If you want to can safely, these women can help
So many reasons to can, but one of the best is capturing food at its peak quality
Home canning food in jars can be a joyous activity, but it is not without dangers.
The techniques in use today date back to the glass jars developed by John Landis Mason who in 1858 patented threaded screw-top jars. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the New Jersey-born tinsmith in the 1850s was searching for “a way to improve the relatively recent process of home canning.”
In the decades since the creation of the beloved Mason jar, there have been many innovations. And while some of us may want to continue to use the recipes our forebears swore by, there are reasons to go with recipes and techniques developed since 2009.
Two women serving a large geographic area of eight Nebraska counties for the Nebraska Extension Office are Brittany Spieker, based in Neligh, and Ann Fenton, based in Pierce. Spieker’s official region includes Antelope, Knox, Boone and Nance counties; Fenton’s includes Pierce, Madison, Wayne and Cedar counties. Both say, however, that they are happy to assist anyone with canning inquiries.
Spieker, originally from Pierce, is a registered dietician who has attained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She said preserving food at home is one of the best ways to ensure quality ingredients.
“When you’re canning, you’re preserving the food at peak quality,” she said. And she added there is no way to put a value on the feeling of pride in accomplishment, knowing you did it yourself.
Fenton, who is originally from Howells, agrees. She became interested in an Extension career growing up in Stanton County. Her inspiration was her local Extension agent Betty Walters. After studying under Walters, Fenton knew from her teen years on that she wanted to pursue an Extension career. She also attained both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She has been in her current position for 27 years.
Spieker said one of the concerns about canning safety is that over time, pathogens have evolved and changed. That means that an older recipe or technique may no longer be safe.
“Bacteria – especially – evolve very quickly,” she said. “You always want to update to the most recent methods.”
Spieker admitted that people may want to use a traditional recipe that has been passed from previous generations. But she explained that in many cases there are updated recipes that are similar, but safer.
The most dangerous pathogen is the neurotoxin Clostridium botulinum or its close relatives. It thrives in a low-oxygen environment, such as in a sealed jar. It cannot be detected by taste, smell or appearance. Because the bacterium is pretty much everywhere, the key to safe canning is prevention.
One of the best resources for safety-tested recipes is Food.unl.edu. Recipes are specifically tailored to Nebraska. Nationally, one of the best resources is the National Center for Home Food Preservation. (nchfp.uga.edu). But there are also recipes available at Extension offices, Ball Canning, and many other sites.
Among techniques now considered unsafe in a number of circumstances is “open-kettle canning,” in which food is cooked and placed into jars. Because it is not water-bathed or pressure canned, this method is no longer considered safe. Also not recommended is turning jars upside down after they are removed from a water bath.
“You want to make sure you use a jar lifter and keep the jars straight up and down as you remove them from the canner. Then let them sit. Don’t disturb them for 12 to 24 hours,” Spieker said.
Spieker also noted that tomatoes have changed in recent decades and many have been hybridized to be less acidic. These days, because of lower acidity, they are considered borderline. Water-bathed tomatoes need some type of acid added to the jar such as citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar.
Following new guidelines may require changing some traditional recipes but the peace of mind is worth it, Spieker said.
Fenton said she has seen increased interest in canning in recent years. She said more people these days are concerned about where their food comes from.
“If they grow it themselves or buy it at a farmer’s market, they know what they are getting,” she said.
Fenton said if someone is interested in getting started in canning, she suggests they start with jams and jellies.
She said most people want to use accepted techniques and recipes once they are made aware of them.
“People want to keep their families safe,” she said. “Most people are smart, but they don’t always know where to look for the latest information.”
If you are new to canning, feel free to contact either of these women: Spieker, 402-887-5414; Fenton, 402-329-4821. Or, check out the Nebraska website Food.unl.edu or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Your techniques may be newer than those your grandmother used but know that you are carrying on a tradition that dates all the way back to John Landis Mason.
Sour Cherry and Aronia Syrups
Canners usually end up with fruit syrup when their jelly doesn’t set correctly. But having homemade syrup on hand for ice cream topping or add to yogurt or oatmeal, beats anything store bought. Another great way to use syrup is to add a tablespoon or more to some sparkling water for a healthy “soda.”
Since we have sour cherry trees and aronia bushes, this year I made syrup from both fruits. My family loves them. These syrups have a lot of sugar, so they could simply be refrigerated for at least a couple weeks. For canning, my recipe is based on several sources, including the Berry Syrup recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Fruit Syrups from So Easy to Preserve by the Cooperative Extension of the University of Georgia and the Washington State University Extension “Preserving Berry Syrups at Home.” There is also a wonderful recipe for Aunt Jennie’s Blackberry Syrup in the book The Berry Bible by Jane Hibler.
Sour Cherry or Aronia Syrup
7 to 8 cups of sour cherries* or aronias
6 to 7 cups of sugar
¼ cup lemon juice (optional for both; for cherries use a couple tablespoons)
1 tablespoon vanilla (optional for cherries)
Cook fruit with a small amount of water, a cup or less, added to prevent scorching. Crush the fruit as you bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and cook gently for about 7 minutes. When cool slightly, put fruit into a strainer or a jelly bag or use a food mill to extract about 5 cups of juice.
Return the juice to a pan and add the sugar and the lemon juice. Boil the mixture 1 minute. Skim the foam, then pour into quarter pint, half-pint or pint jars. (You should have about 4 to 5 pints.) Water bath the jarred syrup for 15 minutes. (This time is adjusted for our altitude in Nebraska.)
*Depending on how you extract the juice, you don’t need to pit the cherries first. Mine are usually pitted because that is how I freeze them. If you want to add some whole fruit to your syrup, reserve some of the pitted cherries and add in when heating the syrup.
By Alexandra McClanahan
***Not all of our recipes are “USDA APPROVED” We highly recommend that you follow the USDA guidelines when canning and cooking. Our recipes are all “tried and true”….some are recipes our families have passed down for generations, some are just made up from the joy of cooking and canning, some of the recipes that we use are straight from the USDA Canning Book and some are passed along by our dear readers. With all of that being said – can and cook at your own risk. If you feel that a recipe is “unsafe”, simply overlook it and move on. None of us are, “Canning Police” and we all should respect others. Safe in your kitchen and safe in my kitchen – two different things….We won’t criticize your recipes please don’t criticize ours :).
Make these recipes at your own risk, we assume that should you desire to follow the recipes in this magazine, you are doing so “at your own risk”. We are and the writer is not liable, not responsible and do/does not assume obligation for…..