History and Common Use
Canning food has been a popular method of food preservation since Napoleon's time. Napoleon offered cash to any person who could devise a method of preserving food, to help to ensure that his armies were able to eat while in battle. Canning has since become an easy and reliable way to preserve and protect food from the natural degradation and bacterial infestation problems previously experienced in food storage.
Many people can to preserve garden vegetables and homegrown meats. Home canning is very safe provided that some guidelines are followed to prohibit growth of dangerous microorganisms and spoilage. Botulism is especially common in improperly packed canned goods, and canned goods must be made of the freshest ingredients.
Home Canning Methods
Home canning can be carried out in two separate ways: the boiling water bath and the pressure canning method. Both methods can be done easily in the home with an electric or gas stove, a thermometer, canning jars or bottles and sealed lids. The pressure canning method requires a pressure cooker. Foods with higher acidity, such as citrus fruits, can be canned without any additions aside from water. Lower acidity foods, like tomatoes, require the addition of a citric acid to prevent spoilage over time, but can also be canned using the boiling water method. Other low acidity foods, such as meat and dairy, must be canned using the pressure canning method, as adding acid would break down the taste and quality of the product.
Water Bath Method
The boiling water bath method is simple, requiring a pan with a rack or dishtowels packed in the bottom to create an even heat distribution within the contents of the jars. Dishtowels or a canning rack are also necessary to prevent the jars from bumping into one another and cracking. The jars are packed and covered with a canning lid that uses wax to seal the jars during the heating process. Water is poured over the canning jars, allowing 1 to 2 inches of water to cover them, and the water is brought to a boiling temperature. For acidic fruits and vegetables, a temperature of 180 to 212 degrees F should be reached and maintained for 5 to 85 minutes, depending on the fruit.
Pressure canning methods are used for low acidity foods that cannot have their pH raised above 4.6 without compromising taste. Pressure canning uses a special pot that can be sealed to keep steam in. The lid can be vented and has a gauge to display canning pressure, as pressure is especially important in the preservation of meats and other low-acid foods. Similar to the water bath method, the jars should be placed on a rack or dishtowels to prevent jars from breaking or touching the bottom of the pot. Low acidity foods should be processed at a temperature of 240 to 250 degrees F, or pressure of 10 to 15 lbs. per square inch, easily measurable from the pressure gauge on the lid of the pot. Pressure canning times range from 20 to 100 minutes.
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