Canning - Satisfaction Guaranteed

Act 2 - Scene 5

Gleaming, colorful, luscious looking jars of fruit and vegetables line the shelves in the basement. Right in front of you within your grasp are peaches, pears, applesauce, strawberry jam and apricots. What will you choose - it's almost too much to behold.

Amazing how you come down to this special room in the basement these days. Not always to grab a jar of tomato sauce for the spaghetti you are preparing for supper or a jar of dill pickles to open to go with the hamburgers on the grill; sometimes you are here just to look. As you look you can remember how each food product was prepared and preserved for just such a time when you need something to serve the family. You have a real feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. Every ingredient in these jars is known to you - how much salt or preservatives. You are the creator of the best sweet pickles, the sassiest salsa and the best tasting blackberry jam ever! (Well, at least according to your family!)

Yes, we have jumped ahead in this particular play. The name of the play is Home Canning - Satisfaction Guaranteed! Many of us have enjoyed this play repeatedly and make sure it is in our annual repertoire of "must see." Others of us have only heard of this production and aren't quite sure it would be as entertaining as hyped. We have seen some of the previews and it really doesn't seem like an action adventure. From the opening scenes of freshly tilled earth to the building symphony of music surrounding the family sitting down at the supper table to steaming plates of spaghetti - the adventure of canning certainly has lots of action and a little bit of a love story thrown in on the side!!!!

Let's find out how you can have the starring role in this final scene. What would it take to have the rows of canned food products sitting in your pantry or your shelves in the basement?

If you have never canned before you may want to consider starting out small. Don't remove sod off acres of ground to plant a garden. Don't run out and buy bushels of tomatoes or pick gallons of strawberries. Think about how much you can get done in an afternoon or a couple of hours of work. If you want canning to become a habitual occurrence in your life, you must be able to incorporate it easily into your already busy schedule. The first experience should be enjoyable and successful so don't put unneeded stress on yourself by trying to accomplish too much.

Another recommendation is to attempt your first canning episode with a high acidic food such as tomatoes, pickles or fruits. High acid produce can be processed in a boiling-water bath, which requires less expensive start-up equipment. If you are successful and enjoy canning with the water bath canner, you can consider moving on to the purchase of a pressure canner, which is required for meats and vegetables with a low acid level.

Make a list of items you will need. Start out with a basic canning book such as the Ball Blue Book and locate a recipe you would like to try. Another great source is the book "Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving," with instructions for canning, freezing and drying food. Read through the chapters on the method of canning you will be using and read the recipe to be aware of any special ingredients or equipment that will be needed. You do not want to be in the middle of heating the water in the canner and discover you don't have any dill for your pickles. Purchase or locate approved water bath canner, canning jars, lids and produce that is at it's peak.

An easy way to purchase the basic canning equipment is with a canning starter set which includes necessary items such as a jar lifter (so you won't scald your fingers lifting jars from boiling water), a canning funnel and the Ball Blue book as well as a number of other handy gadgets. When purchasing your jars, consider which size would best fit the produce and the amount you will be serving at one time. You probably would can salsa in smaller jars such as pint or half-pint and kosher dill pickles in widemouth quart jars.

Some specific canning equipment you will need:

Canning funnel - Used to pack food. One end of the funnel fits snugly into the jar, while the other is significantly wider to allow the canner to spoon or ladle contents into the funnel without spilling.

Jar Lifter - Like a pair of pliers, this utensil is used to grip and move hot canning jars from processor to countertop.

Lid Lifter and Bubble Freer - Magnetic gadget used to retrieve flat, metal jar lids from hot water. Kitchen tongs can serve the same purpose.

Stainless Steel Food Mill - Used to separate peel and seeds from such produce as tomatoes, berries, etc.

Other common kitchen utensils that may be used are a vegetable brush, knives, cutting board, and peeler, large saucepan, spoons and ladle, measuring cups, cheesecloth, or spice bag and timer.

Before starting, assemble all your equipment and produce in a large cleared work area. Canning takes lots of space - but when you are in the middle of the production you will appreciate the elbowroom.

When you are starting out, allow more time in your schedule then you'll need to complete the task. This alleviates stress and pressure to hurry the process - because all recipes should be followed exactly. You can not cut back on processing time. It is absolutely necessary to follow all recommendations given to prevent spoilage and contamination. After all, you want to gaze upon colorful, fruit and pickles at the end of the production - not brown or soggy lumps. Be sure to follow all steps for canning preparation such as cleaning and sterilization of jars and lids, washing your product, preparing your produce (if chopping or cutting is required) and packing the product into jars. Especially note the instructions on fitting the jar lid and ring on the jar - you want to have a clean contact with no food or syrup breaking the seal.

Water bath processing is simply heating the packed, sterilized jars in boiling water. The heat from the boiling water is transferred to the product as it completely surrounds each jar and lid. When the jars have been removed and begin to cool a vacuum is created inside each jar that will seal the lids to the jar. You may hear a "popping" as the seal is created. A small indentation will form in the center of the lid so you know you have a proper seal.

After you have finished all the produce and processing you may want to consult your Ball Blue book or recipe to follow any further instructions about storage of your product. Generally you keep home canned produce in a dark cool place.

This final scene is where we first came into the play - looking at the gleaming finished product. What a production! Opening night was certainly a success and you can't wait for the reviews from the most sought out critics - your family! Job well done - you should have a great feeling of satisfaction!!!!

Hope you have an opportunity to star in this wide- reaching play! Break a leg! No, on second thought - try not to break anything!!!!

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