Can like you mean it by Peggy Walker

A friend sent DW home with a small load of cucumbers last night.  Our (really DW’s) garden is small this year with only tomatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers, so we’ll be searching out fresh produce at the local farmer’s market for canning and eating.  My stock of home canned goods is getting rather low. I didn’t can anything last summer and we love our pickles.  Soon, I’ll be on the look out for just the right ones. But tonight for supper we’ll have sliced cukes on the side, oh I love that crunch with most any other vegetable.

If you’re going to go to all the trouble of canning you might as well go for 1st place!  (Even if you never enter a contest or plan to show at the fair.)  Don’t settle for anything less. For results that are blue ribbon worthy here’s what the judges would be looking for:

• Freshest of ingredients: unblemished, with no bruises, or evidence of decay.

• Regulation canning jars; no mayonnaise jars or other jars that are not meant to be exposed to repeated high temperatures. No chips, cracks, or breakage. 

• Recommended canning methods: hot-water bath canner or pressure canner.  Microwave, oven, nor dishwasher processing are neither safe nor acceptable.

• New lids and rust-free rings (screw bands) for best product sealing and staying sealed during storage.

• A good seal: any jar that is not sealed would automatically be disqualified. 

• Good product color: color changes result from not enough heat or processing to destroy enzymes, or over processing of product. Strict adherence to processing times is critical for good color.  Ground spices, too much spice, iodized salt, overcooking, use of iron utensils and minerals in water are reasons for dark pickles.

• Headspace:  Inadequate headspace can cause seal failure; too much causes food at the top to darken.  The right amount allows a vacuum to form during the processing which produces a good seal.

• Proper amount of liquid in jars: packing jars too full or too tightly, changing or lowering pressure in a pressure canner during processing, or not removing air bubbles from jars before processing cause liquid to be lost during processing.

• Evenly dispersed fruit:  floating fruit indicates the pack was too loose or the syrup too heavy or air might remain in tissues of fruit after heating and processing.  Floating fruit in jam indicates that the fruit was not fully ripe, not thoroughly crushed, not cooked long enough, or not properly packed in jars.

• Proper consistency of jams, jelly, preserves: soft jelly might have too much juice, too little sugar, not acid enough, or be caused by making too big of a batch at one time. Syrupy jelly can be caused by too little pectin, acid or sugar, or even too much sugar.  Jelly that’s too firm probably has too much pectin, or the fruit was not ripe enough, or was overcooked.

•No paraffin seals. Paraffin has the potential for mold growth.

•Labeled and dated jars.

Before you even get started take the time to get the most current and most reliable information on home canning.  You’ll find the answers to all your canning questions and USDA’s guidelines, at www.extension.msstate.edu where you can download The Complete Guide to Home Canning; and at the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia’s web site www.nchfp.uga.edu/ .  Both are excellent sites to bookmark.

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