May 23, 2012

Canning Q & A: 2012

New to canning? Check out the Proverbs 31 Woman post on purchasing canning equipment; if you want to learn the steps involved in canning, read Using a Boiling Water Canner and Using a Pressure Canner.

Q: I was told it's best not to can on ceramic top stoves. Any workarounds?

A: It's true; canning is strongly discouraged on a ceramic or glass top stoves. Here's why: Because these stove tops can crack at high temperatures, they are designed to never go above a certain heat level. This means the burners don't stay at a temperature that's high enough or consistent enough to kill bacteria that causes food poisoning in canned goods.

Often you'll hear you need a flat-bottomed canner for ceramic or glass stove tops, but the truth is, this may not solve the high/consistent heat problem - especially when the heat sensor on the stove turns off the burner; even if you turn the burner right back on, you've cause a heat fluctuation that could be problematic.

Some folks use a flat bottomed stock pot with a well fitting lid in leiu of a boiling water bath canner. They place a wire cake rack in the bottom, so jars don't touch the bottom of the pot and break. This might work fine, but you'll have to test it on your particular stove. 

To test any stove for canning ability:

1. Fill the stock pot or canner with water bring it to a full, rolling boil. If the water won't come to a full boil, the stove can't be used for canning.

2. If the water comes to a full boil, keep it there for the length of time required by the canning recipe you're using. If the stove won't keep the full boil going, the stove can't be used for canning.

Other things to watch out for:

* The pot musn't be more than 1 inch wider than the burner.

* Be sure to carefully lift the canner/pot off the stove; never drag it, as this could damage the stove top.

* If the stove has an automatic shut off, it's almost certainly unsuitable for canning.

If your ceramic top stove is unsuitable for canning, you could purchase a new or used electric coil burner or gas stove and put it outside, just for use when canning. Or you might be able to use a camping stove to can outside, if the stove has enough power to pass the test mentioned above. I've heard the Coleman 2 Burner Propane Grill /Stove works, but I have not personally tested it.

Q: I've seen a lot of blogs with directions for canning butter; is this safe? 

A: No. Scientific testing has found no way to home can dairy products (including butter) in a way that effectively kills off dangerous bacteria. 

I once knew a lady who canned butter, despite this fact; she stored it in a a very cool, dark area of her home. She didn't have any problems with the butter keeping - until one hot summer when her air conditioning stopped working. Then all her canned butter spoiled rapidly. This means the canning process was doing nothing to preserve the butter; it was keeping it in a very cool location (basically, refrigerating it) that kept the butter good. 

Instead of canning butter, I recommend freezing it, learning to make it from scratch (it's easy with a mixer), and/or purchasing commercially canned butter powder or ghee.

Q: I've heard they are bringing back pint and a half jars; I want them for canning asparagus! Where can I buy them?

A: Yes, pint and half (24 oz.) jars are now being made again - and they are perfect for canning asparagus, longer beans, whole carrots, and such. You can purchase pint and a half jars direct from Ball. Amazon carries them, also, and many stores that carry canning jars will introduce them as the canning season comes to full run, including ACE Hardware. Be sure to process pint and a half jars using the quart processing times given with the recipe.

Q: I want to can my jam in pint jars, not half pint jars the recipe gives processing times for. For how long should I process the pint jars?

A: You're right to be concerned about how long to process jars of a different size than the recipe calls for. Failing to do so can result in food that's dangerous to eat because it hasn't been heated well enough to kill off dangerous bacteria. With jams and jellies, use the same processing time for half pint and pint jars. (And don't decrease the processing time when using quarter pint jars.) For other types of foods, consult one of the Ball canning books or the National Center for Home Food Preservation for appropriate processing times.

Be sure to check out "Canning Q & A" from 2011 and 2010, too!

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