Welcome to the Let's Preserve blog! Brought to you by Penn State Cooperative Extension, you will find the latest on preserving safe, high quality food at home. The information included is based on up-to-date research from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Food Preservation Blog!

Penn State Extension is pleased to announce its new blog on home food preservation! 

In this blog you will find recipes, techniques, and information that will help you produce wholesome, nutritious, and good tasting preserved foods.  Faculty with the Penn State Food Science Department and county extension educators with food preservation expertise write the blog articles.  You will find the blog on Penn State's Home Food Preservation website.  http://extension.psu.edu/food-safety/food-preservation
The Let's Preserve blog is being discontinued since I will now be writing for the new blog.  Hope you will join us at the new blog site!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Finding Canning Directions on the Internet

The Internet has opened up a world of information for us right from our home! It's a great source of food preservation information. Unfortunately, it's also a great source of information that may not be based on fact. So how do you know if what you find can be used to preserve safe, high quality food?

It's important to use canning directions and recipes that are based on current research. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) takes the lead in recommending canning directions and recipes. These have been scientifically tested, usually in University laboratories. Special equipment is used to determine recommended canning methods and processing times and pressures.

A good website to start your search for information is the Penn State Food Preservation website http://extension.psu.edu/food-safety/food-preservation. Here you will find canning directions and recipes and links to the latest information on home canning and other ways of preserving food. Some of what you'll find includes:

  • Link to USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning

  • Link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP)

  • Link to University of Georgia's So Easy to Preserve book and DVD on canning, freezing and drying

  • Penn State Let's Preserve Fact Sheets

  • List of sources of supplies and ingredients

  • Food preservation questions and answers

  • Link to Food Preservation Basics, a free interactive tutorial on home canning from NCHFP

  • Link to current issue of Ball Blue Book

  • An elevation finder

  • List of county extension food preservation contacts

And much more!

In addition to the above sources, other university extension sites should provide reliable information. Recent editions of Ball publications such as the Blue Book and Complete Book of Home Preserving are research-based.

How do you know if a web source is not providing reliable information? Here are some red flags. If you find any of these go to another source.

  • Be suspicious of short cuts.

  • Directions for canning non-pickled vegetables and meats in other than a pressure canner.

  • The recipe was 'made-up' or changed by the person providing the information.

  • The recipe is said to be an old family recipe.

  • The source says it is okay to process jars in the oven, dishwasher, or appliance other than pressure or boiling water canner.

  • Instructions say to pour hot food into jars and put on lids with no processing.

Keep your family safe and provide tasty home canned foods by using up-to-date research-based directions and recipes!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Canned Venison a Better Alternative to Grinding Your Bounty

The information in this article comes from Martin Bucknavage, senior extension associate in Food Science in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Too often, successful hunters will take their deer carcasses to the butcher and have all but the steaks ground. For all of the effort put into hunting the deer, it's a shame that all we can show for it is hamburger patties that probably were blended with beef or pork.

One way to better utilize parts of the deer you would normally grind is by canning them. The shoulder or hind quarter can be converted into a product that can be used in many meat dishes.

Canning has a number of advantages. For one, the canning process will make the tougher cuts of meat more tender. This process also serves to neutralize some of the strong, gamey flavor that can be associated with deer. Once canned, this venison is ready to be added to most any meat dish. Add it to stew, chili or a meat casserole with little or no preparation of the meat. Having the meat in canning jars also means that less of your freezer will be filled with packages of venison.

When canning venison, it is best to cut the meat into chunks or cubes. Meat should first be trimmed to remove fat and connective tissue and then cut into 1-inch cubes. There are two basic ways to can - hot pack or cold pack. In hot pack the chunks of meat are seared in a frying pan and then ladled into a jar along with boiling meat juices or broth. In the cold pack method, the chunks are packed loosely into a jar and the jar is sealed without adding any extra broth.

A pressure canner is a must if you are canning venison or any other meat. Once the jars are prepared, they are placed into the pressure canner, and following established processing procedures, the jars are heated under pressure for a given amount of time.

Once complete, and the pressure canner is cooled, the jars are removed and stored for future use. Whenever you have a hankering for venison, it is on the shelf and ready to go. There are no worries about thawing out the meat, freezer burn or the venison being too tough to enjoy.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation website lists all of the processing times and temperatures for cubed meat or any other product you wish to preserve. It is important to follow these tested processing times to prevent foodborne illness. Find directions for processing venison and other meats at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can5_meat.html.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't Can Tomatoes from Frost-Killed Vines and What to do with Green Tomatoes

The calendar and the cool air, at least where I am writing from, tell me that the first frost isn't far away. If you have tomato plants and can your tomatoes, keep in mind that tomatoes picked from frost killed vines should not be canned.

When the vine dies, the acid level of the tomato changes. The tomato is less acid than it was before the vine died. Recipes for canning tomatoes are based on the tomato having a specific acid level. So canning tomatoes from dead vines will result in an unsafe product.

If you know a frost is coming you can harvest your mature green tomatoes. They should be solid, firm, free of defects, full size, and have greenish white skin color. What can you do with them?

Cooperative Extension at Clemson University offers advice on ripening green tomatoes to eat fresh or for cooking. For directions go to http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/pdf/hgic4257.pdf.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has several tested recipes for canning green tomatoes.

Pickled Sweet Green Tomatoes

Spiced Green Tomatoes

Kosher Style Dill Green Tomato Pickles


Green Tomato Pie Filling

If you try one of these recipes please share how you liked it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don't Squish Your Squash When Canning

Don't squish your squash when canning?! In other words, don't can mashed or pureed winter squash or pumpkin.

Research has found great variability in the viscosity or thickness of these products. In laboratory testing, the recommended time and pressure for processing was often not adequate to can winter squash or pumpkin safely. As a result, in 1994 USDA removed directions for canning mashed or pureed winter squash and pumpkin from the Complete Guide to Home Canning. So if you have a recipe for canning mashed or pureed winter squash or pumpkin, consider it out of date and don't use it. To read more detail go to http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/pumpkin_butter.html

It is okay to can winter squash and pumpkin in cubes. The product is not as dense in this form and can be safely processed. Directions are available at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_04/pumpkin_winter_squash.html.

Another option is to freeze squash or pumpkin. Find directions for freezing winter squash at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/squash_winter.html and for pumpkin see http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/pumpkin.html.

USDA also recommends that pumpkin butter not be canned at home. Research has shown similar safety problems as with plain pumpkin. It is best to freeze pumpkin butter if you make it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blanching Vegetables is a Must Before Freezing

If you hope to pull tasty, nutritious vegetables from your freezer next winter, you need to blanch them first. Blanching stops the action of enzymes. These naturally occur in vegetables helping them grow and ripen. The enzymes continue to act after harvest and will cause color, flavor, texture, and nutrient losses. Freezing slows down the action of enyzmes, but does not stop them.

A good example of what happens when vegetables are not blanched before freezing was shared by a participant in a freezing class. She encouraged me to share her story. To use her words, she had a "freezer full" of green beans that she froze without blanching. When she went to use some she found them mushy and flavorless and not anything she wanted to eat or serve. All her time and efforts, expense of freezer bags and electricity for the freezer, and she had to throw the beans away!

Blanching also removes air and helps vegetables to shrink so they take up less freezer space. Plant and pesticide residues and microorganisms are removed from vegetable surfaces. Peels that need removing are loosened. Blanching will actually brighten the color of vegetables.

Blanching in boiling water is the best way to blanch vegetables. Steam blanching works well for broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Microwave blanching is not recommended.

It is important to follow blanching directions precisely. Timing is crucial. Over blanching will cause vegetables to start cooking and quality will be lost. Underblanching has been found to stimulate enzyme activity and is worse than no blanching at all.

There is no "one time fits all" for blanching. Time will vary depending on the vegetable and its size. Blanching times and steps for water and steam blanching can be found at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/blanching.html.

A few tips for success in blanching:
  • Use a blancher which has a blanching basket and cover, or fit a wire basket into a large pot with a lid.

  • Use one gallon water per pound of vegetables when water blanching.

  • Blanch vegetables in small batches. After adding vegetables to boiling water and putting lid on pot, water should return to boil within one minute. If it doesn't you are using too much vegetable for the amount of boiling water.

  • For water blanching start counting blanching time as soon as water returns to a boil. For steam blanching start counting time as soon as lid is on pot.

  • Cool blanched vegetables quickly to stop cooking. Plunge basket into very cold water and change the water frequently, or use ice water. If ice is used to cool you will need about one pound ice per pound of vegetables.

  • Vegetables should cool in about the same amount of time as they were blanched.

  • Drain vegetables well after cooling since extra moisture can cause loss of quality when vegetables are frozen.

  • Once cooled and drained, quickly move vegetables to freezer container and put into freezer.

As with many "rules" there is often an exception. It is okay to freeze onions, sweet and hot peppers, and raw tomatoes without blanching. Visit the following link at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension for directions on freezing onions. This link will give links to freezing peppers and tomatoes. http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciq-onions.shtml.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Acidify Your Tomatoes Before Canning

Most of us think of tomatoes as acid food. However, with home canning, the acid level, or pH, of tomatoes is very close to the borderline for being considered low-acid. Low-acid foods like vegetables and meats need to be processed in the pressure canner to be safe.

As a measure of safety, experts recommend that home canned tomatoes that are typically processed in the boiling water canner be acidified. This includes whole, crushed and juiced tomatoes, and tomatillos. Recipes for these products will sometimes have directions for processing in the boiling water canner and pressure canner. The product should still be acidified even if processed in the pressure canner.

Bottled lemon juice or citric acid can be used to acidify tomatoes. Use the following proportions of acid:

Lemon juice
per quart - 2 tablespoons
per pint - 1 tablespoon

Citric acid
per quart - 1/2 teaspoon
per pint - 1/4 teaspoon

Add the acid directly to the jar before adding the product. A small amount of sugar can be added to offset an acid taste.

Be sure to use bottled lemon juice not fresh. The bottled juice has a standardized acid level, but fresh may vary. Citric acid is usually found where canning supplies are sold.

Vinegar of 5% acidity can be used instead of lemon juice or citric acid. Use four tablespoons of vinegar per quart or two tablespoons per pint. However, vinegar may cause undesirable changes in flavor so lemon juice or citric acid is preferred.

Visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation for up-to-date recipes for canning tomato products, including salsas. http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can3_tomato.html