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Skills for the August Mastery Challenge

It’s August and that means that for those of you participating in the Mastery Challenge (and remember, you can opt in or out each month), it’s time to try out a new skill. This time around, we’ve got two skill options to choose from. You can either try Low Temperature Pasteurization or Steam Canning (or both). Let’s split them apart and dig into each technique individually.

What is Low Temperature Pasteurization?

Low Temperature Pasteurization (LTP) is a process in which you simmer jars of pickles in water that’s between 180 and 185 degrees F rather than process them in a boiling water bath. You do this for a longer period of time (typically 25-30 minutes). The longer, lower temperature allows you to kill off bacteria while retaining a firmer finished texture.

This technique is used primarily for pickles, as a way to retain a crunchier, firmer texture (though don’t get too excited. They still soften a little. But it’s better than pickles from a boiling water bath canner). The pickles are prepared just as you would for a boiling water bath process and are fully submerged in water for best heat penetration.

The trickiest bit of LTP is maintaining the proper temperature. I like to use an immersion circulator (as described in this post from last fall), but a reliable stovetop or portable induction burner will also do the trick. Just make sure to have a good digital candy thermometer that can clip onto the pot on hand to keep tabs on the temperature.

Currently, this process has only been tested on cucumber pickles, but adventurous canners might also try it on hot peppers (similar pH to cucumbers) or green tomatoes (lower pH) to create more textural finished pickles.

For more on this process, I recommend reading this piece on Healthy Canning and this one on The Babbling Botanist.

What is Steam Canning?

Before we dig in, let’s address the elephant in the room. Some of you might be thinking, “hey, isn’t steam canning a prohibited technique?” Well, for the longest time, steam canning wasn’t a process that was recommended by canning experts. This wasn’t because it was necessarily unsafe, but instead because there wasn’t funding available to do the research necessary to determine its safety. However, thanks to research done at the University of Wisconsin, it has been determined that it is now safe to use under certain circumstances.

Steam canning (also sometimes known as atmospheric steam canning so as to differentiate it from pressure canning, which also uses steam), is a process in which jars are enclosed in a large pot that contains a few inches of water and is in possession of a tight-fitting lid. The water is brought to a boil, which produces steam. The steam reaches 212 degrees F (same as the water would), and the jars are duly processed.

You typically see two different kinds of steam canners. There are those that look like old-fashioned cake tins, with a shallow base and a large domed lid. The second type looks like a traditional boiling water bath, but has a rack designed to elevate the jars and a thermometer in the handle, allowing you to see when the interior of the pot has achieved the proper temperature.

The benefits of steam canning are that you don’t need to use as much water (great for drought-stricken areas), you don’t need to keep your burner at full blast (once you’ve built up a head of steam, you don’t need as much heat to maintain it), and because you’re working with less water, it takes less time and energy to reach the proper temperature.

Steam canning can be used for any high acid preserve, provided it is processed for 45 minutes or less. Any longer and you run the risk of boiling the water reservoir dry, which isn’t good for your preserve or your cookware.

For more on steam canning, read this piece from the University of Wisconsin Extension, this article from Healthy Canning, and this one from canning doyenne Linda Ziedrich.

Recipes

I’m not going to recommend recipes this month, because the field is pretty wide open. You can do a small assortment of pickles with LTP and an almost endless array of recipes with steam canning. Try applying one of these techniques to an old favorite, or test drive them with something new and delicious. The choice is yours!

To be included in the monthly stats and round-up, please submit your finished project by Wednesday, August 30 using this form.

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July Mastery Challenge Round-up: Hot Pack Preserving

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We closed the books on July a few days ago and so it’s time finish up another skill in our Mastery Challenge. This month, we focused on hot pack preserving and more than 130 of you reported in that you’d tried preserving something using this method.

Starring ingredients included apricots, apriums, artichokes, beets, black currants, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, carrots, cherries (both sweet and tart), corn, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, figs, gooseberries, green beans, jalapeños, kohlrabi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, peaches, plums, raspberries, rhubarb, shishito peppers, sour cherries, strawberries, watermelon rind, wineberries, and zucchini.

People made all sorts of products, including chutneys, fruit packed in syrup, jams, pickles, salsas, and tomato products.

According to the survey, a lot of you made more than one batch, which is always delightful. I’m happy that so many of you were inspired to dig in more deeply.

As far as satisfaction with skill goes, the results made me giggle. Most of you felt pretty friendly towards hot packed at the start of the month.

But, at the end of the month, those of you who participated were all in. Such happy, positive reactions!

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Jams, Chutneys, and Mostardas

Pickles, Relish, and Salsa

Tomatoes and Whole Fruit/Veg Preserves

And finally, a few comments from the submission form:

Lisa from Aurora, Ontario said, “Interesting to see how the hot pack played out in practice, not just theory. Peaches are a lot more work than I thought they’d be!” So true! Peaches are a beast, but so worth the work!

Ann from Vashon, Washington said, “My time was limited and produce was lagging – but the Walla Walla sweets were in so I tried the onion relish. Definitely worth while! So glad I’m learning more about hot pack. Hope to do some tomatoes soon as they are now arriving in our local markets.” Onion relish is delicious!

Tesla from Memphis, Tennessee said, “I had already done a lot of hot pack preserving, but until this month I had no idea that’s what I was doing – or the reasons why you’d use a hot pack with a particular fruit or to get a particular result. This month was an example of how the Mastery Challenges are educational for me, even when I’m not making something new!” So glad it was useful!

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July Mastery Challenge: Pickled Blistered Shishito Peppers

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here to with a recipe to preserve delicious shishito peppers. They’re one of my summer favorites! – Marisa

One of my favorite moments of summer eating doesn’t involve handfuls of blueberries, icy-cold slices of watermelon, or peaches so juicy you have to eat them over the sink. (Although those firsts fruits are up there on the list.) It’s when I spy the first shishito peppers at the farmers’ market.

When I first see those wrinkly, electric green peppers heaped in a basket or bursting out of a fiber pint container, I know I have to have them.

Back my kitchen with my market bounty, I’ll get my cast iron pan ripping hot with a glug of grapeseed oil and add the peppers, cooking for a few minutes on each side until the skin is blistered deep brown and the flesh is just tender. Then, they go into a bowl with a big three-finger pinch of flaky sea salt. A few flicks of the wrist to toss, and then I’ll sit down and eat them all, one by one.

But inevitably, shishito season ends, and it’s rare to find them off-season in supermarkets, so I have to wait for that smoky, salty experience until next year’s pepper feast…unless I can preserve it.

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Hot Pack Preserving for the July Mastery Challenge

It is July and that means it’s time to introduce our Mastery Challenge skill. This month, we’re focusing on hot pack preserving. Let’s dig in.

What is hot pack preserving?

At it’s most basic, hot pack preserving is simply the act of putting food that is warm or cooked into jars and then processing them. When you pour jam, jelly, salsa, or tomato sauce into prepared jars, you are hot packing. However, the term is most often applied when a preserve or ingredients can either be packed hot or cold (if you missed it, we focused on cold pack preserving in May).

Why hot pack?

  1. When you heat fruits and vegetables they soften and shrink a bit. In the context of canning, this is useful, because it means that you can fit more into each jar (often reducing the number of jars you need to can a volume of produce) and use less water or syrup.
  2. The other thing that happens when you heat produce is that the heat helps release some of the air that is naturally contained in the flesh. Trapped air is a leading cause of fruit float and liquid siphoning. A brief cooking period can help your peaches, apricots, and tomatoes release that air, leading to a better quality finished product, with less floating and siphoning.
  3. A pre-cooking stage gives you an opportunity to infuse additional flavor. I often utilize the heating stage of hot packing to add the flavors of vanilla, star anise or basil (in the case of tomatoes) to the product I’m preserving.

What are the downsides of hot packing?

  1. Loss of texture. The more you heat your food, the softer it becomes. If texture is your main concern, think carefully before opting to hot pack peach slices or pickles.
  2. Smaller yield. If you are canning to meet a particular yield goal, opting for a hot pack process will mean it will take longer to reach your final number. Personally, I always opt for quality over quantity, but we all have different factors that drive us to can.
  3. For best results, process must be done from start to finish in one day. Often, people ask me if they can prep and cook their produce one day, chill it overnight and then reheat and can the next day. Unfortunately, with things like tomatoes, apples, and stone fruit, this breaks down the structure of the produce and leads to product separation (it’s not dangerous, just visually unappealing). If you want your diced tomatoes or applesauce to maintain a consistent appearance and not separate out into pulp and liquid, the cooking and preserving must be done in a single session.
  4. For those of you who are canning at elevation may have particular challenges with hot pack preserving. Processing times are lengthened as we move up in altitude, which means that if you’ve simmered your peaches for ten minutes and then end up processing them for an hour or more, you may have nothing but peach mush in your jars by the end.

The goal for this month…

Is to explore this skill. If it’s something you feel familiar with, perhaps challenge yourself to try it with a new variety of produce or in a new context. It’s a useful technique to understand and have in your food preservation toolbox.

A few recipes…

Some from my archives:

And some from around the internet:

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June Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Jam

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June is over (how this year is speeding by!) and so it’s time to put another skill to bed in our Mastery Challenge. This month, we focused on jam making and more than 170 of you reported in that you’d made a batch of jam (and some of you made many, many more than a single batch).

Starring jam ingredients included apricot, bacon, berries of all shapes and sizes, black currants, cantaloupe, calamansi, carrots, cherries (both sweet and tart), figs, grapes, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, red onion, rhubarb, tomato, violets, and one lonely batch of watermelon rind jam. Strawberries were the very most popular ingredient this month, which makes sense since they are in season throughout much of the country during June.

One of the things I enjoy is seeing how deeply people are digging into each month’s challenge. Since jam making is a skill many existing preservers already know and use, I was hoping that it might lead to further exploration of unfamiliar styles of jam. I think both these graphics bear that out.

Up above, you can see that the majority of participants made more than one batch of jam. And judging from this second image, it looks like lots of people played with batch sizes and styles of preserving. I am entirely delighted.

Berries

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Stonefruit

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Other Jammy Goodness

A giant thank you to everyone who participated this month! We’re focusing on hot pack preserving in July. Stay tuned for more details soon!

 

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June Mastery Challenge: Foraged Berry Jam

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is back to share the tale of a tiny batch of jam made from fruit grown right in her West Philly neighborhood. I do love a good forage! – Marisa

When it comes to gardening and foraging, I do my best to hit enough planting milestones in early spring so that I’m not missing out on a particularly delicious spring or summer crop. And I keep an eye on ripening berries and fruits in my neighborhood so I can forage goodies to enjoy and preserve, too.

This spring was a little different. It was my first working as a freelancer, and any hope that I’d have extra time and flexibility to spend on these pursuits quickly vanished — I felt busier and less in touch with what was growing around me than I had been when I was employed full time.

For example, I missed planting peas this year. On the other hand, I got in two good harvests of elderflower during a particularly busy May, a first for me. And yet, I just missed the height of my West Philly neighborhood’s flush of juneberries, mulberries, and sour cherries, which hit a little earlier than usual this month.

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