by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO- A wise old friend once told me she didn’t can vegetables, only fruits. She said if something went wrong and bacteria grew, you’d likely only end up with fermented fruit. But if canned vegetables spoil, the result can be botulism, a rare but serious illness caused by a nerve toxin found in improperly canned foods. On the other hand, my mother canned everything we grew in our large garden, as well as venison. She processed a couple hundred quarts of food each autumn. As I did my research on the subject, I realized that I, my mother who taught me, and most likely her mother who taught her have not canned foods the “USDA” way and, by rights, should have inadvertently poisoned our respective families long ago. Since that hasn’t happened, I will continue to can the way mom showed me, and I will pass along those methods to my daughter.
When you think about the labor and materials required to can foods, not to mention the cost of the produce if you have to buy it, it doesn’t make much sense economically to preserve foods by canning. However, when you preserve your own foods, you have complete control over how many worms, beetles, flies and other foreign materials get into your food. This is not the case when you purchase canned vegetables in the grocery store. The FDA has a tolerance guide for the food processing industry. When foods are processed on a mass scale, it is inevitable that some worms, beetles, dirt or even rat hairs make it into the cans along with the foods. To see the entire list of foods and allowed defects, go to: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/dalbook.html.
In our kitchen, we can mostly tomatoes, some green beans when the crop is good, pickles, peppers and several kinds of jam. Using tomatoes as an example, we meticulously clean them and chop away any signs of spoilage, bugs or worms, using a zero tolerance policy.
If you want to learn about home canning, there are a number of Internet sources. The University of Georgia WebCT system has a self-paced online course that educates about canning and the difference between canning acid foods versus low-acid foods: www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_home.html. There are also some excellent books: Canning and Preserving for Dummies, by Karen Ward; the Blue Book on Preserving, by the Ball Company; Preserving Summer’s Bounty, by Rodale Press; and Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving, by the US Department of Agriculture.
Most instructions advocate that low-acid vegetables and meats must be processed in a pressure canner for a relatively long period of time. If you’ve moved to this area and already are familiar with canning foods, you will need to make one definite change due to the altitude. Water boils at a lower temperature here, so the processing time will need to be increased for boiling water bath canning.
If you follow the tried-and-true rules, you can preserve autumn’s bounty and enjoy the fruits of your summer labor all winter long.