Tag Archives | Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

Submit your Fruit Butters for the September #fijchallenge

Happy end of September, canners! Yet another month that has gone flying by with record-breaking speed! I hope everyone is enjoying the transition from summer to fall (though here in the Philadelphia region, it feels like it’s going to be summer forever).

With the end of the month comes times to wrap up another skill in our year-long Mastery Challenge. We focused on fruit butters this time around. If you haven’t yet made a batch, there’s still time. Consult the intro post for inspiration and get to simmering!

If you want to be counted in the September tally and included in the round-up, please use this form to submit your project by Saturday, September 30 . The form is below! If you can’t see it, you can also reach the form right here.

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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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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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May Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Cold Pack Preserving

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The May cold pack challenge is over and it’s time to round-up our results. This challenge wasn’t as popular as those in past months, which I sort of expected. Cold pack preserving isn’t as exciting as some of the other skills we’ve tackled, and for lots of you, it was hard to find good seasonal produce which was appropriate for cold packing. Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice for May. Live and learn!

This month, just 92 people submitted their finished projects. Asparagus was the most popular ingredient to cold pack (which is appropriate since it was in season in many parts of the country in May). Other popular varieties of produce last month were Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans, jalapeños, okra, red onion, and tomatoes.

From the data that you all reported this month, it looks like most of you weren’t moved to make more than one batch. However, from the optional comments, it sounds like a lot of you are looking forward to trying out this skill later in the season when there’s more that’s appropriate for cold packing.

One thing that I found interesting was that many of the participants felt mixed towards cold packing at the start of the challenge. Which I get. It’s not one of the sexier food preservation skills.

Happily, those of you who tried it seemed to shift to the more positive end of the spectrum by the end of the month. Which is always what I’m hoping for!

Here’s hoping that the June jam challenge will appeal to a larger swath of folks and that our participation numbers will be back up in the next month!

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Veg

Fruit

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Cold Pack Canning for the May Mastery Challenge

It is the start of May, and that means it’s time to tackle a new food preservation skill. This month, we’re turning our focus to cold pack preserving.

What is a cold pack?

Also known as raw pack, to cold pack something simply means something that it put into jars while cold and uncooked. If you’ve made dilly beans or garlic dill pickle spears, you’ve already tried your hand at a cold pack. Other things that get cold packed a lot are peaches, pears, and tomatoes that are peeled but uncooked, pickled vegetables where you’re trying to retain their crunch, and much of what goes into a pressure canner.

Why cold pack?

  1. The primary reason to choose this style of preservation is to retain texture. When fruits and vegetables go into the jars raw, they don’t spend as much time in contact with heat, which means that they don’t cook as much. That leads to a crisper, firmer texture.
  2. The secondary appeal of the cold pack is speed. Food gets peeled, pared, packed into the jars, topped with either water, brine, fruit juice, syrup, and goes into the canning pot.

What are the downsides?

    1. There is often some likelihood of liquid loss. Raw produce often contains tiny pockets of air. As the produce cooks while undergoing the canning process, some of that air is released into the jar. That air then heads for top of the jar in order to escape the container (physics at work!). But because it often has to travel the length of the jar, it often pushes liquid out with it in its rush to escape the vessel. It’s frustrating but entirely normal.
    2. Product shrinkage. You worked so hard to squeeze as many peach halves into the jar as possible, but now having taken the jars out of the canner, you see that what had been a tightly packed jar now has two inches of liquid at the bottom. The fruit has reduced in mass and is floating up towards the lid. It’s not dangerous and as long as the lids are tightly sealed, the fruit is safe to eat. They’re just not as pretty for displaying on your kitchen shelves.

  1. Surface discoloration. When you have some liquid loss and product shrinkage, you will often also see some surface discoloration occur over time. This typically manifests as a generalized darkening of the product that is un-submerged or that is in contact with the empty portion of the jar. It’s not dangerous, but that darkened portion does lose flavor more rapidly than the balance of the jar. If I find a jar in this state, I scrape, trim or otherwise discard the darkened portion before tucking in.

The goal for this month is…

Simply to get to know the cold pack technique and figure out where it functions best. We’ll be exploring hot packing in July (which I think of as the other side of the jar packing coin), so hopefully you’ll start to see how the two styles work together and can serve in equal measure.

Recipes

Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.

And here are some options from elsewhere.

Finally, use this challenge as a chance to read through a preserving cookbook or two. You’ll find cold pack preservation at play in any number of different recipes, so do a little exploring!

The deadline for this challenge is Tuesday, May 30. Submission link coming soon!

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