RFD Maine — Home canning pays off In dividends
Want a sure way to put up some wholesome food for emergencies? Then consider home-canning. I have several reasons for home-canning. First, canned goods don’t spoil if the electricity goes out. Second, when you eat home-canned products, you know exactly what you are getting and who picked it. And finally, it just makes sense to utilize surplus produce by canning it.
At noon today, I had a meal of ginger-curried shrimp, yams and a half-pint jar of home-canned dandelions. These greens were picked on and around my lawn, making them far more satisfying than any green vegetable bought from the store. And by the way, I don’t keep dogs or cats, so my lawn dandelions and other greens aren’t contaminated by pet waste.
And not to disparage stores, but my idea of fresh vegetables and theirs don’t often jibe. Besides that, store-bought vegetables are, for the most part, wicked expensive, especially in winter. Oh, some places offer good deals on broccoli and I take advantage of that. Oddly enough, my home-grown, frozen broccoli doesn’t taste as good as the fresh stuff from the store. And once in awhile, a store will run a special on kale, probably because not many people like kale and the store wants to move it.
But generally speaking, commercially-grown vegetables don’t hold a candle to what we grow in our gardens or pick from the wild. This holds true even when comparing home-canned stuff to fresh produce from the store. Case in point, I would prefer to eat my own, home-canned green beans rather than the wizened, limp offerings I see on supermarket shelves.
Vegetables are not the only products that lend themselves to canning. I pressure-can mackerel that I catch in summer, and these can stand toe-to-toe with the best sardines. Meat, too, takes well to canning. The person who shoots a big buck and then finds the critter way too tough for enjoyable eating has only to can the venison for a long-lasting, gourmet treat. And anyone shooting a moose really ought to go out and buy several cases of canning jars for the tougher portions.
Home-canned produce, like anything else, has a shelf life. It’s best to use canned goods within two years. Most things will last up to three years, but after that, quality suffers greatly. This underscores the importance of labeling produce with the year it was canned. It also pays to note the nature of the produce.
It would seem like an easy task to pick up a jar of canned greens and know by looking what the jar contains. But I can say from experience that this sounds easier on paper than in actual practice. For instance, I have canned turnip greens, canned Swiss chard, canned dandelions and canned goose tongue, all lined up on my shelves. Were it not for the legend on the can lids, I would have great difficulty figuring out what was what.
And while it certainly won’t do any harm to open a jar of turnip greens rather than the hoped-for Swiss chard, it does make a difference when I open a can from last year rather than the year before. Which is why it makes sense to keep the older stock in front, just as they do in stores.
Some folks use stick-on labels on their canning jars. These, while artsy and cutesy, are a one-time-use proposition. And getting these labels off the jars requires long soaking in soapy water. So unless you are into designer canned goods, make it a practice to write on the lid the year and name of the produce.
So what if you have the interest, but have never canned? Well, home pressure canners come with explicit instructions. Unlike some other things with fuzzy or ambiguous instructions, the people who sell pressure canners go to lengths to make their directions succinct, plain and easy to follow.
The instruction booklet that comes with pressure canners also contains a variety of recipes for different food items. Some foods require a longer period of cooking and some call for different pressures. It’s all laid out in the directions.
Also, the Ball Blue Book, considered by many the home-canner's bible, serves as an indispensible aid to home-canning. It contains lots of different recipes and hints and for the money; no home-canner should go without it. Most supermarkets carry this valuable book.
Next, the University of Maine Extension has long taught people the art of home food preservation and a trip to the nearest extension office should help to put anyone on the road to becoming a well qualified home-canner.
Finally, if you know someone who routinely home-cans, consider asking them for some hands-on tutelage. I have personally taught a number of people how to can. Once, a group from Greenville asked me up to teach them how to home-can moose meat.
So where there’s a will there’s a way. If you want to get into home-canning, it’s quite simple. And after the initial investment of a pressure canner and a supply of reusable canning jars, it’s relatively inexpensive. Most every grocery and convenience store sells canning lids, and these run about a buck for a container of one dozen lids.
Home-canning pays off in dividends, especially now, in midwinter. Nothing says “summer” like a jar of home-canned carrots or beans. From both a practical and an aesthetic point of view, home-canning makes all kinds of sense.