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Get ready now for the summer harvest

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Are you beginning to feel the canning fever? If you are thinking about preserving food this summer, start planning and preparing now! Start by checking your equipment and supplies. Proper equipment in good condition is needed for safe, quality home-canned food.

If you've not yet purchased your canners, there are two types to consider: boiling water canners and pressure canners. A boiling water canner is used for canning acid or acidified foods like most fruits, most pickles, jams and jellies. Boiling water canners cost about $30 to $100 or can be assembled yourself with a large stock pot, secure lid and rack to keep jars off the bottom of the pot.

A pressure canner is essential for canning low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats, fish and poultry. These foods require higher temperatures - 240 degrees and above - to be sure and kill the toxin-producing spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. If not killed, these spores can grow and produce a deadly toxin (poison) when the jars cool and are stored in room temperatures. A water-bath canner only reaches 212 degrees, which is not high enough to kill the spores.

You can choose between two types of pressure canners: a dial gauge canner or a weighted gauge canner. Most steps in managing the pressure-canning process are the same, but the two styles have different types of gauges to indicate the pressure inside the canner. Expect to spend $100 to $150 or more on a pressure canner.

If you use a dial-gauge canner, it's important to have the gauge tested for accuracy before each canner season or if you drop or damage your gauge. Contact the Wilson County Extension Office to get your dial gauge tested. If your dial or weighted gauge canner has a rubber gasket, be sure it is flexible and soft. If it is brittle, sticky or cracked, replace it with a new gasket. Also check that any openings, like vent ports, are clean and open.

You'll also need jars and lids for canning. If you need jars, new jars are a worthwhile investment (versus purchasing used jars from a yard sale or flea market) because very old jars may break under pressure and heat. Extension recommends Mason-type jars of standard sizes (e.g., half-pint, pint and quart). Make sure those jars are manufactured and sold for canning purposes; not all glass and Mason-style jars are tempered to prevent breakage with the extreme heat and temperature changes during canning. Two-piece canning lids with flat lids and ring bands are recommended. Never reuse flat lids, but you can reuse ring bands provided they are not rusted or bent. Follow manufacturers' advice for preparing your jars and lids.

It is not too early to begin gathering your other equipment and supplies for canning. A jar funnel for filling jars, a magnetic wand to handle flat lids and a plastic debubbler (or rubber spatula) are useful utensils and can be found where canning supplies are sold.

A final must is reliable, up-to-date canning and other food preservation instructions. There are very serious food safety risks with canning if you follow unsound recommendations. Reliable, up-to-date canning instructions are available from the local Extension office or online from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu.

With fresh fruits and vegetable harvests here, you will be ready to preserve and enjoy them all year!

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture lives and provides real life solutions (ag.tennessee.edu). With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes can be reached at sphill24@utk.edu or (615) 444-9584.

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