If you love to prepare food but haven’t learned to can yet, now is a great time to begin. Spring is here and with it the arrival of truly fresh fruits and vegetables. With farmers markets popping up everywhere, fresh produce is easier to get than ever. Canning allows you to create your own delicious recipes with all those fresh fruits and vegetables and enjoy them year round. It isn’t very complicated and can be done without a major investment of money.   

      Canning, despite the name, does not typically involve the use of cans. Glass jars with sealable lids are the container used. Canning supplies can be found at any of the major department stores, supermarkets and hardware stores. All you need is a canning pot with wire rack, a jar lifter, a wide mouth canning funnel and lots and lots of jars. All of this can be had for under $100. Once you begin canning, the jars fill up quickly and there is always something else ripening on the tree or vine so buying extra jars is a good idea.  

    There are two canning processes-water bath and pressure canning.  Water bath canning is simply immersing the filled jars in boiling water for a length of time to kill bacteria and create a vacuum seal. Most water bath food recipes call for a high level of acid or sugar to help inhibit pathogen growth. Pickles, jellies or jams and vegetable relishes are in this category.

    Pressure canning allows the processing of lower acid foods because the pressure canner brings the temperature of the water bath up above the boiling point but a longer time in the bath is required to insure the death of all pathogens; typically used for processing meats, stocks, stews and other foods low in acid or sugar.

    The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is among the excellent resources for recipes and learning the proper ratios of salt, vinegar and sugar.  Especially important are the guides for how long to process each recipe to insure a secure seal and a safe product. Because vinegar and canning salt play a major role, having a large supply on hand is a good idea. As always, spices work best when fresh, so make sure your spices are as fresh as possible.

    You will want counter space to lay out the jars and the equipment.. This is also a good time to find room in the pantry for storing completed product. Once you have established a basic system that works in your kitchen, canning additional fruits and vegetables becomes easier and more rewarding as colorful jars line the shelves. Labels are also necessary to prevent having to open jars simply because you have forgotten what you did.

   Whether you follow a recipe or create your own, keeping a canning journal is a great way to remember how you achieved success and document where you went wrong. Keep the journal with the rest of your canning supplies so it is ready when you are.

    Your journal does not have to be limited to recipes and canning doesn’t keep you stuck in the kitchen. Part of the fun of canning is visiting the farms, orchards and other locations to collect different produce as it ripens. Picking your own produce gets you the best price while providing a bit of exercise and a day out of the house. People you meet on your travels may give you tips on other produce you didn’t know was available in your area as well as where to find abandoned orchards and little known locations for those specialty items like spring ramps and asparagus. Devote part of your journal to recording the farm locations and hours, the times of the year to obtain specific products, things to bring with you and any unexpected discoveries.

    If you have a family, these outings are also a great way to introduce your children to the origins of the food supply while spending the day together doing something that provides immediate rewards and let the little ones burn off some energy. Given the abundance you find on a farm or orchard, you will have gathered more than enough before the kids get tired and cranky.  

    Shopping at the supermarket may offer convenience but may not be the freshest or most nutritious.On the contrary, there is nothing quite like standing in an open field or beneath a tree and eating fresh fruits and vegetables in the warm sunshine. Turning your harvest into good things to eat and preserving them by canning gives you affordable, healthy, delicious foods right at home and is a great way of bringing back a bit of that summer day on a cold winter night.
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