[Each week at ProfHacker, Billie Hara (and friends) offer "What's For Lunch?" — health-conscious recipe suggestions and a discussion space for readers to pick up some tips and share their own. At ProfHacker, we recognize that sometimes lunch is a lifehack. —Ed.]
Last week in our series, Billie introduced the slow cooker as an app of sorts for helping out with preparing food. This week I’d like to introduce another app: canning.
Canning is a term that describes a certain method of food preservation. Generally, foodstuffs are cooked and then processed in jars in a large bath of boiling water until a seal is set. For most folks it conjures up images up of their mothers or grandmothers spending hours over a hot stove cooking food and then boiling the jars in a large pot; in short: a lot of work.
However, I’ve found canning to be a useful process for batching food preservation in a way that makes the most of seasonal foodstuffs and stores them away for later use at a convenient time. I also like being able to control the amount of salt and knowing that my canned goods don’t contain preservatives. You don’t need to shut yourself away and deal with five bushels of green beans or 20 ears of corn (as I can often remember my mother and grandmother doing). With just a bit of preparation and a few dedicated hours, you can “put up”, as the term goes, beautiful jars of food items for you and your loved ones to enjoy. (They also come in handy for last minute gifts!)
To get started with canning, you’ll need two essential things: knowledge and equipment. Accurate, up-to-date information on canning processes and safety measures is of utmost importance, as botulism is scary but easy to avoid with the right information and procedures. My favorite reference book is The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Delicious Recipes, which includes not only recipes for small batches of food (such as what to do with two pounds of cherries, instead of twenty) but guidelines for safety. I also found that attending a food preservation at my local county extension office was a good way to get some information and ask questions. You will want to read through the information completely and thoroughly before you do any canning. For equipment, you’ll need a water bath canner, a starter kit which includes some handy tools, and some jars (I love the half-pints in the link, but pints and quarts are more common). Good mise en place techniques will make for a more streamlined canning process.
Next, choose something to can! I’ve found that it’s very pleasurable to go to my local farmer’s market and pick up a bunch of something that looks good and is at its peak in freshness and flavor. When I get home, I refer to the book mentioned above and can usually find a recipe that fits with the produce. Lately I’ve made orange rhubarb butter and sour cherry compote, and later in the summer I look forward to making zucchini relish. In general, food items of high acidity or sugar, such as fruits (including tomatoes), are the easiest to can as they need less processing time.
Finally, do the canning. You will need to set aside some time, probably around 3 hours or so from start to finish. Your workflow will most likely involve preparing the food (chopping, dicing, etc.), cooking it in some way while you get the water boiling in the water bath canner, filling the jars and placing the seals, immersing them in the boiling water for prescribed time, and then removing the jars and allowing the seals to do their work. It’s immensely satisfying to hear them pop. I find that I can finish a batch of canning easily on a Saturday morning.
The procedures are definitely quite involved for the amount of time needed; there are no 30-minute canning shortcuts, to be sure. But for the investment of time the payoff is great. You can put up soups or pasta sauces and open them up later for quick suppers. Fruit preserves are a delicious enhancement to breakfast toast. And that orange rhubarb butter has been fantastic mixed into Greek yogurt this summer.
How about you? Have you canned before? Do you have any questions about the process? Please leave comments and suggestions below.
[Image by Heather M. Whitney and used by permission]