Check out canning: Library lends equipment for home canning

Anyone who cans food at home should make sure to use tested recipes from reputable sources. (Courtesy photo)

BIG RAPIDS — Late summer is a good time to get fresh fruits and vegetables in Michigan. Whether you’ve grown a bumper crop of tomatoes or gotten a great deal at the local farmers market, you may have ended up with more fresh food than you can eat before it spoils.

Enter home canning.

Some people may remember neat rows and rows of glass jars filled with goodies in their grandma’s basement and others may have never seen the process, even in passing. Still, everyone can learn to safely can food if they follow some basic guidelines.

There are two types of canners — water bath canners and pressure canners, and it’s important to know which foods are safe for each type of processing, said Kara Lynch, Michigan State University Extension food safety educator. Pressure canners reach higher temperatures and are able to kill bacteria that can survive in boiling water used in water bath canners.

“You need a pressure canner for low-acid foods,” she said. “High acid foods are technically anything with a pH of 4.6 or higher. Most fruits are considered high acid, and so is anything that’s pickled or fermented, like sauerkraut.”

Vegetables are low-acid foods, as are meats, and both should be processed in a pressure canner to ensure food safety. Water bath canners can be used for vegetables if they’re pickled, however, because pickling raises the acidity, Lynch explained.

Tomatoes are commonly water-bath canned, but your tomatoes may not be as acidic as you think.

“Over the years, as different varieties of tomatoes were developed, the acidity changed,” Lynch said. “Tomatoes used to be more acidic than they currently are. To make sure your tomatoes are acidic enough, people should add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per quart or one tablespoon per pint when they can them.”

For anyone who’s never canned before and is interested in starting, Lynch recommends trying a simple recipe from a reputable source, such as any state’s extension office.

“It’s important to wash the jars, and if you’re doing anything that’s processed for less than 10 minutes, you should sterilize them as well,” Lynch said. “You can do that by putting them in the dishwasher or putting the empty jars in a water bath canner and boiling them for 10 minutes.

“Probably just doing fruit — peaches, for example — would be a safe way to start. Water bath canning is definitely much less intimidating, and if you pickle foods, you can do a lot of different things.”

Big Rapids Community Library Director Miriam Andrus checks the inventory of a canner kit. Kits, which include a canner, utensils and basic directions, can be checked out from the library for a week at a time. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

Lynch cautions against using any method other than a pressure canner or water bath canner.

“Anything being canned has to be processed in either a water bath canner or pressure canner — never ‘open-kettle’ something, which is putting the hot ingredients into the jar and letting it seal without processing,” she said. “There are some unapproved methods such as processing in the oven, and this is not a safe method.

“Many people comment that they’ve canned for years and don’t follow some of the recommended steps — but people die or become very ill every year from consuming canned food that was not processed correctly. Canning is based on science, and why wouldn’t you want to follow safe, tested methods and be sure that you won’t cause someone else to become sick or even die?”

Water bath canners are generally cheaper than pressure canners, but for area residents looking to try canning without a big investment, the Big Rapids Community Library has four water bath canners and one pressure canner — all complete with kits of tools such as the jar tongs — available to anyone with a library card.

In addition to a variety of books about home canning, the Big Rapids Community Library has canners and utensils library card holders can check out and use at home. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

“Inside each canner is a basic canning kit, including utensils and instructions, ” said Miriam Andrus, library director, adding the library has many books on home canning.

With the community gardens available behind the building and the seed library residents can use, Andrus said the library staff wanted to help people grow and preserve their own food.

“You get these seeds and plant them, then what do you do with the fruits and vegetables after you grow them? Canning can be part of that,” she said.

By having canners and utensils available, people only need to buy their own jars, lids and rings, Andrus noted. Jars are reusable from year to year as long as they aren’t nicked, cracked or scratched, Lynch said. Rings can be re-used until they begin to rust, but lids are single-use and need to be purchased each year, she added.

Andrus hopes having the most expensive items — the canners — available will encourage people to try the process.

“For somebody who’s never canned before and doesn’t have supplies, they’re probably not going to try it because of the investment,” she said. “If you have the supplies, it’s actually quite cheap.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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