Blog #3: How and What (part 1)

When it comes to food storage, How and What are so tangled up together, they’re not really separate questions.  How you store your food, depends on what you are going to store, and what you can store depends on what storage tools you have.

But I’ll try to make it simple.  Canned goods and jars work great!  Buy stuff in bulk when it’s on sale, when you can afford it.  Canned tomatoes or beans are often 69 to 89 cents a can in Ottawa.  That’s a good price, buy a dozen and stick them under the bed.

Jars of jam with no preservatives last about a year in storage, so only buy a couple month’s worth at a time, and rotate them.  (use the oldest first, put the new jars away).  The empty jars can store spices, small amounts of xanthum or guar gum, yeast, and other dry goods.

But you CAN’T can with them.  Or baby food jars.  They don’t have any mechanism for allowing air to escape, then sealing air-tight.  I know someone will pipe up that their Mom or Gran always reused jam jars.  But trust me, all the antibacterial soap has created much scarier germs than your Gran ever faced.

Stay safe, buy canning jars (Bell, Bernardin, Golden Harvest, with 2 piece metal lids.  The plastic lids are for dry goods storage, not canning).  A good price is about $8/ dozen for 500ml, and under $1 each for 750ml and bigger.  If you buy them used at a thrift shop or garage sale, check the rims for chips.  You can’t get a vacuum seal  if there’s a chip.  You can still use them for dry storage, as they’re pretty airtight, just not vacuum tight, which is what you need for canning.

So, for ease of starting out, we’ll begin with Boiling Water Bath canning or BWB.  This is good for things with a PH less than 4.6, or things high in sugar or salt or vinegar.  Think jam, jelly, pickles or sour foods, like tomatoes.  It’s a good idea to get PH test strips (pet stores or farm coops) or a PH tester from a school/ science supply store.

So, let’s do up some canned stewed tomatoes.  They can be drained for about any tomato based dish, can be boiled down for spaghetti, poured straight  into chili or ratatouille….

You will need:

  • a large pot for boiling tomatoes
  • a large pot for boiling jars and lids (2 separate pots) This one should be tall, and have a cake rack in the bottom to keep the jars up off the heat.
  • clean 500ml jars
  • rings and lids for the jars
  • something to pull the jars out of HOT water (they sell weird looking jar lifters and magnetic lid lifters where you buy the jars), and a ladle & large funnel.
  • 4-5 tomatoes per jar.
  • onions
  • oregano, thyme, garlic if desired.  Plain is the most versatile, already flavoured is the quickest to use.
  • a wooden spoon
  • something to test the PH (optional, fresh tomatoes boiled down are always under 4.6

Start with chopping the tomatoes to about 1/2 inch cubes, saving the juice in the pot, too.  Dice the onions and add everything to the cooking pot. Add a teaspoon of sea salt, if desired.

Put on med-hi, and boil.  Stir frequently and boil down by half.  This should take an hour or so.

Pull the jars out of the boiling water, pouring the water back into the pot.  Add a glug or two of vinegar.

Ladle each jar full of tomatoes, leaving  1/2 inch for headroom. Clean the rim of the jar with a  damp cloth.  Screw the lids onto the jars to just barely tight,.  You should not be able to pick up the jar by the screw-band without it coming off.

THIS IS IMPORTANT, the lids must be help on by the rings but NOT tight.  The jar can explode if the lid is too tight.

Make sure that the pot with boiling water is simmering.  Gently place the jars of tomatoes in the pot, standing up.  Some people put a cotton tea towel around and between the jars to keep them upright and not touching. There must be over an inch of water above the jar lids.  If there’s less than an inch, pour in hot water and bring back to a boil.

Boil the water for 5 minutes, covered.  Turn the heat off and remove the jars.  DO NOT tilt the jars to pour the water off, keep them upright.

You should hear a satisfying “ping” as each one vacuum seals as it cools.

Now put them on the counter to cool, and stare at them in smug satisfaction.  You now have additive free, fresh tomatoes for the dead of winter.  Healthier and yummier than store-bought.

The boiling water bath method is great for jams, jellies and pickles, using the exact same methodology.  So experiment.  But remember: sugar, salt, vinegar or low PH.

Meat and non-acid veggies MUST be pressure canned.  So must things with these as ingredients, chili, stews, soups and sauces.

More next time.  And soon, canning meals in 1 liter jars, heat and serve awesomeness!

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