Spring is the time to prepare for summer’s bounty
Spring is not too soon to begin thinking about the upcoming canning season. While you are waiting on your produce to grow or for those first farmers market sales, you can prepare for canning by checking your equipment and supplies. Proper equipment in good condition is required for safe, high-quality home-canned food.
Janie Burney, a nutrition professor and specialist with University of Tennessee Family and Consumer Sciences, says a pressure canner in good working condition is essential for those planning to can vegetables, meats, fish or poultry. “Pressure canners come in two basic types depending on how the pressure inside the canner is measured. If you have a dial gauge canner, it must be tested for accuracy before each canning season,” she said. “Check with your local county Extension family and consumer sciences agent for more information.”
Burney added that weighted gauge canners do not have to be tested. “These models exhaust tiny amounts of air and steam each time their gauge rocks or jiggles during processing. The sound of the rocking or jiggling indicates the canner is maintaining the recommended pressure,” she said.
Regardless of the type of canner you use, Burney recommends that canners with rubber gaskets be carefully inspected. “If your canner has a rubber gasket, the gasket should be flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Also make sure any small pipes or vent ports with openings are clean and open all the way through,” she cautioned.
Fruits, jams and jellies as well as pickled foods require processing in a water-bath canner. This prevents the growth of mold and bacteria that may be in the space between the top of the product and the lid. Burney says you should use a rack to keep jars off the bottom of the canner.
“Spring is also the time to take stock of your jars and lids,” said Burney. “Inspect jars for nicks, cracks or chips, especially around the top-sealing edge. Nicks can prevent lids from sealing.
“After repeated use, older jars can weaken and break under pressure and heat,” she added. “Home canners should consider investing in new jars if needed. Purchase jars with the word ‘Mason’ on them. They are designed for the high temperatures needed for canning.” Two-piece lids are recommended for home canning. The lid cannot be used more than once because it may fail to seal. Rings can be used more than once, Burney said, but she cautioned that rings that are rusted or bent should be discarded.
Last, but not least, make sure you have reliable, up-to-date canning instructions. You can obtain these from your local Extension office or find them online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://nchfp.uga.edu/). “Several updates were made to canning instructions during the 1990s. If you are using older recipes, check them against the latest instructions to see if they are safe to use,” Burney recommended.
For more information, contact your local county UT Extension family and consumer sciences agent at 989-2103.