jars of tomatoes need to be in the boiling water bath for 45 minutes at altitudes of 1000 feet. Higher altitudes require a longer boiling time.
Canning jar manufacturers, pressure cooker manufacturers, university or state home extension agencies, and home canning books all offer preparation instructions and time and altitude charts.
Canners using method #2, steam pressure, prepare the produce or meats and fill and top the jars with lids and rings in the manner same as those using the boiling water bath method. The ready-to-can jars are then placed in a pressure cooker with only a small amount of water. Steam circulating around the jars heats the food to the necessary temperature when using this method. The higher temperatures achieved when using the steam pressure method are required for all low acid foods. Meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and soups and stews are examples of foods that require the steam method for preservation.
While home canning is an extremely rewarding process, it is somewhat labor intensive and time-consuming, so it is important to remember that canning food simply preserves it; canning does not improve its quality. Can the best fruits, vegetables, or meats you can grow or buy for only the best produce and meats are worthy of home canning.