Friday, September 10, 2010

To Can or Not To Can...

For the record I had never touched canning equipment or even had a clue how to can until this past summer, thanks for my mom (and my own interest in some more traditional cooking concepts) I learned exactly how to can this summer. The produce available all summer long made the task so simple, everything from onion relish, onion marmalade, spicy tomato chutney, peach preserves, vanilla peach jam to tomatillo jam, strawberry rhubarb jam and of course many veggies that ended up in pickling brine! For a glimpse at the many things we canned, check out this set of pictures on mom's Flickr stream. By no means will this be the end of my canning adventures, merely the beginning, I think there might be some canning coming up for Xmas gifts too :)

Canning used to feel like something that maybe my great grandmother would have undertaken, it didn't interest me all that much because to me there were so many options for cooking with the fresh products available to me, why can them? Part of the allure for me comes from the fact that it's one of those lost arts (in my mind), something that historically speaking everyone used to do but it kind of fell from popularity. It seems the current economic situation has brought preservation of food back into vogue as this summer canning supplies were easy to find and canning was easy to see on TV cooking shows and in magazines. So how did it come about?

The canning process dates back to the late 18th century where the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert envisioned preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized if food is sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container, it will not spoil.

Nicolas Appert, developer of the canning process.

Oh the French, well thanks to Appert for his experimentation and development of the method, as all good things do, canning went through many iterations with the British using tin cans beginning in 1813 and some of our own American countrymen developing wholesale canning operations for commercial canning around the same time.

So the basic process here is that you cook/create the substance you plan to can (brine the pickles, make the jam, etc.) then you tightly put the lids on the jars and you boil them for a set amount of time. I have oversimplified things a bit but the idea is the same regardless of what you are canning. Canning can be done in one of two ways, first via a pressure cooker (those foods that must be canned this way include most veggies, meats, seafood, poultry and dairy products), or second, with a boiling water bath (foods that can be canned this way are highly acidic ones with a pH below 4.6,[1] such as fruits, pickled vegetables, or other foods to which acidic additives have been added).

While we canned lots of things and will likely be reprising our canning fiesta later in the year, for now we're just enjoying the fruits of our labor. To that end, I wanted to share a tomatillo jam that has been the dark horse of the canned goods here, it was the unexpected and yet very well liked recipe. It's delicious on warm cornbread, pork or poultry (not the fanciest picture here but it's sitting on a tasty pork tenderloin).

Tomatillo (or Ground Cherry) Jam
From The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich

3 lbs Tomtillos
4 Cups White Sugar

1. Remove the husks from the fruit, quarter or half them (depending on how large they are).
2. Place fruit in a large sauce pot, set pan over low heat and cover the pan. Cook the fruit, stirring occasionally, until it is soft. Mash it briefly with a potato masher. Remove the pan from the heat.
3. Stir in the sugar. Over medium heat, heat the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and boil the jam until a drop mounds in a chilled dish.
4. Ladle the jam into pint or half-pint mason jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed learning about the history of canning and the tomatillo jam sounds amazing!

grace said...

i learned how to can from my grandma and mom, and it's such a valuable knowledge! yes, it can be time-intensive, but it's totally worth it when i can pop open some blueberry jam in the dead of winter. :)

Kristen said...

We had been debating whether or not to try canning and just bought a pressure canner this week. We are going to start with tomato sauce and go from there.

Angie's Recipes said...

I don't can far just did with berries, and certain veggies...your tomatillo jam looks great!
Thanks for briefing the history of canning.

Reeni said...

I would really love to can! Especially tomatoes from my garden. Everything you made looks wonderful! How lucky you'll get to enjoy it for some time to come.