Canning 101: Why You Can’t Cook Acidic Foods in Reactive Pots

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Whether you’re an expert canner, a beginner or someone who’s just contemplating dipping their toe into the home preservation waters, you’re certain to have heard that the only foods safe for water bath canning are the high acid ones. We define high acid as a food that’s got a pH of 4.6 or below (the lower the pH, the higher the acid content). The acid content of jams, preserved fruits, chutneys, pickles and more are our balm as canners, because it’s what keeps those preserves safe in their jars until you determine it’s time to crack them open.

There’s only one precaution that you must take when cooking these high acids foods into their canning-ready state. You’ve got to make sure you use a cooking vessel that is non-reactive. Pots made from metals like aluminum and untreated cast iron react with the acid in the preserves and can leach a metallic flavor into your final product. Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven talks about an issue just like this in her most recent post in which she cooked high bush cranberries in a a cast iron skillet.

Note: The one exception here is when it comes to traditional copper preserving pans. Copper is a reactive metal, but when fruit and sugar are combined and cooked in a copper pan, the metallic flavor is not leached into the finished product. Once again, I refer you to Shae, and her post about copper pans.

Non-reactive pans are ones made of either stainless steel or enamel-lined cast iron (think Le Creuset or similarly enameled Dutch/French ovens). I recently acquired a low-and-wide 8 quart stainless steel All-Clad Stockpot that’s become my very favorite preserve-cooking pot. Its width means that the jam cooks down quickly and the stainless steel body allows me to scrub away when I accidentally let things overcook. We got it at Cookware & More, which is a kitchen wares outlet in Norristown, PA. They sell slightly irregular All-Clad products at a small discount, so if you’re in my area and in the market for some good cookware, you might want to consider checking them out (be warned though that it’s a strange store, tucked in the back of an anonymous industrial park in what feels like the middle of nowhere).

If you’ve got a stash of aluminum pots and want to give them some role in your canning process, you can always press the big ones into service as processing pots. The oval vessel you see in the picture at the top of this post is an old, aluminum pot I got in college at a thrift store. My mom and I have matching ones and we both find that it works nicely when we need to process a slew of half pint jars.

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Peaches, Portland and Canning Classes

canned peaches

This last Saturday, I spent the day in New York, helping shepherd three Philadelphia street food vendors to and from the Vendy Awards. It was the first time that any vendors from outside NYC had been invited to participate in the Vendys and we were honored to attend. In fact, my only regret about the entire day was that it meant I missed the last day of peaches at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market.

Luckily, I have a husband (and have had for an entire year now!) who, despite his occasional grumbles, is always willing to help when the demands of work and life don’t leave me the time to manage everything. He took my black-handled basket to the market in my stead and brought home eight pounds of the final peaches.

Those peaches were just the thing to help me push through the canning reluctance I’ve been battling lately, as I couldn’t fathom letting the Scott-fetched fruit go to waste (and these peaches were fragile, just a day in our apartment and a few were beginning to mold. Such is the way with late-season fruit). I’m a little perplexed by the reluctance I’ve been feeling. It’s as if some interior switch was flipped and suddenly I’d internalized the idea that canning season was over, despite all signs to the contrary (and the heaps of fruit still scattered around the apartment). I’m trying hard to gear back up, to revitalize for the final push of fall, but I fear that things are going to be slower than is ideal.

However, if you can still get your hands on some peaches, you should. I put up four quarts tonight in the time it took to listen to a single hour of radio. My eight pounds, quartered, peeled and briefly simmered in a fairly light syrup (two cups sugar, six cups water) perfectly filled four quart jars. Three received added flavor (star anise, cinnamon, vanilla) and one I left plain. Processed in a tall stock pot for 25 minutes, they’ll be delicious in January (if I can wait that long).

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bowl of Seckel pears

In a week and a half, I’m headed for the West Coast. First I’ll be in San Francisco for BlogHer Food and then I’m headed up to Portland, OR for a week’s worth of vacation with Scott. I’ve carved one evening out of that trip to teach a canning class, so if you’re in the Portland area and want to talk canning with me, you’re in luck.

The class will focus on Pear-Ginger Jam and will be held on Wednesday, October 13 from 6-7:30 p.m. It will be held at the Portland Subud Center, which is in NE Portland just off 33rd Avenue (not far from the Concordia New Seasons). Cost is $45. If you’re interested in signing up, please email me at foodinjars AT gmail.com. My mom will be helping me with the class, so it’s also your chance to meet the woman who taught me to can and who is so frequently mentioned on these here pages.

I’ve also still got space in the sauerkraut class next week (October 5), as well as the Philadelphia-based Pear-Ginger Jam class on October 23 (the November and December classes also still have availability as well). Shoot me an email if you’re interested in signing up!

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Ball Book Giveaway Winners

We’ve got winners! Congratulations to Rachel and Trudy G. Ladies, I’ll be in touch soon in order to get your contact info. Thanks to all of you for entering!

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Ball Canning Books Giveaway

Ball Blue Book

Hey kids, it’s giveaway time! Though the canning high season is coming to an end, I firmly believe that truly, home preserving is an activity that can be done all year round. And sometimes, it’s helpful to have a new book or two in your culinary arsenal, to inspire you to keep putting foods in jars even in the colder months (consider, just for a moment, pickled cauliflower). And so, thanks to the kind people at Ball, I have two sets of cookbooks to giveaway.

Each set contains a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (like the one you see above, although probably it won’t look exactly like that, since that copy is at least three years old) and copy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (it’s not pictured because I actually don’t own a copy of that one). To enter the giveaway, leave a comment and tell us a little about how the summer canning season treated you this year. Did it go well? Poorly? Did you achieve your canning goals? What would you do different next year?

The giveaway will close at 12 noon on Friday, September 24th, so step lively (I’m listening to an Irish jig as I type this) and leave your comment.

Canning 101: Preserving with Tattler’s Reusable Lids

Tattler lids

One of the primary truths of canning has always been that while the jars and rings are reusable, the lids are not. When I teach canning classes, I’m careful to emphasis that those flat metal lids only have one trip through the canner in them and that they lose their mojo once through a boiling water bath.

However, a brand of canning lids called Tattler recently returned to the market and they come sporting a pair of dual virtues that make them nearly irresistible for home canners. First is the fact that they are nearly endlessly reusable. That’s right, these are lids that you don’t have to toss into the trash after emptying the jar.

Second is that they are free of Bisphenol A (known in shorthand as BPA). Lots of people have turned to canning in recent days to get away from the BPA that lines so many commercially canned foods, only to find out that the lids for canning jars are also lined with the stuff. Typically, I try not to worry about them, comforting myself with the fact that properly canned foods shouldn’t actually be in contact with those lids after processing. Still, it’s a concern.

I bought several dozen Tattler lids at the beginning of the summer, but didn’t end up using them until my marathon tomato canning period that started over Labor Day weekend. I spent two full months passing them up, each time reaching for the disposable lids in my cabinet. I was a little bit wary of them, uncertain whether they’d work. Additionally, since I typically squeeze my canning into the hours after dinner and before bed, there’s often an element of frenzy to my putting up. I always felt like I didn’t have time to teach myself the steps necessary to make the Tattler lids work.

However, when I was canning all those tomatoes, I reached into the cabinet and realized I was completely out of regular mouth lids. I had to use the Tattler lids. It was trial by fire, particularly since I was canning in both a boiling water canner and a pressure canner that night. I had a moment of panic after the processing was complete but before the jars had fully sealed, when I realized I hadn’t left the rings as loose as was necessary for proper venting, and yet still, it all worked. All the jars sealed and sealed strong. They pass my standard seal test (grasp edges of lid and lift jar holding nothing but the lid) with flying colors.

What to Know

There are a couple additional steps to ensuring a good seal. When you apply the lids and screw on the bands, you MUST then unscrew the band a quarter turn. This ensures that there’s enough space for the hot air to escape from the jar during processing. Then, when the jars have finished processing and you’ve removed them to the counter, quickly give all the bands a good, quick tighten. This brings the rubber seal into firm contact with the rim of the jar and allows the air tight seal to form.

Thoughts?

So far, I’m pretty thrilled with the Tattler lids. Despite my minor user errors the first time out, they still sealed well. They worked equally well in the boiling water canner and in the pressure canner. I have just two issues with them. The first is their cost. They are pretty pricey, ringing up at approximately $.80 per regular mouth lid (not including shipping).  Because of this, I can’t make an immediate and complete switch. However, I plan to add more to my collection every few months until I’ve got a more critical mass.

The second issue is that they make it harder for me to pass my canned goods along to friends and family, because I don’t know if I’ll get them back. Like so many new Tattler users, I think that I’ll continue to keep some of the disposable lids in my arsenal for those items that I plan to gift.

For those of you looking for a step by step guide on how to use these lids, take a peek at this post at Homestead Revival. It is amazingly detailed and accurate.

For those of you who’ve used the Tattler lids, I’d love to hear what your experience has been like.

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Homemade Applesauce

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This post was originally published last November. However, we’re heading into applesauce season again, so I’ve updated it to include an organized recipe and am re-posting it now, for all of you who didn’t see if the first time around.

To me, applesauce is the quintessential fall food. I have fond memories of wandering the antique apple orchard at the Bybee-Howell House on Sauvie Island (a mostly agricultural island outside of Portland), really bundled up in scarves and layers for the first time of season, picking up windfall apples* with my mom and sister. Often, we’d bring our dog with us, and she’d run between the trees, tossing apples up in the air with her nose and then chasing after them.

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We’d come home with grocery bags full of bruised, but still edible fruit. My mom would cover counter tops with newspaper and we’d begin to peel. When the fruit was all de-skinned, cored and chopped, it would go into her biggest soup pot with a splash of orange juice, cinnamon and grated nutmeg until it had cooked down into a homey sauce.

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These days, I still make a yearly batch of applesauce, but I do it a little differently than we used to. I’ve learned over the years to not spend a whole lot of time peeling or chopping my apples. Instead, I cut the apples into quarters and remove the core (of course, if you have windfall fruit, you do have to invest the time in cutting away the bruises and bad spots). The quarters go into the pot with half a cup of apple cider to simmer. As they cook down, the skins will separate from the flesh of the fruit and you can just use a pair of tongs to fish them out.

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I like slightly chunky, unsweetened applesauce, seasoned with lots of cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of cloves (depending on how I’m feeling, sometimes I’ll also add a bit of allspice or powdered ginger), so once the skins are removed and the apples are smashable with the back of a wooden spoon, I’m done. However, if you like a smoother product, feel free to puree or run through a food mill (at this point, you could also go in a different direction and cook it down further, for apple butter).

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When it comes to adding sugar, fans of unsweetened applesauce can rejoice, as you are able to can applesauce without any additional sugar. If you want to increase the level of sweetness, you can add approximately 1/8 cup of sugar per quart. I sometimes add a bit of honey if I find the applesauce to be a little too tart. It’s important to taste your sauce before you can it, in order to balance out the sweet/tart flavors. If it’s too sweet, a bit of lemon juice will always brighten the flavors.

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To process, bring your applesauce to a boil and pack into clean, hot jars, leaving a half inch of headspace. Remove the air bubbles, wipe the rims and apply lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 (pints) or 20 (quarts) minutes. Store in a cool, dark place and enjoy homemade applesauce all year long.

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*The Bybee-Howell house used to be a historic site open to the public. They had a Wintering In event each fall that included hand pressed cider and so asked visitors to only pick the windfall apples, as they were saving the ones on the trees for the pressing. However, they lost their funding, the house is no longer open and the Wintering In event doesn’t happen anymore. So it may be that people are allowed to pick the apples. I don’t know for sure.

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