Sunday, February 23, 2014

City Girl Learns - Basics on How to Can and Preserve

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a city girl.  I WANT to be a country/farm girl.  But the closest to camping I've ever been is staying in a cabin in the woods (no it wasn't the premise of a horror movie, but hey there was a giant carpenter ant nest above my bed, that counts for something, right?) and the closest to livestock I've been is a petting zoo (or eating livestock...I'm so sorry cows and chickens and pigs and turkeys and lambs and man let's not even get started on my oceanic offenses...).  If you'll please recall, I was a vegetarian for 9 years.  I'm very very aware of animal suffering and the cost on the environment and I try to make the best decisions possible with the money I have available.

Anyway, this year I am working to get more familiar with homemade things and being a little less "urban."  In that spirit, I took a canning class at my local co-op (and omg I've wanted to be one of those people who is part of a CSA/co-op forever and finally there is one near me!).  With that in mind, after work the other day I went to my local Urban Acres and got ready to get my hands dirty. 

We got some handouts, including the recipe we were going to make - a kohlrabi and radish relish, because both of those are super in season right now and you use what's fresh, right?  Then it was time to get our hands dirty.

Isn't this beautiful??  I love fresh produce!!!

Before we could can we had to clean and prepare our vegetables including peeling the kohlrabi.  In case you didn't know, you really need to peel kohlrabi.  Eating the skin won't kill you or anything, but I mean, it's not going to improve whatever you're making either.  As you can tell from the above picture, I failed at peeling with a traditional peeler.  In my defense, my mom got me a ceramic peeler ages ago and you use it differently than a regular peeler so I have very little experience with a regular peeler.  Maybe one day I'll be able to peel in one long curly thing.  Until then, see the above...

I was in charge of zesting all the lemons. There were more lemons than pictured above (some were being juiced at this point) but apparently graters are super scary to inexperienced grater people.  Also, peelers are scary to inexperienced people.  I'm just going to state that you have to use them over and over and just suck it up because I guarantee you will in fact grate a finger and knock a peeler into your thumb at least once in your lifetime if you want to cook with any sort of frequency.

I can also tell you that - even though I'm not a doctor - it's pretty unlikely that any permanent damage will occur with a peeler or grater.  I've grated a chunk out of a knuckle or two, I've grated fingertips, I've peelered my thumb, they were all superficial injuries.  It hurts (like paper cuts hurt even though they are totally not major damage at all).  You'll heal and move on.  What WILL possibly amputate you are mandolins (amputated a finger with that one), knives, sticking hands in gadgets that are running, etc.  So you know try to be cognizant of where your fingers are when grating/peeling, but it's not going to hurt the worst if you mess up.  What sucks more is if you contaminate what you're trying to prepare.  That's super disappointing.  Or if you get citrus/acids or salt in your wound.  That smarts.

After we prepped all of the ingredients, they had to be weighed (see the bowls on the scales on the left side of the above picture?) because getting your ratios right is important.  I also learned that you can use kosher salt or sea salt in place of canning salt, but you have to weigh it, not measure it, as compared to canning salt so you use the right amount.  A lot of getting a recipe right is about weight so you'll need to invest in a food scale.  You also have to consider that sea salt for instance, has a saltier taste than canning salt.  So some trial and error might be needed.  Last thing about salt - your stuff will turn out pretty unappetizing looking apparently if you use salts with iodine or anti-caking agents in them.  I don't know if it affects taste; I do know that we were told not to use those kinds of salt.  Morton's Kosher Salt has anti-caking agents in it just FYI.  Morton's makes canning salt though and I got a big box for $1.44 at Wal-Mart. So for a newbie like me, I just want to stick to the recommended salt until I get comfy enough to experiment.

This recipe called for cooking the ingredients, and then it was time to fill the jars!  I should mention at this point that you should NOT cook your ingredients in the ceramic pots that are frequently used to water bath your jars.  It will ruin the pot real quick.  If you have a lovely Le Creuset pot (I wish!!!!) then that would be great for cooking your ingredients since it heats super evenly and is meant for that use.  Don't use aluminum cookware as it can leach into the ingredients and discolor them and make the flavor icky.  When you fill the jars you use a funnel that has markings inside it to help you determine how full the jars need to be.  Once filled to the appropriate level, you need to push out the air pockets (and fill a bit more if the ingredients settle lower).

The funnel also helps you not touch the rims of the jars with whatever you're filling them with, which is important for sanitation and ensuring a proper lid seal.  Before you fill your jars, you need to sanitize your jars (you can "bake" them in your oven to sanitize instead of boiling them, which while recommended, is a good recipe for disaster if you're accident prone like me).  From what my instructor says, oven sanitation is totally fine and doesn't cause problems. 

You also need to sanitize your lids, which you can do by pouring hot - NOT boiling - water over the lids in a bowl.  You should wash both lids and jars with soap and warm water before these processes.  When you are ready to put lids on your full jars, wipe the rims of the jars with a linen towel or something similar, dry your lids with a clean towel - do NOT touch the food safe part, that's what needs to be clean!!! - and place the lid on your jar.  Then secure with a lid rim.  The rims do not need to be sanitized and you just need to get them tight with your hands, don't get some crazy tool and make them super tight, it's just unnecessary.

Then it's time to use your water bath!  You don't want your jars to touch the bottom of the pot.  Most canning kits come with a metal contraption to help you raise/lower your jars into the water which also keeps them off the bottom.  If you don't have said contraption, you can soak a towel and put that at the bottom of the pot, or you can take some extra jar rims and connect them with some wire or whatnot and put those at the bottom of the pot to support your jars.  When you lower your jars into the pot, they need to be covered with at least an inch of water.  Return the water to a boil (with the lid on), and then begin your 10 minute timer.  You have to have boiling water for the full 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, take a towel and spread it out on your counter.  When your jars are done pull them out and place them on the towel.  After they've cooled to room temperature, you can remove the rims and check that the lids have sealed.  The lids have a slight rim and you can apply a little pressure with a fingernail.  If it doesn't move your seal is good.  If it does move, you have to do the whole wipe rim/boil jar business all over again.  

If you don't have enough ingredients to fill a jar properly, just stick it in the fridge and use it in the next couple months.  It is not safe to can things that are not filled to the appropriate level.  Air = bacteria breeding ground.  And nobody wants that.  Apparently if you don't have a proper seal on your jars, they could turn into a nasty science experiment that will literally explode in your pantry.  And who wants a science experiment all over their pantry?  Nobody...and if you do it might be time to reexamine your life choices...just saying... ALSO you need to wait a certain amount of time before trying your goods.  I know I know, in this age of instant gratification, waiting is the worst.  Depending on your recipe, you could enjoy your work in 24 hours, or it could take up to 2 weeks as is the case with my relish.  But I think waiting is probably best because it lets the flavors mellow and set.  Patience is definitely a virtue on this one (sigh).

Some other tips - check your jars thoroughly before you start.  Even a tiny chip or hairline crack can lead to an explosion in your water bath, and who wants to strain broken glass and food out of boiling water and redoing everything with your other jars???  Also, check your lids!!! They tend to glomp together when you sanitize them, and if they get scratched that could affect their food safety.  It could potentially lead to corrosion inside the jar and that's definitely not good.  Lastly (for now), water bath canning is only used for acidic ingredients.  You have to use a 5% acid or more vinegar when pickling even (apple cider vinegar is definitely recommended).  If you want to can alkaline foods, you have to use the pressure cooker method.  Once I gain some confidence and have the money for a pressure canner, I'll get one and learn how to do that too!  But for now, I hope I've taught you a couple things.  Feel free to comment below with any suggestions/corrections/requests/questions!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment