As the number of people relishing the idea of growing and preserving produce increases each year by leaps and bounds, a recent produce preservation workshop in Kansas produced bountiful interest from teenagers, boys and mothers reenergized about their former hobby.
Hannah Hall, 14, and her new friend Maggie Kuhn, 17, quickly recognized each other from their 4-H chapter in north central Kansas, and their mutual interest in canning fruit and vegetables grew into an instant friendship at the “Preserving the Harvest” workshop, which took place May 29 in Belleville, Kan.
“This is my second year doing beets and I wanted to expand my horizon,” said Hannah, accompanying her grandmother Vicki Hall, who’s been canning for years and encouraged her to learn about food preservation. “Last year, I got to can at my grandparents’ house.
“At the holidays, when my family opens a jar and says it’s really good. I feel rewarded,” added a smiling Hannah, who will be a freshman this fall at Pike Valley High School in Scandia, Kan.
Hannah’s experience in 4-H for the past eight years has paid off.
When the teen submitted canned pickled beets at the North Central Kansas Free Fair in Belleville, she won a purple ribbon.
She also has a strong role model for food preservation; Grandma Vicki, who volunteers for the 4-H club in Scandia.
Hannah’s new friend Maggie, who will be a senior this fall at Pike Valley High School, and also enjoys canning.
“I’ve experimented with apple butter during apple season, and with ketchup during tomato season,” Maggie said.
Maggie energetically raised her hand often, asking detailed questions about preserving fruits and vegetables.
As people take advantage of the warmer weather to plant gardens and preserve food, the produce preservation workshop was an invaluable resource, which provided important canning safety tips.
“It all comes down to food safety, and properly home-canning tomatoes, green beans and other vegetables and fruits,” advised food specialist Karen Blakeslee, head of the Kansas State University Research and Extension Rapid Response Center in Manhattan, Kan. “Other than tomatoes, green beans are probably the most popular item that people enjoy canning. The main concern however, is botulism, which even occurred at church suppers.”
She said microorganisms can grow if canning isn’t conducted correctly, or from improper handling; including hand-washing hygiene.
“There are a lot of old-fashioned practices that shouldn’t be used,” added Blakeslee.
Although canning dates back to the late 1800s, there are modernized techniques and new information about safety, including the length of time canned produce can be healthfully saved.
“Use, can or freeze the produce on the day it’s picked, or, at latest, the very next day,” Blakeslee said. “If you do wait for the next day, then at least refrigerate it.
“Also, for food that’s already canned, we recommend using it within one year, and possibly up to three years if it’s canned properly. If a lid on the jar is bulging, or pops up when you push it down, there’s probably something growing in there that shouldn’t be growing.
And, the thing about bacteria, is that, although it can taste okay, it can still affect you up to three days later. Additionally, if the color changed, or the liquid is cloudy, or certainly if it doesn’t smell right, don’t eat it. When in doubt, throw it out.” Interestingly, the number of 20- to 40-year-olds excitedly nurturing gardens and preparing to can produce has grown 20 to 30 percent every year.
“People want to know what’s in their food, and the popularity of the number of people home canning and preserving produce is coming back,” said Blakeslee. “Since food safety is No. 1, it means knowing several tips about pressure canning and water-bath canning, before you dig in.
“Be careful canning on smooth cook-tops,” Blakeslee advised. “That’s a lot of weight and heat that you’re about to place on the stove, and you don’t want to crack your stovetop. Measure your burner, and be sure your canner is no more than 1 inch larger than the burner. Instead, you could use a hot pad, cooling rack or wood board, as an alternative.”
Don’t forget about altitude.
Blakeslee recommends adjusting for altitude.
“Things boil differently at different altitudes,” she said. “The temperature drops as you go up in altitude, so increase your processing time as you go up in altitude.”
Under-processing is the number-one problem that Blakeslee saw at the State Fair, which results in spoilage.
Another nutritionist on the K-State team at the workshop said it’s vital to be selective when researching canning recipes.
“It’s important to use recipes tested for canning, said K-State Extension agent Gina Aurand. “Also, be sure to follow directions letting you know how long to process, and, with pressure-canning, how much pressure to use.”
As the dozen people at the canning workshop shifted from the slide show classroom presentation into the kitchen at the First United Methodist Church in Belleville for a hands-on canning preparation, Blakeslee advised the participants to first thoroughly wash their hands.
She also offered advice about working with fresh tomatoes, emphasizing the importance of increasing their acidity with lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid.
“With tomatoes, you must increase the acid content to suppress any microbial growth,” cautioned Blakeslee.
Here are Blakeslee’s recommendations for preserving tomatoes:
— For one pint of tomatoes…Add one tablespoon of lemon juice.
— For a quart of tomatoes….Add two tablespoons of lemon juice.
— If using vinegar, Blakeslee suggested doubling those amounts listed above. And, if using citric acid/white acid, she recommends using ¼ teaspoon per pint, or ½ teaspoon per quart of tomatoes.
As the group listened, Blakeslee displayed four pieces of equipment, upon which she heavily relies for canning.
“I always need my jar lifter for getting jars safely out of a canner, as well as what I call a lid wand; which resembles a magnet on a stick to carefully and safely take lids out of hot water,” she said. “There’s also this combined bubble remover and head-space measurer.
“And, I like this collapsible funnel that folds up nicely when you store it in a drawer.”
“Gosh, I have every tool in the world for sewing, and now there’s every tool in the world for canning!” exclaimed Kathy Clark of Washington, Kan.
Clark said she enjoyed canning when she was younger, “but then a job got in the way. Now, it’s fun again and I’m checking on all my friends who are canning to see what they’re doing.”
As Maggie relayed, “My mother wanted me to come, because she thought I’d be interested.”
Fascinated with new crocks of canning knowledge, Maggie eagerly joined the other canners in the kitchen; as they cooked up fresh carrots and lots of fun. ❖