In Grandma's day, this canning process was called “putting up” food. Before freezers, the best way to capture the bounty of each season was to preserve foods at home. Although the process is called canning, it's done in glass jars rather than tin cans. All the recipes in this chapter can be refrigerated for up to three weeks without the step of sterilizing the food. If you want a longer shelf life that doesn't require refrigeration—canning—then you need to know the process for sterilizing.
The Right Stuff
You can't just use any old jar for canning. There are special jars made just for canning—and special lids. The lids are really two parts: the round disk center and the metal screw band with a rubber insert. The rubber insert forms a vacuum seal. You'll find the right jars in most supermarkets as well as kitchen specialty stores.
Hot Bath for Health
In preparation for canning, wash the jars and all parts of the lids in hot, soapy water. Place a metal rack into a large pot and place the jars on the rack. The jars should not sit directly on the bottom of the pot, or they might break from the heat.
Add hot water to cover by 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Leave the jars in the hot water. Put the lids and screw bands in another pot and bring the water to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, and leave the lids submerged until ready to use.
The jars are now ready to fill. If you're expecting to eat the food in a few weeks and don't need to know about further sterilization, skip the next few sections and go right to the recipes.
Drain one jar at a time using tongs and spoon the filling to within ¼ inch of the top so that the level is correct to create a vacuum seal. Wipe the rim clean with a damp hot towel, then drain a lid and screw band and seal the jar tightly. Do one jar at a time, so the jars and lids stay submerged in water until they are filled.
Now comes the processing. Put the filled, sealed jars on a rack in a large pot, making sure that the jars do not touch one another. Pour boiling water over them by at least 1 inch, and boil the jars over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the water bath with tongs, and let them cool on a rack.
Once the jars are cool, press down on the button in the center of the lid with your finger. If the button stays down, the jar is sealed and can be stored in a cool place for up to a year. If it pops back up, refrigerate the jar and enjoy the contents within a few weeks.
This last part is also important to know about every jar you buy in a supermarket. If the button in the center of the lid has popped up, the seal is broken. Don't buy it because the contents could be contaminated. Check your pantry frequently to make sure that all the buttons are still down, and discard any food if the button has popped up.