Jun 13, 2011

Putting Up More: A Radically Different Approach to Home Canning

When I heard that author and boutique commercial canner Stephen Palmer Dowdney lays out a completely different way to home can in his new book Putting Up More, I was intrigued. Like most other American canners, I was taught to home can with strict adherence to the USDA's guidelines. As I became a more experienced canner, I found that other countries, including England and Canada, have different guidelines, all touted as being "the safest." I also noticed that some families used non-USDA approved recipes for such things as tomato sauce, canning it the way their family had canned it for generations - without giving anyone food poisoning. So I am perhaps more open to non-USDA approved canning than some other canners.

But Dowdney's technique is completely different from anything I've read about before. And here's the real kicker: It is USDA approved...but only for commercial canning. In other words, the government has different guidelines for home canners than they do for those who are selling canned goods commercially but using home canning equipment. After reading Dowdney's book and looking up the USDA commercial guidelines myself, I can only suppose the government thinks the average home canner is too stupid to follow the guidelines that a business must use. Why else have two different guidelines?

Dowdney uses only a hot water bath canner - even for foods usually canned in a pressure canner. He uses ordinary canning jars and lids. He even cans some foods using an old fashioned method where you simply fill a sterile jar, put a lid on it, and turn it upside down. But here's how his method is radically different from what you'll find in other canning books:

* He sterilizes everything - jars, lids, cooking utensils, the counter, etc. - with bleach.

* He tests many recipes with a special but inexpensive acidity testing strip.

As any knowledgeable canner will tell you, getting the correct level of acidity is essential to having safe canned food. I'd always read there is no accurate way to test the acidity level of recipes at home, but clearly if people who are selling canned goods commercially are using this method (as recommended by the USDA), then simple acid testing strips are accurate. This opens up an amazing world of food to home canners.

Oh, and as Dowdney points out, with today's genetically altered food, USDA-approved home canning recipes may not be safe without running an acid test, anyway. Modern tomatoes, for example, can have a different acidity level than heirloom tomatoes, putting them in a dangerous range. This is certainly food for thought.

Although Dowdney says he lays out all the safety information more thoroughly in his first book, Putting Up (which I hope to review soon), Putting Up More offers readers plenty of information on how to can safely using Dowdney's method. Notes beside each recipe explain whether or not an acid test is necessary, and how to adjust the acidity level of the canned goods if they test out of the safe range.

To learn Downdey's technqiue is a good enough reason to buy this book, read it, and keep it as a reference, but Downdey also offers lots of great recipes, too. Primarily, you'll find jams, jellies, and preserves, relishes, chutneys, soups, and sauces and marinades. There's also a section on pickles, salsas, and hot foods (like pickled jalapenos and hot vinegars).

Some recipes don't call for acid level testing, like red tomato jam, blackberry-lemon marmalade, and mango preserves. Others call for one or two acid level tests (one before canning and one after). Some that sound especially good to me include sweet onion jam (for serving with meat), peach relish, hot pepper relish, kiwi fruit chutney, summer squash pickles (which look and sound so much better than the USDA approved home canning recipe), pickled Brussels sprouts, black bean soup, butternut squash soup, bouillabaisse (!), and apricot-jalapeno jam.

I am anxious to try Dowdney's techniques, as well as his recipes. I highly recommend Putting Up More for any canner.


  1. Thanks for this!!! I have been looking for something just like this. They had a Kindle edition for only $7.99 - I have the free kindle edition for my mac. I hope you still get credit for it, I used the link above, then clicked on kindle... This is my first year canning. I made salsa two nites in a row a few weeks ago with some tomatoes my parents brought home from florida and was trying not to get freaked out about all the guidelines... I was really annoyed when someone said - leave granny to baking her cookies, it's time for her to stop canning - she doesn't have a science degree. Makes me so angry when people don't respect the older generation! But, they're giving you the info you need, so you have to read it! :) ugh, I digress, but thank you SO MUCH for this! :)

  2. I'll admit it's scary canning differently than the way I've been taught, but knowing what I do, it frightens me that Dowdney has written a book encouraging the hot water bath canning method on low acid foods. I've tried the hot water bath method on squash and potatoes before and they did not do well. For the first month I did not notice any problems, then slowly they would become slightly discolored, the food became unappealing in appearance, there were "active" bubbles, foaming, and the lids began to unseal. At first I considered the possibility that the lids were bad (which can happen), but when the same things occurred with other foods that required the pressure canning process, I knew that they needed to be pressure canned for a reason. For me, it's just not worth putting my family at risk. I've not had these problems since I began pressure canning low acid foods.
    Now, my aunt has canned peas upside down, but she placed them upside down in a boiler with enough boiling water to cover the lids.
    *I also sterilize everything (as Dowdney does) with hot bleach water, rinse it with plain hot water and allow the utensils to air dry before using them. Because my oven space and work area are small, the jars and lids are kept hot in plain water in my electric roaster oven until ready to use.

  3. Loretta, Dowdney's recipes are designed to increase acidity to a safe level and the testing just ensures the acidity level is absolutely appropriate. So this is definitely different than the old water bath methods of canning vegetables.