A little too frequently, I find myself standing mindlessly in front of my open cupboards and I am staring – perhaps even glaring – at my shelves. I glance suspiciously at the cans and condiments, boxes of dried beans and rice, jarred salsa and tomato paste, hot sauce and vinegar. Which one of you will go next? Who can I replace? What else can I officially add to my DIY list???
Canned goods beware: this year I earned my certificate in preservation, which means I can wield a pressure cooker and hot water bath almost as well as my pitchfork. After spending countless hours this summer/early fall processing pounds and pounds of peaches and tomatoes, plums and jam, pickles and chutneys… I learned a few things:
1. Old jars sometimes break in the pot. All the floaties look bad and yes you lost a jar AND fruit but the other jars? Perfectly fine. Store as usual.
2. Think hot hot hot. You want hot product going into hot [clean] jars topped with hot [new] lids going into hot water: It’s as simple as that!
3. Clear off your counters! Trust me: You WILL need the space.
4. Have an extra pot of hot water boiling – one you won’t think you need. You will need it to: pour over lids, heat your jars and/or add to your boiling water (to ensure the jars are always covered by at least 1 inch of hot boiling water while processing).
5. YES you need to add citric acid or bottled lemon juice to process tomatoes. This is because of the countless varieties of tomatoes – and we don’t know the exact acidity of each kind (unless you send it off for testing!). I use citric acid because I only need 1/4 teaspoon per pint versus 1 Tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint.
6. Forget all the fancy tools. Do you have a home canning kit? It would come complete with two tongs, a lid lifter, and a jar funnel. You can skip it: I just use waterproof industrial rubber gloves from Home Depot. They cost me $4. With the gloves: I hold hot jars, twist lids, place and remove jars from hot water.
7. “Finger tight.” What does that mean? You twist the rings on the jars and once they ‘stop’ you twist just a finger-tip more. Don’t over-tighten or the air won’t be able to escape from the jar during processing and either 1. it won’t seal or 2. the jar will explode during processing. Almost funny, but not quite.
8. One pound of tomatoes translates to approximately one pint of processed tomatoes.
9. You don’t need an official canning pot. Any large, deep pot will do. I use my pasta pot quite often – the insert is perfect for holding the jars. Two notes: 1. It must be deep enough for an inch of water above the tops of the jars and 2. Jars cannot rest on the bottom of your pot. Put in old jar rings tied with zip ties and/or whatever will suspend the jars just off the bottom of the pot.
This year I can happily say I replaced canned tomatoes with jars and jars of home-canned tomatoes. I replaced my salsa and make all my own jams and chutneys, I froze hoards of summer berries and pie filling, made DIY vanilla extract and brandied cherries. Already I am rubbing my hands together, scheming about which store-bought shelf items I will replace next year with homemade, farm-sourced DIY food.
And then I will pour a cocktail and toast myself. So grab some jars, and a large pot, boil some water and join me for a DIY canning toast. Are you in?