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Here’s how to preserve food using water bath canning

People often refer to the past when I talk to them about canning. They feel nostalgic for their family’s pickle or jam recipes, or they reminisce about helping parents or grandparents pack jars with fruits and vegetables in the peak of the season.

KATHARINE WILSON

When I’m canning each summer and fall, however, it’s the future that’s on my mind. What food can I preserve that will trim our household’s grocery bill and help me make tasty, locally-sourced meals even when Virginia harvests are lean in the winter?

Water bath canning allows me to preserve whole, peeled tomatoes, peaches, marinara and pizza sauces, spicy salsa, and more. Every winter, I thank my summer self every time I open a jar to add homegrown tomatoes to a comforting stew, or to savor a slice of a juicy Virginia peach.

There are two methods of home canning: water bath canning and pressure canning. I highly recommend learning pressure canning by doing it with someone who has experience with it, and therefore I won’t provide details on its process here.

Water bath canning uses boiling water to process glass canning jars at a high temperature. Each recipe requires that the jars stay in the boiling water for a certain amount of time, and it is the high temperature and correct processing time that destroy food contaminants and create a vacuum seal on the jars. Following recipes when water bath canning is important to ensure you make a safe food product that is shelf stable. I highly recommend www. freshpreserving.com and www.foodinjars.com as recipe and procedure sources.

Water bath canning is a suitable preservation method for high-acid and acidified foods. These include a wide range of fruits and their juices, jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, chutneys, sauces, condiments, vinegars, pie fillings, and salsas. Many fruits are high acid (e.g. berries, cherries, peaches, and others), and vegetables like green beans and cucumbers can be processed with acidic ingredients like vinegar, so the vinegar penetrates the vegetables to acidify them. Acid is a key component to preventing food contaminants from growing in the jars, like the organism responsible for botulism, and making the jars shelf stable so you can store them in a cupboard rather than your refrigerator before opening them.

There is particular equipment necessary for water bath canning, but you can reuse almost all the equipment year after year, acquiring more jars as you add recipes to your preserving repertoire.

I’ll go into further detail on the equipment and water bath process in next week’s column. Even considering the equipment’s cost, water bath canning provides an affordable way to preserve food so you can eat what your garden grew all year long. Whether it’s the past or the future that you consider while you’re canning, I hope you feel proud of the food you grew and preserved as you fill your pantry with jars.

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www. virginiafoodworks.org/ Home-Canning-Resources.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.