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The Art of Canning and Preserving: Making things last from your summer garden!

As people are starting to become more conscientious about what they eat and how their food is processed, summer gardens are popping up all over the place. As many of you who have had gardens know, tomatoes and courgettes grow all summer long but then the plants die and you must return to the grocery store. One of the best ways to make your summer garden last is to take up canning and preserving. I have many fond memories of standing in the kitchen with my mother making sauces, jams and pickle relish (and even fonder memories of eating my mother's homemade spaghetti sauce and crab apple jam). Thus, I would like to impart on you the basics of canning.

 

Jars with food

The first and most important rule of canning is hygiene - canning is all about boiling and boiling some more. First, the jars must be sterilized (my mother always cheated, putting hers in the dishwasher), then the food mixture must be mixed and boiled for some time, and finally the filled jars must be boiled. Now it must be said that part of the reason for boiling the filled jars is to help the tops vacuum seal to the edges of the glass. You will know when they are done because they make a satisfying POP! noise when finished.

Sauces require less boiling than jams and preserves do because of the nature of the sugar in jams and preserves. Traditionally, jams were made with a sugar mixture that through boiling became supersaturated (forcing the water to dissolve more sugar than normal due to high heat). Today you can buy pectin products (like SureJel) which will require you to boil your sweet preserves for less time. All the same, jams take a while.

Sauces just need to be heated until they boil hard. With sauces it is important to get them to a hard boil because this ensures that you have killed off all of the bacteria in the sauce prior to preserving it. As you know, making sauce from scratch and eating fresh vegetables will not make you sick if you eat them immediately, but canning allows you to store food for months at a time, thus a small culture of bacteria could easily multiply into something that could make you very sick.

For beginner's recipes I would consult sites like dmoz.org. These types of sites are network-based and will have reviews and tips on them from people who have tried the recipes. Also basic cooking books should include in their introductions a section on canning and preserving.

This will give you step-by-step instructions for how to make the wonderful treats. If push comes to shove, there are always supermarkets and gourmet hampers. Either by going out yourself or having a hamper delivered to your doorstep you can still enjoy canned preserves, although you might have to eat your entire summer garden produced by October.

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