Yes you ‘can’

Community Kitchen teaches canning, preservation methods
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Aug 15, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Courtney Crouse of Candler and Julie Murray of Canton chop jalapenos to make a canning salsa.

All eyes were on Julie Sawyer, a Haywood County Cooperative Extension Agent, on Wednesday morning at the Community Kitchen in Canton, where more than a dozen local residents came to learn how to can and preserve food.

During the class, Sawyer discussed two methods of canning, pressure canning and waterbath canning and explained when and why each method should be used. Canning is a method that applies heat to food in a closed glass canning jar to stop the natural spoilage that would otherwise take place. It works because the heat removes air from the jar to create a seal.

The class was part of a Giving Garden program — a raised-bed vegetable garden located behind the Canton Branch Library that is used to teach various aspects of gardening. It is an education-oriented joint initiative of the Haywood County Public Library, Haywood County Cooperative Extension Center, and the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program. The program is supported by the Friends of the Library and the Master Gardener Volunteer Association.

Sawyer said the method of canning should depend on the acidity of the foods being canned. High acid foods, such as fruit, are the best for water bath canning. However, for foods that are less acidic like figs, tomatoes and melons, pressure canning is best because it keeps bacteria out, Sawyer said.

“Bacteria will not grow in a high alkaline food,” she said. “If it’s low acid, it’s important to pressurize the can.”

Sawyer also warned of botulism, which is food poisoning caused by a bacterium growing on improperly sterilized canned meats and other preserved foods.

“You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but it can kill you,” she warned.

Sawyer also explained why temperature is important when pressure canning. She said for the jar to seal, it would need to reach 240 degrees and boiling water on a stove would only reach about 212 degrees at most. Altitude is also something to be mindful of, Sawyer said.

Sawyer said she didn’t recommend the open kettle method of canning — which involves putting boiling food into extremely hot jars and then sealing them. She said that method did not seal out bacteria, which could be unsafe for consumption.

“Just getting it hot will cause it to seal but you’ve not gone through the process of getting the bacteria out,” Sawyer said. “That’s why it’s important to actually go through the process.”

For pickling items, she also recommended using vinegar that had at least 5 percent acidity, which can be read on the label.

Canning jars are also a staple item, Sawyer said, because the jar was designed to withstand high heat — something that old mayonnaise jars and salsa jars are not made for.

The necessary items to can food includes a pressure canner, jars, a big pot that will allow room for 2 inches of water above the cans, a lid and a rack for the cans to sit on in the water. Some kits for canning can also be purchased at places like Walmart and Sav-Mor, which include a special rack, and utensils for retrieving the hot jars.

“You never want to just put the jars directly at the bottom,” Sawyer said. “And it’s also important to leave a certain amount of head space. Recipes are formed based on the amount of time it takes to drive the air out, so that’s why it’s important to have that head space.”

If using salt to season something, Sawyer said it’s also important to use canning salt because the iodine in regular salt will discolor food.

“But salt’s not necessary for things like tomatoes and green beans,” she said.

Sawyer also recommends purchasing citric acid to add when canning low acid foods like tomatoes because it helps the food become more acidic and be preserved better.

The class also hands-on time in the kitchen while making a homemade salsa and zucchini relish that Sawyer demonstrated how to can. The group followed the recipes that were handed out, and used fresh tomatoes donated from the Historic Haywood Farmer’s Market.

Courtney Crouse, of Candler, said she and her friend Julie Murray of Canton, attended the class because they both live on a farm and want to learn to put up things that they grow.

“We’re kind of olds souls — we like the way things used to be,” Crouse said while chopping up a jalapeno for the homemade salsa.

“I think everyone should know how to grow, cook and preserve their food — even in schools,” Murray said. “We’re very passionate about that.”

Sharon Myers of Bethel said she had taken other classes to learn how to can, but is still eager to learn and perfect her technique.

“What interests me is I want to catch up with the process and see if there’s anything new,” Myers said.

Myers said she hopes to use what she learned in the class to successfully pickle okra, and preserve her own zucchini relish at home, in addition to canning plenty of tomatoes, green beans and pickles from her garden.

Barbara Miller of Clyde said she was surprised to learn that some of her canning methods were not recommended.

“I learned today that I’ve been doing some of the wrong things,” Miller said, adding that she had been using the open kettle method. “And we ate it. We were lucky that the Lord watched over us because nothing has happened.”

For more information on the food preservation class or the Giving Garden, call the Canton Branch Library at 648-2924.