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Acid to Alkalai Chart for Canning
Canning is one method of preserving food (other preservation methods are introduced in our news from around the world column).

Canning is environmentally sound since no refrigerator or freezer is needed to keep the food fit to eat. Canning is one way to make use of vegetables, meat or fish harvested from your backyard farm. Could there be anything more wholesome, educational and environmentally friendly than raising and than preserving food? Recently my daughter and her friend said that the canned food I gave them was the best they had ever had...and they wanted to know when I could make more. Home canning can make that kind of an impact especially if you are canning meat, fish, fruit or vegetables from your backyard farm or an integrated micro farm like my backyard food production efforts.

Take a stroll through the grocery store you will find all sorts of jellies, jams, canned pickles, vegetables, meat and fish. Guess what? With the right equipment you can produce in your own kitchen any canned food you see on the grocery store shelves. You can also make it better than most anything you find in the store...just like my daughter and her friend found out!

Would you like to learn to use canning to preserve food? If so, for a modest investment you can begin preserving food from your backyard farm. Food that won't be preserved with unpronounceable chemicals or cooked until the flavor is gone.

What do you need to get started? First, you need to know that there are two methods for canning. The first is the boiling water bath method and the second is the pressure canning method. The USDA chart above is excerpted from the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning . The chart shows what foods can be preserved using the boiling water bath method and which foods MUST be preserved using a pressure cooker.

Something to think about is that a pressure canner can be used as a pressure cooker, a boiling water bath canner or as a large soup/stock pot.. You get three tools for the price of one and since cooking equipment takes up a lot of shelf space, one pot may be a better choice than three in many cases.

Plan on spending about $100 for an entry level pressure canning system. Pressure canners can be purchased in many places and are produced by many companies. Some people are afraid of pressure cookers but I don't believe there is much to worry about if using modern equipment. Pressure cookers today have pressure relief mechanisms which safeguard against an exploding pressure cooker. I personally use a small 4 pint capacity Fagor pressure cooker. I will likely upgrade soon so that I can pressure can larger batches of food which is much more efficient that preserving many small batches since canning times for low acid foods can an hour or more depending on the food. Recently I pressure canned some venison...it takes 90 minutes to pressure can 4 pints.

I recommend that anyone who wants to begin canning start with high acid foods like fruit preserve or pickled foods. The acid in vinegar or the fruit makes these foods relatively safe to can compared to venison or fish. I also recommend that people new to canning strictly adhere to recipes like those provided by the Ball Corporation. The Blue Book is no longer in print but the online resource is excellent. Visit Ball Corporation's canning recipe site for procedures and recipes that will make your friends and family keep coming back for more.

With both a water bath and pressure canning you will be able to can almost any food. Just think…food that begins in your backyard farm and travels a short distance to your kitchen cupboard; food on your table from your garden all year round.

Finally, a word of caution. Do not eat any food that becomes cloudy, has visible bacterial growth, has become unsealed or smells funny in any way...it is just not worth the risks for poisoning by bacteria that result from a small bit of inattention during the canning process. Put any damaged goods in the compost bin or bury them in the garden...and then promise yourself to be extra careful the next time. Remember what I always say, "If in doubt toss it out!"

The National Center for Home Food Preservation

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