Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some interesting canning facts

This month's Can Jam challenge is carrots.  Hosted by Doris and Jilly this month, these two sisters write a fine food blog that has lots of wonderful canning information. Check it out! I love that this month's canning challenge is carrots, because I would never in a million years ever desire to can carrots.  Why?   Carrots are a low acid food, so they'd have to be pressure canned.   At our house, we very rarely eat cooked carrots, unless they are an ingredient in chicken soup or pot roast.   In fact, you can always tell which bowl of soup was my son's, because everything will be eaten out of if except the carrots, which will be politely left in a pile at the bottom of the bowl.   This kid has never met a vegetable he didn't like, except cooked carrotsa.   In fact, he ate beet greens happily yesterday and even told his friend who was having dinner with us about how much he likes greens, but he won't touch a cooked carrot.  He eats raw carrots by the pound, but no cooked carrots. 

Why bother canning carrots when they store for a really long time anyway?  If you've got lots of carrots, they'd put up well in a root cellar (at my house, my "root cellar" is the shelf on the inside wall of my garage).  So carrots are a great challenge this month.  The rules of the Can Jam are only boiling water bath canning, so for carrots, that means pickles/jams/jellies/chutneys.    For me, it's going to be pickles, My family doesn't go for any kind of exotic jams or jellies - so making lots of carrot jam really isn't practical for me.  If it's not strawberry, it "ain't gettin' et" around here.    Note to self:  12 pints of strawberry jam was not enough to get us through the winter this year.

So, I've been formulating my pickled carrot plan - I'll probably do it next weekend when the cherubs are taking the ACT test on Saturday.    I spent some time looking around on the internets for ideas for pickled carrots, and found lots of canning information I thought was interesting, but not all really related to pickled carrots.   Here's a summary:

  • When brining pickles, hard water can interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from curing properly.  We have hard water at our house, so I have been buying distilled water to make pickles or beer.   But, I learned that I don't need to do that from the Clemson Extension Service.  Instead, I can soften my own hard water by simply boiling it 15 minutes and let set for 24 hours, covered. Remove any scum that appears. Slowly pour water from the containers so the sediment will not be disturbed. Discard the sediment. Great cost save!
  • Also from Clemson, I found some good tips for making sure my cucumber pickles stay crisp. 
    Soaking cucumbers in ice water for four to five hours prior to pickling is a one suggested method for making crisp pickles.  I picked up a container of Mrs. Wages pickling lime at Sparrow Meat Market a couple weekends ago. It was on the bottom shelf and covered with some dust - evidently the demand for pickling lime is not high in Ann Arbor, and I was surprised to find it because I'd been unable to find it anywhere around here.   So I bought it for next summer.    Clemson says that the calcium in lime does improve pickle firmness, and to purchase food-grade pickling lime from your grocer's shelves. Do not use agricultural or burnt lime. Food-grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. However, EXCESS LIME ABSORBED BY THE CUCUMBERS MUST BE REMOVED TO MAKE SAFE PICKLES. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse and then re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for one hour. REPEAT THE RlNSING AND SOAKING STEPS TWICE MORE.  I'm definitely going to give it a try next summer and see how it goes.
  • From the University of North Dakota Extension, I found this excellent way to test the pectin content of the fruit I am making into jam or jelly.   I found this interesting because strawberries can have wildly fluctuating amounts of pectin year to year around here.  I can test to see if my fruit has enough pectin using this test: pour one tablespoon of the cool fruit juice and one tablespoon denatured alcohol into a cup. Examples of brands are E2, Dalox, Solex--are available at paint and hardware stores. Stir slightly and let stand for 2 minutes. If a solid mass of jelly forms, the fruit has a high pectin content. In this case, use one cup sugar for each cup of juice when you make jelly.  If several small jelly-like pieces form, however, the pectin content of the fruit is only moderate. Use only a 3/4 cup of sugar for each cup of juice. If the mixture forms small particles, the fruit has too little pectin to make jelly unless you add commercial pectin. In any case, do not taste the mixture as it is not for human consumption. Just throw it down the drain and wash equipment well.
  • A good way to test whether jelly made without added pectin is done is to use a use a jelly, candy or deep-fat thermometer(or, in my case, I'd use by electronic meat probe that we use for smoking meat).   I like the idea of using this test instead of the wrinkle test (drop some jam on a cold plate and run your finger through it to see if it wrinkles) because it saves time.   Before starting to cook your jelly/jam, take the temperature of boiling water. (this should be 212 F because we are at low altitude here in Ann Arbor, butboiling point varies with different altitude and the accuracy of most household thermometers are not very accurate. After boiling the mixture for a while, lower the bulb into the mix and read the results. When the jelly mixture temperature is 8 degrees above the boiling water temperature, the jam/jelly is done. 
I found some more interesting canning stuff on my internet travels I'll post about later.  I am enjoying the Can Jam and thinking of summer canning projects.   Summer seems so far off now - I guess this is the canning equivalent of gardeners looking over seed catalogs in the bowels of winter!


Vivienne said...

Glad to see you back on canning! I'm using the inside shelf in my garage too. I have a max/min thermometer in there and a few sacrificial vegetables, testing for greater use in another year.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the shout-out! I've been behind on my Google Reader and missed your post. That's fascinating information about the pectin--I'll be sure to try it next year, as this year's strawberry jam is all sauce.