Home Canning: Ensuring High-Quality Canned Foods

Ensuring High-Quality Canned FoodsIf you are going to go to all of the effort of preserving foods for your family by canning them at home, you probably want the finished product to be as high in quality as possible. By using the following four suggestions, your family can enjoy the flavors of homemade, garden-fresh foods all year long.

1. Start with quality food products.

When you are choosing foods for canning, you should choose vegetables and fruits that have been picked at the peak of flavor. After you have bought the produce or picked it from your garden, you should can it as soon as possible. Do not allow the food to sit out for more than a day or two before you get around to preserving it.

Allowing fresh vegetables to sit out after picking can reduce the vitamin content of the vegetables and can sometimes alter the flavors as well. For instance, fresh corn loses sweetness from the moment that it is picked, since the sugar in the corn begins to turn to starch in the kernels. Therefore, you should preserve it as soon as you can.

The food that you plan to preserve should be clean and free from bad or moldy spots. If a small area of a fruit or vegetable is bruised, you can cut away the bruised area, but you should make sure that you have removed all of the damaged parts.

2. Choose the correct varieties of produce.

Certain varieties of vegetables are better suited for particular recipes than others. For instance, many gardeners have been disappointed in the quality of their pickles. When asked about the type of cucumbers used, they may answer that they used slicing cucumbers in the pickles. However, growing varieties of cucumbers that are specifically designed to maintain crispness in the heat of processing will ensure better pickles. If you want to make canned apple pie filling, you should choose firm cooking apples that will withstand cooking temperatures without turning to mush during processing.

3. Process your food correctly.

When you are canning at home, you should can in the safest possible way. Use recipes that have been tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or another reputable source, because even a small amount of bacteria in your canned goods can cause food poisoning.

For canning acidic foods like fruits, jellies, jams and pickles, you can use a hot water bath canner. This is basically a large lidded pot in which the jars are submerged in water. It should be big enough for the jars to be covered with one inch of boiling water.

For canning meats, beans and low-acid foods, you must have a pressure canner. This type of canner allows the temperature in the jars to rise to the point that bacteria is eliminated in the food. In low-acid foods, you cannot get the temperature high enough to kill some types of bacteria without the use of a pressure canner.

You should always process your canned goods for the correct amount of time according to your recipe. If you are using a hot water bath canner for high acid foods, start your timer when the pot comes to a full, rolling boil. When using a pressure canner, do not start the timer until the canner reaches the correct pressure for your altitude.

4. Use ascorbic acid and proper headspace to help prevent natural discoloration when preparing your food.

When you cut certain foods, they sometimes can turn brown while you are getting ready to can them. You can put these foods in a solution of ascorbic acid and water to keep them from discoloring before you pack them into the jars. Ascorbic acid can be found in the grocery store near the canning jars and jar lids.

Additionally, pay close attention to the headspace in your jars. You do not want tiny bits of foods poking up out of the canning liquid. These small bits will discolor in storage. Also, having the correct headspace in your jars is essential to getting a good vacuum in the jar and a firm seal of the lid.

Home-canned foods can provide seasonal freshness for your family all year long. Use these suggestions to make sure that your canned goods are something to be savored by your family, rather than endured.