It's that time of year again - summertime harvest season. I love preserving foods, because you get to have complete control over the food that you grow or buy, and preserve it in fun and interesting ways. Although pressure canning is one way to preserve foods - especially those that are low in acid (such as meats, fish, and most vegetables) - you can also hot water bath can many of the foods that are plentiful in the summertime.
One high acid food that is easy to can using the hot water bath method is tomatoes. Tomatoes can be made into salsas, sauce, stewed tomatoes, and much more. It's acidic enough to resist botulism, so they don’t need to be pressure canned.
All you need is:
These items can be picked up at most Ace hardware stores, or can be purchased online. Lehman’s has a great selection of canning supplies, where you can purchase lids in a massive sleeve much cheaper per unit than the smaller boxes.
Just a note on the lids - you cannot reuse lids that have already been used to can food. That is because they have a special sealing compound that makes the seal work. Once it has been used, it will not make a good enough seal to prevent contamination. You also want to start with clean jars. In order to sanitize them, you can wash them in the dishwasher on high heat dry, or you can boil them in a pot prior to filling them. This is a good practice, because if you are cooking the tomatoes and packing the jars hot, if you pour your tomatoes into cold jars, the temperature difference will cause them to crack and break.
Once your tomatoes are cooked how you want them, pour them into the hot jars. There is a special jar funnel that is shaped to the size of the mouth of your jar. This keeps your rim of your jar cleaner and makes for easier clean-up. Leave about ½ inch to ¾ inch headspace on the jar, and then put a lid and jar band on them. I like to soften up the sealing compound by boiling the lids for a few minutes prior to putting them on the jars. Make sure to wipe the rim of the jar prior to putting the lid on to ensure that you have a good seal. Then, you put the band on - not too tight.
Now, the fun part - the canning process. Fill a large pot with hot water and put your canning basket inside. Put your jars in and make sure they are submerged in the water. Cover and bring to boil. The cooking time depends on your product and whether or not you have pre-cooked the food prior to filling your jars. Check your recipe for the right cooking time. A great resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation online at: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can3_tomato.html. To check to make sure that the jars have sealed, tap the lid with a spoon, or press down on the lid with your finger. If they are sucked down and do not spring back up, they are sealed.
Home canned vegetables makes a fun gift. They also look beautiful in your cupboard, and are a great way to preserve foods that are plentiful at certain times of the year.