CANNING- forgotten art or the way of the future
Many of us remember the days of cautious trips down into dark cellars with friends or family, passing rows of mysterious jars, sporting labels and dates, on the way to other cellar treasures. But is canning and preserving important now in our abundant times?
As we, as a culture, explore issues of food safety, sustainability and local food sourcing, canning can be a great way to provide for your family, make meaningful gifts, and start new traditions. Canning, for me, was the natural progression of a bountiful garden, after my first try I was hooked!
Like anything done in the kitchen, canning combines art, science and taste. The art of canning survives to this day and though there are freezer pickle recipes, and instant brining packets available on the market, they pale in comparison to the taste of time honored recipes and procedures. Science plays a big role as well. The process of canning has been refined into strict guidelines to keep us safe from food contamination. The final element, taste, is where the creativity involved in making a recipe your own can really be challenging. My friend and I have a salsa recipe that has been evolving for the past ten years! Our personal taste dictates our choice in the effort, is it relish, pickles, salsa, or chutney that you crave to bring back the taste of the sleeping garden.
Canning is a labor of love with immense personal satisfaction that begins with the proper equipment, a proven recipe and the willingness to try. When I first began canning in the mid ‘80’s, I followed guidelines in Joy of Cooking and information provided by the County Extension Service. The most time consuming part is assembling equipment, jars, produce and spices, once the process begins you don’t want to have to run out for things, organization is key. Only the best produce, scrubbed clean and dried should be used for canning, hopefully within 48 hours of picking. I also find that having more than is called for on hand a good idea. Measuring produce before chopping or processing can be very deceptive. Even after all these years I find it hard to match the amounts called for and the recipe yields of finished jars. So I have extra jars on hand as well.
Canning equipment needs to be glass; enamel or stainless steel and sparkling clean to start. Dishwashers can be handy to clean jars, as all should be washed before sterilizing.
I find wide mouth jars easier to fill, ‘must haves’ include a canning pot, with removable insert, for boiling water bath processing, and a jar grasping tool which enhances safety. Food processors can be labor saving, and create uniform pieces which is important. However, be careful not to over-process. Texture and shape is important in some recipes, when I make piccalilli I like long thin pieces, which can only be done by hand.
When looking for recipes, terms like short brine (1 to 24 hours), boiling water bath (the process by which jars are sealed), pickling salt (additive free), 5% acetic acid vinegar (most prepared apple cider and distilled white vinegar) should be understood and followed. Guidelines for filling jars, washing, sterilizing, maintaining proper head space (1/4” – ½” between liquid and lid), and creating a sterile field for working space are also important.
Some recipes can be done in a short time, requiring the packing of hot, sterile jars with raw produce then pouring a prepared, hot brining solution to the proper level in the jar before processing. Other recipes require salting down the produce overnight, then simmering in the brining solution for up to an hour before packing into jars. I always wipe the top of the jar with a clean damp cloth or paper towel before putting on the sterilized top so that the sealing surface is clean. The screw band is then put on and just tightened enough to hold the lid in place. Then, keeping the jar level, it is put into the canning pot insert. When full with jars the insert is submerged in the boiling water for 15 minutes.
After processing the jars are taken out- again keeping as level as possible, and I set them gently on a doubled towel on the countertop. I blot away any water sitting on the top of the jar and leave them to cool. It is important not to bump the jars, as they may break easily when hot, they should also not be set in a drafty spot, as quick temperature changes may cause cracking. With proper care jars will last a lifetime, bands and lids should be replaced each batch. As the jars cool you may here popping sounds, this is normal as the metal lids seal.
When totally cool, inspect each jar, hand tighten the bands, and gently tap the center of each lid. You should hear a dull thud. If it sounds hollow or is raised in the center, it didn’t seal. Unsealed jars can be put into the refrigerator and eaten right away. Store any sealed jars in a cool, dark place after labeling and dating. Most recipes benefit from resting for 4-6 weeks before serving.
I hope you’ll try canning and start a secret recipe of your own. It’s fun to do with a friend or two and split the results. After a few times of practice you can fill your pantry in a week end or two, I usually have two or three recipes going at once, timing them out so that as one batch simmers another is being processed, while the third is salting down. The rows of jars still hold mystery for me that my taste buds love to explore!
Native Hearts Returning
To the North and East a deep shimmering bay, surrounded by steep cliffs tapering to sandy dunes and endless sea. To the South and West, islands near and far, warmer waters that stay through the tidal flow. Throughout all, great marshes and cedar swamps the birthplaces of the abundance that exists on tidal flats, in brackish ponds, kettle ponds and tidal rivers. Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties. Natocke, Coonamesset, Wequassett, Shawme, Cataumet, Cummaquid, Tonset, Monomoyick. The names roll off the tongue in strange syllables but remain in the mind as it searches for meaning.
It is a time of transition in which we live on these lands; we begin as a culture and individually to remember. Remember what you say? Our bodies remember, our cell memory reminds us of the connection to the Earth and Sea as the source of our sustenance and the Creator as the source of our knowing. Many traditions have spoken of this time of change. The Mayan Calendar, the prophecies of the Inca and the Navaho, Hopi, Lakota, and Tibet. They speak of an awakening of the Native Heart, of knowing that all life comes from the Earth and a respect for its diversity. Of a uniting of the Eagle and the Condor, the heart and the mind functioning together. Of choices to be made for our survival, the survival of the human race, for we know that the Earth will survive.
We have such gifts here on these lands of rhythm and balance, tides and moons so visible on the horizon. What a treat it is to stand on the beach and watch the sunset and the moonrise simultaneously over the land and the sea. To be conscious of the cycles of cold and heat, green and gray, mist and wind.
That “all spirit arises from the land’ is a common theme of indigenous cultures, we are now ‘going green’, its hip to be conscious of your food and where it comes from, to conserve energy and gas, locavore was the word of the year in 2007. These all show movement toward the change in mindset and awakening of the native heart.
The original inhabitants of this land knew its rhythms; they had winter camps and summer camps. Our ancestors always looked to the next season and provided for each member of the community for survival alone was improbable. We have learned isolation, disconnection and the hoarding of material goods, but most of us couldn’t feed ourselves from the Earth for a day let alone a season. Farmers and farmers markets are now rising to the forefront. Those of us who have worked the land for years are ready to offer its bounty and teach those who are willing to reconnect. Edible landscapes need to replace the costly ornamental expanses of most yards. Learning to ‘put food by’ may become a necessity for some and our version of ‘victory gardens’ will become common.
Southeastern Massachusetts is home to the ‘people of the dawn’ or ‘people of the first light’ the Wampanoag. With our native hearts awakening, will we be part of bringing the wholeness, wisdom and light to our home, this fragile spit of land, or will we remain in the dark. Will we be part of the solution or continue to be part of the problem. Will we learn to be in harmony with the land and live from the land in sustainable ways or will we continue to rely on fossil fuels, produce flown in from other continents, and overflowing land fills. Awaken…, breathe deep…, awaken your heart.
Cedar Spring Herb Farm, 159 Long Pond Drive, Harwich, MA 02645