Canning helps extend the life of home-grown vegetables
by Marie Nesmith
Aug 07, 2011 | 3950 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cartersville resident Sarah Pinson drops a can of green beans into the pressure canner.
DAYTON P. STRICKLAND/The Daily Tribune News
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Married to a farmer for 54 years, canning fresh vegetables has become a way of life for Sarah Pinson. This summer, the Cartersville resident is busy preserving produce and lining the shelves of her storage room with jars packed with food, ranging from beet pickles to okra.

"I've been canning all my married life. My husband [Carl] is a farmer, and he's always had a garden. And he always has a very large garden, and the reason we can is the vegetables and [other food] are so much better than what you can buy but we also did it for economical reasons, too. We needed to and we had the produce, and it was just something that you did back then. [What I enjoy most about canning is] the finished product, getting it all done with because it is a chore. The garden is real light this year but we have canned green beans, and I've made pickles -- beet pickles and cucumber pickles.

"I've made three different variety of cucumber pickles, and we do a tremendous amount of freezing. ... It's always nice to know all winter long what you have in the freezer [or on the shelf] that you can make a meal with," she said, referring to canning as well as freezing, in which she blanches -- boiling vegetables, such as butter beans, field peas, corn and squash for a short period of time -- then places them in cold water before freezing the produce. "I'm always pleased with the flavor. Some things still taste very, very fresh. If you handle it properly, it will still taste good, very fresh. It's a lot better than what you can buy in the store. Now I'm not knocking any of that because I may this year buy some, but it's just good to have your home [vegetables] here and you can plan ahead with that."

Even though the scorching weather has reduced the amount of produce her husband's garden is yielding this summer, Pinson already has canned 42 quarts of green beans. Approaching the half-way mark, she usually preserves a total of 100 quarts of half-runner beans and Blue Lake beans each year.

"It's time-consuming," Pinson said, about pressure canning green beans seven jars at a time. "We pick them from the garden -- my husband does -- and then we snap or string them. ... When I get enough for 7 quarts, I put them on and heat them. The water that I put in the green beans heats and comes to a boil and then I turn it off. I have my quart jars sterilized and pack the beans into that. Then I put [on] the jar lids. I [pour] the water that I heated the beans [with] to the neck of the jar and I also add a teaspoon of salt.

"Then after they are heated and in the jar, I put pressure in the pressure cooker. It takes a while for the pressure to build on the pressure cooker and then after it builds the requirements are to pressure them 25 minutes. Then once they have reached that stage [you] cut it off, but [it] has to be completely [depressurized] before you can open it up."

Echoing Pinson's comments, Bartow County Extension Coordinator Kathy Floyd said among the advantages of canning are a sense of accomplishment and the ability to store fresh vegetables and have them at one's fingertips come winter.

"Done properly a lot of people prefer canning on certain foods," Floyd said. "Now of course, it takes a little bit more time to can than it does to freeze. So in recent years we had seen a dip in the canning and a rise in the freezing. But cost-wise they come out to be about the same, once you have made your initial investment.

"You have to purchase a canner. You have to purchase the jars, but those jars can be reused year after year, then you don't have the electrical costs of running a freezer year-round. So there are some advantages in that [area] and it just depends on the individual family. A lot of times it's just personal preference but canning has been around for a long time."

Depending on the type of food one wants to preserve, Floyd said there are two methods of canning.

"One is under pressure and one is a water bath. There is specific things that you have to do with each one of those," Floyd said. "Generally anything that is a low acid food must be canned in a pressure canner because a water bath canner, even if you cook it for three hours, you are never going to get more than the temperature of the boiling water. It has to be under pressure to get the temperature high enough to kill the botulism, and that's 240 degrees. And you will never achieve that in a boiling water bath.

"So anything that's low acid, which is most of our vegetables, need to be processed in a pressure canner. But fruits can be, because they are acidic, processed in a water bath. Tomatoes, we add the lemon juice to make them more acidic because over time tomatoes have become less acidic than they used to be. But everything, potatoes, green beans, peas, okra, all of those things need to processed in a pressure canner to be safe. All they have to do is call us or go online. They can get all the information that they need."

Encouraging new canners to use tried-and-true recipes and consult with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, Floyd said it is important to guard against the Clostridium botulinum microorganism, which causes botulism.

"First of all, safety first. Botulism is the one [issue] that we're most concerned with with home canning because it grows in a non-air environment," Floyd said. "So when you can food, the whole process of canning is to push the air out of the jars and form a vacuum seal, which means there's no air in that jar. And botulism is one of the microorganisms that's not like molds and yeasts that you can see. Botulism is one of those food-borne bacteria that doesn't have an odor, doesn't have a taste. So you wouldn't know it if you ate it until you got very sick. And it doesn't take very much of that to make you [ill] -- it's deadly. That has frightened a lot of people away from canning, but home canning done properly is perfectly safe. [People have] been doing it for years. Even some people [who] have done some things improperly, have just been very lucky.

"So we do encourage people, before they get in the middle of it, to get their information from us, or if they have another reliable source where the recipes are tested and that would be one of the producers of these products like Ball or Kerr or Mrs. Wages, because you know those recipes have been tested for safety and they are proven to be safe if you follow the directions. But the University of Georgia is one of the premier leaders in home food preservation as far as disseminating educational information, so that's the main thing. We want to make sure that you do it safely, you do it right. Number one, it's too much trouble to do it wrong and lose your food, and you certainly don't want to make anybody sick."

For more information, call the Bartow County Extension Office at 770-387-5142 or visit www.extension.uga.edu/food/preservation or www.uga.edu/nchfp. The UGA Cooperative Extension also offers an educational book, "So Easy to Preserve" for $18, and free materials are available at the local Extension Office, 320 W. Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville.