Canning Food - The Basics
GETTING READY TO CAN
Before the World War, housewives had lost the good habit of canning, preserving and pickling. It was easier to buy California fruits by the case and canned vegetables by the dozen or half dozen cans, according to the size of the family. There is no doubt it was cheaper and decidedly easier to purchase canned fruits, vegetables, greens, soups and meats than to take time and strength in the very hottest season of the year to do our own canning.
But what was true then is not true now. The war taught us thrift. The crime of wasting even a few tomatoes or berries has sunk into our minds to stay forever; scientific canning methods have been adopted by the modern woman. Women who had never canned in days before the war had to can during war days. Food was so scarce and so high in price that to buy fancy or even plain canned products was a severe strain on the average housewife's purse. The American woman, as was to be expected, came quickly and eagerly to the front with the solution and the slogan: "More gardens and more canning and preserving at home."
A great garden and canning movement swept the whole country. As I have just said, women who had never canned before became vitally interested in putting up not merely a few jars of this and that, but jars upon jars of canned fruits, vegetables and greens; and so great was their delight in the finished products that again and again I heard them say: "Never again shall we depend upon the grocery to supply us with canned goods."
If these women had been obliged to use the same methods that their grandmothers used before them, they would have canned just the same, because it was their patriotic duty to do so; but they would have canned without the enthusiasm and zeal that was so apparent during the summers of 1917 and 1918. This enthusiasm was a result of new canning methods, methods unknown to our grandmothers. The women of to-day were forced into a new field and learned how satisfying and well worth while the results were. It is safe to guarantee that every home-canning recruit will become a home-canning veteran.
The fascination of doing one's own canning after one has learned how simple and economical it is will be lasting. No one need fear that home canning is going to suffer because the war ended the immediate necessity for it. Home canning has come into its own because of the war, and it has come to stay because of its many merits.
There are four methods of canning that are employed by women all over the United States. They are the "open-kettle," the "intermittent," the "cold-water" and the "cold-pack" methods.
DRAWBACKS OF THE OLD METHODS
The "open-kettle," or "hot-pack," method is the oldest. It was largely used in the pre-war days. The food is completely cooked in the preserving kettle, and is then packed into hot, sterilized jars, after which the jars are sealed. As the packing into the jar is done after the sterilization has been completed, there is always a possibility of bacteria and spores entering the jar with the cooked food and the air. Fruits can be handled successfully in this way, but this method cannot be used for vegetables, greens and meats. It is a very laborious, hot and hard way to can. Modern housewives are discarding it more and more every year and are beginning to place their trust in the newer and far more scientific methods of canning.
The "intermittent," or fractional sterilization, method is still beloved by some people who cling to the sure and hate to venture into the new. Vegetables can be handled by this method as can all fruits and meats. It is used rather extensively in the South, where they say the conditions do not favor "cold-pack." The great objection to this method of canning is that it requires three periods of sterilization on three different days and three "liftings" of jars in and out of the sterilizer.
What is sometimes called the "cold-water" method of canning should not be confused with the "cold-pack" method. The "cold-water" is often used in connection with the canning of rhubarb, green gooseberries and a comparatively few other sour berry fruits. If the "cold-water" method is used we would suggest that the product be thoroughly washed, placed in a strainer, scalding water poured over it, and the product then packed at once, in practically a fresh state, in the jars, and clean, cold water applied until the jars are filled. If these steps are taken carefully and quickly the method in most cases will be successful with such acid products as I mentioned. As the products will have to be cooked before they can be used many housewives do not consider it any saving of time or labor to follow this method.
THE COLD-PACK METHOD
The method of to-day that came into its own during the war is known as the "cold-pack" method of canning. It fought a long fight to prove that it was a very efficient, economical and satisfactory process for busy housewives to can everything that grows.
This is the method that I shall mostly refer to in this book, and if I should omit the phrase "cold-pack" you will know that I am referring to it. "Cold-pack" simply means that the products are packed cold in their fresh and natural state in the glass jars or containers. To the fruits hot sirup is applied; to the vegetables hot water and a little salt are added. The sterilization is done in the glass jars or tin containers after they are partly or entirely sealed, making it practically impossible for bacteria or spores to enter after the product has once been carefully sterilized or cooked. In following this method vegetables should first be blanched in boiling water or live steam, then quickly plunged into cold water and the skins removed. The products are then packed in containers and sterilized according to the instructions and recipes given later.
When we use the term sterilizing we simply mean cooking the product for a certain period of time after the jar has been filled with food. It is sometimes called processing. Sterilizing, processing, boiling and cooking are all interchangeable terms and mean one and the same thing.
By this "cold-pack," or cold-fill, method of canning, all food products, including fruits, vegetables and meats, can be successfully sterilized in a single period with but one handling of the product in and out of the "canner".
All the flavor is retained, the product is not cooked to a mushy pulp, and the labor and time needed for the canning are less than in any other method. The housewife's canning enemy, mold, is eliminated and all bacteria and bacterial spores which cause vegetables and meat to spoil are destroyed.
EXPENSIVE OUTFITS NOT ESSENTIAL
For this "cold-pack" method you can use whatever equipment you have in the kitchen. Complicated equipment is not essential. Many of us have purchased commercial outfits, for we know we can turn out more at the end of a day and have found it well worth while to invest a few dollars in equipment that enabled us to be more efficient. But if you are a beginner and do not care to put any money in an unknown venture use the available things at hand, just to prove to yourself and others that it can be done.
Every type of glass jar manufactured can be used except those which are sealed with wax. So dig into your storerooms, attics and basements and bring forth all your old jars. If a top is in good condition and will make a perfect seal when adjusted with a good rubber you can use that jar.
If the tops cannot be restored to good condition it is poor economy to use them. Imperfectly sealed jars are probably responsible for more spoiled canned goods than any other cause. Good tops and good rubbers are requisites for good canning.
For your canner, or sterilizer, you may use a wash boiler or a galvanized bucket, such as is used for a garbage pail—a new one, of course. Either is excellent where the family is small and the canning is accordingly light. Some use the reservoir of the cook stove while others employ a large vat. If you should have to buy the wash boiler or pail see that it has a tight-fitting cover and be sure the pail does not leak. Then all you have to do is to secure what we call a false bottom, something that will keep the jars of fruit from touching the direct bottom of the boiler or pail. This false bottom, remember, is absolutely necessary, for without it the jars will break during the boiling.
For this false bottom use a wire netting of half-inch mesh and cut it to fit the bottom of the sterilizer, whether boiler, pail or bucket. If you haven't any netting and do not care to purchase it a wooden bottom can be made to fit the sterilizer, or if that is not available put thin pieces of wood in the bottom—anything to keep the jars from coming in direct contact with the bottom of the sterilizer.
If you have only a small quantity of berries or fruit to can use a deep saucepan with a tight-fitting cover and a few slats of wood. This rack is absolutely necessary to keep the contents of the jars from becoming overheated. Even if they should not break there is a tendency for part of the contents to escape under the cover and be lost. Do not use hay, old clothes, newspapers or excelsior for a false bottom; they are unsatisfactory because they do not allow proper circulation of water.
Individual jar holders are very convenient and are preferred by many women to the racks. Inexpensive racks with handles are on the market and are worth what they cost in saved nerves and un-burned fingers. Some hold eight jars, others hold twelve. So it just lies with you, individual housekeeper, whether you want a rack that will hold all your jars or a set of individual holders that handles them separately.
To return to the subject of the canner, let me add that no matter what kind you use, it must be at least three inches deeper than the tallest jar. This will give room for the rack and an extra inch or two so that the water will not boil over.
Besides the canners, the jars, the rubber rings and the rack you will need one kettle for boiling water, into which the product may be put for scalding or blanching; another kettle for water—if you haven't running water—for the "cold dip."
If you use a homemade rack without handles you should have a jar lifter of some kind for placing in and removing jars from the canner. If individual holders are used this is not necessary, as they contain an upright bail. Some women use a wire potato masher for lifting the jars out of the canners. Other kitchen equipment, such as scales, knives, spoons, wire basket or a piece of cheesecloth or muslin for blanching or scalding the product, and the kitchen clock play their part in canning.
No canning powder or any preservative is needed. If the product is cooked in closed jars in the hot-water bath as directed the food will be sterilized so that it will keep indefinitely. If it is desired to add salt, sugar, syrup, vinegar or other flavor this may be done when the product is packed in the jar.
A great many people have been led to believe through advertising matter that it is both safe and practical to use canning compounds for the preserving of vegetables which have proved hard to keep under the commonly known methods of canning. The first argument against the use of a canning compound is that it is unnecessary. It is possible to sterilize any fruit or vegetable which grows on tree, vine, shrub or in the ground by this cold-pack, single-period method of canning, without the use of a compound. The second argument against it is that many of the canning compounds are positively harmful to health. Some of them contain as high as ninety-five per cent of boric acid. Directors of county and state fairs should exclude from entry all fruits and vegetables that have been preserved in any canning compound. Perfect fruit can be produced without any chemical preservative. The third argument is that they are expensive.
There are many modifications of the original wash boiler and garbage pail cookers. These are all known as the hot-water-bath outfits. In these outfits the products are all cooked in boiling water.
There are condensed-steam cookers under various names, where the product is cooked in condensed steam. These steamers are generally used for everyday cookery.
The water-seal outfit, the steam-pressure outfit and the aluminum pressure cooker follow in order of efficiency as regards the time required to sterilize food.
Following the hot-water canner in simplicity of construction and manipulation is the water-seal cooker. The temperature of the hot-water-seal outfit is a little higher than the homemade or hot-water-bath outfit; so time is saved in the sterilizing.
The steam-pressure and the pressure cookers are more complicated but more efficient. Some prefer the aluminum pressure cooker because it can be used for everyday cooking in the home.
Pressure cookers are expensive, but they are worth their price, as they are used daily and not just during the canning season.
Here are examples of how they rank as to time required: In a hot-water-bath outfit soft fruits must be sterilized sixteen minutes; in a steamer, sixteen minutes; in a water-seal outfit, twelve minutes; in a steam-pressure-outfit under five pounds of steam, ten minutes; in an aluminum pressure cooker outfit with ten pounds of steam, five minutes.
It takes longest to can with a homemade or hot-water-bath outfit; the shortest and quickest method is with the pressure cooker that has a pressure of ten pounds or more. Each housewife has different financial problems, different hours of working and different ways of working. Where quick work is desired and expense is no item the pressure cooker is advisable; where money is scarce and time is no object the homemade outfit answers. Each one must decide which outfit is best for her own particular case. It matters not which outfit you have—they have all been thoroughly tested and approved by experts. Each one does the work.
This equipment for canning should be in all kitchens: four-quart kettle for blanching; steamer for steaming greens; colander; quart measure; funnel; good rubber rings; sharp paring knives; jar opener; wire basket and a piece of cheesecloth one yard square for blanching; pineapple scissors; one large preserving spoon; one tablespoon; one teaspoon; one set of measuring spoons; measuring cup; jar lifter; either a rack for several jars or individual jar holders; and a clock.
The manufacturers, realizing that boys and girls must be kept busy during the vacation months, have made some wonderful devices for outdoor canning. Would it not be a good plan to buy one for the young people of your family and give them something definite and worth while to do in summer? You know little brains and hands must be kept busy—if not usefully employed they are often inclined to mischief. This type of cooker furnishes its own heat; so it can be used in the back yard, in the orchard or under the trees in the front yard.
Remember that the higher the altitude the lower the degree of heat required to boil water. Time-tables given in instructions for canning are usually based upon the requirements of an altitude of 500 feet above sea level. Generally speaking, for every 4000-foot increase in altitude it will be well to add twenty per cent to the time required as given in recipes or time schedules for the canning of all kinds of fruits, vegetables, greens and meats.