Thursday, August 2, 2012

So You Think You Can Can???

I know canning seems like it belongs in the 1950s with ham balls, tomato apsic, and chicken a la king, but with a little research, you will discover that it's making a come back. I don't know why it ever fell out of favor; the advantages to home canning are clear: 
  1. The food is good. Really good. And all year round. (I could probably stop here.)
  2. You control exactly what goes into the jar. The same cannot be said for factory-canned products. 
  3. It is less expensive. (See my post on jam if you need some proof.)
  4. It's a really cool process. And one that you can brag about to your friends. (You actually might want to find some friends with whom you can can.)
Have I sold you yet? I don't know why not. Think of these next couple blog posts as a little primer on canning. And then, when you're ready, get on with your bad canner self. 

First of all, I am in no way an expert on canning. I have never even read a book about canning. What I'm going to write here is based on my first-hand experiences with the canner and the wealth of knowledge from my grandma, aunt, and mom. Now, I'm not saying there won't be an applesauce explosion in your kitchen, but the Clayton family has been canning for many generations, and we've never danced with the botulism devil. (Let's keep the streak alive.)

There are three types of canning that I have experience with:

  1. Pressure Canning (Requires special equipment. Will address this in a later post.)
  2. Water Bath Canning (Requires a large pot and a rack. The rack keeps the jars from touching the bottom of the pot.)
  3. Hot Jar Canning (Doesn't require much special equipment. We'll start here.)
Now you can't just can willy nilly. Every canning recipe will specify which method you should use. Let me reiterate here, let's keep this "no botulism streak" alive.

So, on to the recipe! We'll start with salsa. (A note on this salsa: It is not your typical pico de gallo. I think it's a little sweet and a little spicy and a whole lot delicious, but if you're condiment-picky, you might want to make a small batch or just ask me to try some.)

Salsa can be canned using method #3. In addition to the ingredients, you will need the following supplies:

  1. large stock pot
  2. 10 half pint jars, rings, and lids (You can reuse jars and rings, but not lids.)
  3. jar grabber or tongs
  4. fancy ring lifter OR magnet attached to string (Helps you avoid sticking your hand in boiling water.)
  5. wide-mouthed funnel
(Clearly you can buy your supplies on Amazon. Or you can buy them at a large grocery store.)

Before you start the process, go ahead and clear your calendar for the afternoon. (Or the rest of the weekend - salsa actually takes two days.) You don't want to be in the proverbial canning weeds when you have a date coming in five minutes! (It is important to note that the proverbial canning weeds is a place where tomato pulchritude shines, not human.)

The recipe starts here. FINALLY!

Grandma's Salsa

  • 3 quarts skinned, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (Use ripe tomatoes from the farmer's market. Otherwise it will not be worth the effort.)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
  • 3 cups chopped celery (Like I said, not your typical pico.)
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 T pepper
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (I use light.)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
Mix the first five ingredients and place in an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.
- Next day -

Drain the veggies well and place in a large pot. Do not force any juice out by pressing down; just let the vegetables let go of any juice they want to.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 35-45 minutes, or until it's to a thickness your heart desires. This is what my heart desires:

You could refrigerate it and eat it now, but it would probably only last a week. You need to can it. And I think you can can it.

While the mixture is cooking, you will want to prep everything for your canning.

1. Fill the large stock pot with water and put it on the stove. Gingerly place the clean half pint jars into the water and bring it to a boil. This step is two-fold. You want to sterilize the jars further and get the jars hot so the lids will adhere.

2. Fill a small pan with water and place the clean lids in there to boil as well. Again, the lids must be hot in order to adhere to the jars.

3. Get your rings, magnet, wide-mouthed funnel, a clean dishcloth, and a measuring cup (for dipping) at the ready.
- So the salsa is thick. The jars are hot. The lid pan is boiling. Do you think you can can? - 
4. Get a jar out of the stock pot with a jar grabber or tongs and dump the water.

5. Fill the jar with the salsa through the funnel.

6. Wipe the lid clean with the dishcloth. (I think you can figure out this step without a picture.)

7. Get out lid out of the lid pan (using the magnet) and place it on top of the jar.

8. Screw a ring around the top tightly. Use your dishcloth to hold the jar. It will be hot!

9. Continue filling, lidding, and screwing until the salsa is gone.

10. Leave the salsa on the counter. Within anywhere from two-sixty minutes, you should hear the beloved sound of canners everywhere. The POP! of the lid. This means that the jar is sealed. Once the jars have cooled, you can remove the rings and check the lids to see if they sealed. (You actually don't need to listen for the pops of all the jars.) Just run your finger along the edge. If it hasn't sealed, the lid will lift easily. You will know. Put those in the fridge and eat within a week or so.

11. Put away the sealed jars for a rainy day. Or later this afternoon when you're craving chips and salsa. Or tomorrow night when you'd like fajitas. Or next week when a quesadilla is calling your name.

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