Seems that the weather this year cooperated to give us a bumper crop of fruit. Judging from the calls I've received at the Extension Office, folks are almost overwhelmed by the abundance of local fruit. My first calls were about apricots, then cherries and sandhill plums. If the appearance of neighborhood peach, pear and apple trees is any indication, the bumper crop shows no sign of diminishing until picking ends in the fall.
The abundance of fruit has stirred an interest in home canning to preserve the crop. Detailed canning information for specific fruits (and vegetables, too) is available at the Finney County Extension Office, 501 S. Ninth St., on the fairgrounds in Garden City. Or, call 272-3670 to ask for the canning materials by mail or fax.
So you want to be a home canner ... but home canning is not on everyone's list of favorite pastimes. Why? Some people believe that it's some sort of magical technique. Others think the process requires physical effort on the order of an Olympic decathlon.
Let me dispel the myths. Home canning is part kitchen science and part kitchen art, but it is by no means a mysterious practice. Successful home canning requires only that you observe simple guidelines.
While home canning can be an ambitious undertaking, it does not always have to be. After all, home canning can be enjoyed by the whole family. From harvesting fruits and vegetables to preparing food for canning to processing, labeling and storing jars, home canning provides something for everyone. Plus, home canning instills a pride of family accomplishment while serving a vital need — putting food on the family's table.
Home canning quality and safety depends on using the latest procedures and guidelines. Why can't you use great-grandmother's old canning recipes and equipment? Through the years, home canning methods and techniques are tested and improved to assure the safest, most effective way of processing food. Recommendations are updated to account for changes in available equipment, variety of foods, soil conditions and the bacterial load involved. So, if you haven't updated your canning resources in a while, it's time to do so.
Whether foods should be processed in a boiling-water-bath canner or pressure canner to control dangerous bacteria depends on the acidity of the foods being preserved. High-acid foods, such as most fruits, may be safely canned in a boiling-water-bath canner. Low-acid foods, such as vegetables and meats, must be canned in a pressure canner to obtain temperatures high enough to destroy the bacteria that causes botulism.
All canned foods must include some type of final heat processing in either of the two types of canners mentioned. Old-fashioned "open kettle" canning — where jars were filled with hot food and capped with no further heat treatment — has been shown to be an ineffective and potentially dangerous method of preserving food. Great-grandma may have done it that way during World War II, but current science has nixed open kettle canning for today's home canner.
For optimum quality, plan to use home-canned food within one year. After a year, canned food quality, color and texture may diminish, but is still safe to eat as long as the seal is still intact and there is no sign of spoilage.
Home canning can be a lot of work, but the results are worth the effort. You and your family will be able to enjoy the fruits of summer for months to come. And don't forget to enter a jar or two of your bounty at the Finney County Fair! For questions or more information about canning fruit or exhibiting at the fair, call the Finney County Extension Office, 272-3670.
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