The art of canning is not lost

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Betty English has been canning and freezing food since she was a little girl.

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English uses tongs to remove jars of strawberry jam and grape jelly from a pot of boiling water used for the heating and sealing process. Sealing practices have changed since the days of our grandmothers, she says.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
English uses tongs to remove jars of strawberry jam and grape jelly from a pot of boiling water used for the heating and sealing process. Sealing practices have changed since the days of our grandmothers, she says.

Growing up in Warren County, Ga., she watched her mother and grandmother can blackberry jelly.

“My earliest memory was 4 years old,” English said. “We would go to people who had blackberry bushes, and we would pick blackberries.”

Her father had a strawberry patch in the backyard, and they froze strawberries, too. As a teenager, she learned about canning in home economics classes in high school, and she continued learning about the technique in college when she majored in home economics.

Today, English still cans jams and preserves for Christmas and birthday presents, and she freezes fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market. As a family consumer science agent for the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension in Augusta-Richmond County, she teaches people about canning, freezing and other food-preservation techniques.

“Canning is not a dying art,” English said. “It is becoming very popular to can … because food prices are going up and people are growing their own fresh produce. And (people shop) the farmer’s markets that are so prevalent around here.”

There’s an initial investment for canning equipment, canning jars and other supplies, but people can save money with food preservation over time.

Food preservation has changed since the days of her mother and grandmother, English said.

“What our grandmothers and mothers used to do, sometimes we no longer recommend,” English said. “Research has found that the environment has changed, and bacteria and viruses have changed. Another reason is that back then, you ate that food soon.”

Research indicates that mold growth on fruit might not always be as harmless as believed in the past, according to materials from UGA’s Cooperative Extension. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension endorse a boiling-water canning process for jams and jellies, which minimizes the potential for mold spoilage.

Also, paraffin or wax sealing of jars is no longer considered an acceptable choice for any sweet spread, including jellies. Any pinholes, shrinkage or cracks in the wax or paraffin allow airborne molds to contaminate and grow on the product.

In addition, leaks or holes in the paraffin can allow product to seep out during storage. The seepage will provide nutrients for molds to grow on the surface and enter the jam or jelly in the jar, according to UGA’s Cooperative Extension.

Jan and Tom Adkins, of Evans, started canning after having a successful harvest in their raised garden beds last summer.

“I’m a novice at this,” Jan Adkins said. “All of a sudden, you start having all this produce come in, and you’re thinking, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ You give away as much as you can, but you’ve still got more. I didn’t want it to go to waste.”

Adkins decided to enroll in English’s food-preservation class, which introduced her to canning. Her family didn’t have a garden growing up, so she never learned about it.

“I think that’s where part of my apprehension was, that I had not grown up being around canning or preserving in any way. It (the class) gave me the steps and the confidence to try it,” she said.

Adkins has canned basil jelly and frozen zucchini and squash.

“When you have success, it kind of makes you want to try some more things. One thing I have not done is can some tomatoes, and that’s the next thing on the list,” she said.

ABOUT CANNING

There are two types of safe canning processes: boiling water canning and pressure canning. The boiling water bath method is safe for fruits, including tomatoes, and for pickles, jams, jellies and other preserves. With the boiling water bath method, high-acid food jars are covered with boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

Pressure canning is used for vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood. Pressure canners reach higher temperatures (240 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill certain bacteria. For safety, this is the main reason low-acid foods are pressure canned.

“You want to eliminate or destroy the bacteria or viruses that are naturally occurring in food,” family consumer science agent Betty English said.

Making jam or jelly and canning pickles can be a lengthy process, taking three or four hours for small jars.

When making jams and jellies, people will need fruit, canning equipment, pectin and jars that are specifically made for canning.

After preparing the jam or jelly according to a recipe, the jars are filled, the lid is secured and the jars are placed in the water bath canner. When the water comes to a boil, start timing the process, which is five minutes for small jars. To prevent contamination, it’s important to never touch any surface of the jar with your hands.

When jars are removed, they should be placed in a location where they will not be moved for 12 to 24 hours so they can seal properly.

Almost any food can be canned, but some foods are not recommended, such as summer squash.

ABOUT FREEZING

Freezing is one of the easiest, least time-consuming ways to prepare foods at home. Properly frozen fruits retain much of their fresh flavor and nutritional value.

When freezing, use plastic freezer containers or freezer storage bags, English said.

To prepare corn for freezing, wash the corn, cut if desired and make sure there are no blemishes.

“We do recommend that you blanche. Blanching is going through a heat process. It preserves the color, maintains the vitamins and minerals,” English said.

The amount of time for blanching depends on the size of the food. Allow the food to cool, label the bags with the type of food and date, add the food and place it in the freezer. Food shouldn’t remain in the freezer longer than 12 months.

To freeze fruit, wash and drain the fruit, but don’t allow it to soak or it will lose nutrients and flavor. Prepare fruits as they will be used – stemmed, pitted, peeled or sliced. There are several ways to pack fruits for freezing: syrup pack, sugar pack, dry pack or unsweetened pack. Most fruits have a better texture and flavor if packed in sugar or syrup.

Some fruits, such as peaches, apples, pears and apricots, darken quickly when exposed to air and during freezing. To prevent discoloration, steam the fruit or use ascorbic acid, citrus acid or lemon juice.

Some foods don’t freeze well, such as cabbage, celery, cucumbers, Irish potatoes, cream or custard fillings, sour cream, fruit jelly and cooked macaroni, spaghetti or rice.

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seenitB4
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seenitB4 09/20/12 - 06:08 am
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Great article

We need to go back to the old ways ......healthy wholesome food.

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