Spring is well and truly here and the early tomatoes are coming in. Now is the time to take advantage of the freshes, most flavorful fruits and vegetables for canning. Anyone can preserve food, whether that is freezing food, drying things in a dehydrator or canning in jars. You only need a small amount of equipment: canning jars with new lids, a large stock pot and a jar lifter to retrieve the jars from boiling water. You can even buy a starter canning kit like pictured below for about $10, though I wouldn’t reccomend it. It is just as easy to can without it.
First, you will need a canning recipe. It is of great importance to use a recipe specifically written for canning as they are written to take into consideration the level of acid in the fruit you are canning. They may include things like citrus juice or vinegar to help raise the acide content in your product. High acid fruits and vegetables are one of the few things suitable for water bath canning. It is only safe to can low acid fruits and vegetables in a pressure cooker. Botulism is a real threat in improperly canned food, so follow canning recipes to the letter!
Second, prepare your matierials. Canning jars should be washed thoroughly, running them through the dishwasher will suffice. Gather a stock pot large enough to submerge your jars and have at the very least an inch of water above them as well as room for boiling. You will also need something to raise the jars off the bottom of your pot. A canning rack is made for this purpose but you can also use a silicone trivet or if nothing else a dish towel. I personally use the silicone trivet in my smaller pot and a dish towel in my largest pot. Jars may be sterilized in a pot of boiling water. You will also need a small pot to boil the lids and something to remove them with when they are hot. I use tongs, but you can also buy a magnet grabber that makes it a bit easier.
Third, you will need fresh ingredients. Spring, summer and fall are the ideal times to take advantage of savings on fresh fruits and vegetables. As things come into season, prices drop and the fresh taste soars. Plan your canning according to what is in season to take advantage of both. Back yard gardens and farmer’s markets are your friend. In this entry, we will be making salsa, a nice beginner canned food that is both easy and rewarding. In this case, we’re aiming on four pint jars of salsa, so we will be using: 8 medium tomatoes, 4 large cloves of garlic, 1 large onion, 1 green bell pepper, 2 jalapeno peppers, 1 poblano pepper a small bunch of cilantro and apple cider vinegar. This recipe is a base for mild salsa. If you would like hotter salsa subsitute some or all of the milder peppers for hotter peppers in the same amounts.
Remove the tomato skins, while skins are fine in fresh salsa, they can become rubbery and tough in preserved salsa. Removing the skins is extremely easy. Drop the tomato into boiling water for 30 seconds, then dunk in an ice bath for a few seconds. The skin should slide off with ease.
Coarsely chop the rest of your ingredients, seeding peppers. Remember to wear gloves with hot peppers, includng jalepenos, the liquids inside can easily soak into skin. On delicate skin, it can burn painfully. While it may not burn your hands, it can be transferred from your hands to your lips, eyes, nose, etc, even after washing your hands.
Add ingredients to a pot with 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and heat to a boil. Fill your jars with the hot mixture wide-mouth funnel is useful for this, but not required). The mixture must be very hot, if not the jars may break when you add them to the water bath. Wipe the tops of the jars clean to ensure a proper seal, add hot lids and rings. Do not fully tighten the rings, air will need to escape in the bath. Gently lower the jars into the hot bath, making sure there is something between the bottom of the jars and the metal of the pot. You must use something between to prevent burning of the food and chipping of the jars. Process jars for 15 minutes at a hard boil.
Remove the jars and allow them to cool for at 12-24 hours. Check your seal at this point. You should be unable to push the middle of the jar down. If you can push it down and make that customary popping noise, it is not properly sealed. Unsealed jars can go through the water bath again if you catch it within the first day or two. Make sure to heat the contents again and clean the tops of the jars. Most unsealed jars are caused by something between the lids and jar tops. If your jar is sealed, you are done. Your preserved food should last between 18-24 months, plenty of time to enjoy!