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Learn How to Safely Preserve Your Local Food at MU/Boone County Extension

June 4, 2010

Contributed by Casey Corbin, Executive Director Sustainable Farms and Communities, Inc

Local Foods Canning Last year I planted three heirloom tomato plants using four foot stakes that barely served my plants growth.  This was my first experience growing tomatoes after 16 years in Alaska.  From just those three plants I was rolling in red fruit!  Well, this year I have tall cages and 11 planted from seeds that I saved last year. I do not have freezer space so what will I do?  I will preserve them!  Yes!  I can! Or can I?

Canning started in the late 18th century in France when Napoleon offered a cash prize to the first person who could preserve food for his army.  Nicholas Appert thought of bottling food like wine. He learned over years that if you heat food to a certain point in bottles it would not spoil.  That is all well and good for Napoleon and Mr. Appert, but I have no idea how to can!  I mean our parents and grandparents, aunts and so forth canned like crazy.  If they could do it, so can I!  I want to taste my tomatoes in December

Vera Massey, a wonderful person with MU/Boone County Extension, will be teaching three food preservation classes this month.  Spread over three Wednesdays with morning and evening sessions, this is a must do for all of you green thumb foodies and farmers market shoppers!  Space is limited so visit the link below or email/phone Vera with questions.  I have my seat!  I asked Vera a few questions for all of you and here is what she had to say:

SA:  Why do you think so few people can food today?
VM:  For many people canning is something they’ve heard about but don’t have a clue how to do it.  Since canning is a science, it’s critical to use research-based procedures to ensure the foods are canned properly and will be safe to eat.  If foods are not canned properly they can be dangerous.  They can harbor Clostridium Botulinum, which causes botulism, a type of food poisoning that can be deadly.  The good news is that home canning can be done safely when you learn the proper skills and techniques…something you’ll learn at the upcoming workshops, I’ll be offering.  Home canning is actually making a comeback as more and more people are reconnecting with their food through home gardening and locally produced foods.

Vera Massey with MU Extension Teaching Local Foods Preservation and CanningSA: What are some of the benefits of home canning?
VM:  Canning food in your own home (using the most current research-based information) can be a safe and rewarding process. Many people can foods because they like the way the foods taste and they have control over what is in the jar…for example no preservatives or pesticides. Personal satisfaction also rates high as a motivator for home canning.   Other reasons people home can are for economic reasons, gift giving and it’s a family tradition. Preserving food with home canning, as well as other preservation methods like freezing and drying, are also great ways to increase your consumption of local food. Eating locally is about eating foods when they are in season, and canning/freezing/drying allows you to capture the bounty of any particular crop in season and extend its availability throughout the year. For example, I love to fill up on fresh blueberries when in season, but I also love them in a jar of blueberry spice jam that I can enjoy in the winter and also give as gifts to friends.

SA: Are pressure cookers scary?
VM:  I’ve been around pressure canners since I was a young child…. a long time.  I don’t find them to be scary but I know many people do.  It seems there are always the stories circulating that someone knew someone who had one blow up.   Scary stuff… but the likelihood of a pressure canner blowing up is very unlikely as long as you follow directions.  The great thing about attending a workshop to learn about canning is you get to see firsthand how a pressure canner works and observe all of the steps of canning—from preparing the produce to taking the jars out of the canner after the processing time is complete.  The bottom line is if you plan to can low-acid foods like vegetables, meats or soup mixtures you will need a pressure canner.

SA:  How much of an investment in dollars does it take to get started?
VM:  There are definitely investments or startup costs when it comes to home food preservation…. the food, necessary equipment and your time.  The investment for equipment will vary depending on the preservation method. The items needed for boiling water bath canning (jams/jellies, pickles, salsas, fruits) are not particularly expensive.  The water bath canner would be less than $30.  If you do a lot of canning projects, then the costs of the jars can add up, but you get to reuse the jars year after year as long as they don’t get chipped or cracked. As your collection of jars grows, your costs of home canning go down in subsequent years. When you reuse jars, you must buy new lids, but they only run about $2 a dozen.  If you plan to can non-pickled vegetables, meats or soups then you will need to invest in a pressure canner that can cost around $90. You might be able to reduce the expense if you have one or two families that want to buy one with you. Then everyone could share it. Be careful buying a used one because the seals and the gauge might not be functioning properly and replacement parts may no longer be available.

SA:  I will be taking two of your classes, the water bath and pressure canning courses, what will I be able to do after those classes?
VM:  After attending the classes, I think you will feel more confident in your ability to safely preserve foods.  During the workshops you will be able to see each of the steps involved in the different aspects of food preservation and ask questions if anything is unclear.  You will also have guide sheets with all the details and recipes for preserving foods that you can refer back to as you are preserving your foods. The canning process can be a little intimidating at first, but after a couple of canning projects, you will feel much more comfortable doing it. There are safety considerations with home canning, but these are all easily satisfied by following the directions you will receive in the workshops.  With a little studying and practice, I’m confident you’ll become a satisfied home canner who is putting up wonderful, tasty, locally grown food.

Food Preservation Classes:
Wednesdays June 16  – Freezing and Drying  – 9:30 am – Noon or 6 to 8:30pm
Wednesdays June 23  – Water Bath Canning  – 9:30 am – Noon or 6 to 8:30pm
Wednesdays June 30 – Pressure Canning  – 9:30 am – Noon or 6 to 8:30pm

Visit MU Extension Website for more information and to register ASAP:  http://extension.missouri.edu/boone/

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