With so many of us hanging around the home, this year has been the year of the house and garden, and many new vegetable gardens have been planted this spring. With every successful garden comes a new challenge, what to do with all of the produce that comes from it all at once.
With that very fact comes a renewed interest in home canning. Most of us have heard mention of a long-gone relation who religiously would put up fruits and vegetables yearly, but actually the practice never quite went away. Many people are discovering the community of home canning, and wide-ranging new recipes are making canning the latest trend.
While you do need some specific supplies to do your own canning, most are readily available, affordable, and can be used year after year. First, you need appropriate jars for the purpose. They should be designed specifically for home canning, be clean, and free of chips or cracks. Second, you need the corresponding lids, which will be discarded after use. Never reuse lids.
The last item you need is a pot to process the jars. What type of pot you need depends on what type of product you want to can. Products are grouped into acidic and not. Acidic items (tomatoes, pickles, fruits) need only a large pot with a rack to help circulate water around the jars. Low-acidic items (most other vegetables) need a special pressure canner and more exacting processing. Generally, most people start out with acidic items that can be boiling water bath canned.
Since food safety and the risk of botulism are factors, state extension services have always provided up-to-date resources on how to safely can at home. Educate yourself before you start at web.extension.illinois.edu/foodpreservation. You need not be afraid of the process, but rather appreciate that shortcuts should not be taken. Once you have learned safe canning methods, there is a diverse array of new recipes and ideas that can provide a taste of summer in the chilly months ahead.
Home canning is not the only way to preserve the harvest. Freezing is always a safe option to keep vegetables for long periods of time. Most vegetables need some sort of processing before you put them in the deep freeze, so be sure to check a cookbook to get the best methods. An abundance of fresh produce should not be an inconvenience, but rather a chance to learn a new skill that can allow you to enjoy your fresh-picked tasting homegrown vegetables in the depths of winter.
• Jim Stendler is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.