Canning Class

There are many skills that are becoming lost arts. My mom grew up in a home where many clothes were still sewn by hand and food was grown in the backyard. I remember arriving with great anticipation to my Granny’s house for vacations to see what new blanket she had crocheted since my last visit. These visits always included some great family feast that placed adults in the formal dining room and the kids at the kitchen table. When our aunts, uncles and cousins arrived for this gathering we always had something fresh from the garden and something that had been canned during a previous season. If there is one single memory that I have unique to my Granny’s house, it would be helping her shell peas.

Of course, it wasn’t just my Granny and me. Aunts and cousins floated through in shifts until the job was done. While I certainly got bored and took my turns pretending the shed in her backyard was a fort (or a store, or a home), I loved being with her during this task. In a small house with dozens of people floating in and out, these were the times my Granny would focus on each of us as grandchildren. When you sat with her shelling peas, she would ask about school, friends and dreams. She told her own stories of working, raising her family and life in her small town.

We are on the opposite end of the continent now from my mom, my Granny has long been in Heaven and I have no yard for a garden. That yearning for connection with family and real food in our home has only intensified. Decades after the opportunity to learn those skills, I now wonder if I can bring them back into my life. When a friend asked if I would join her for a canning class, it seemed the perfect opportunity.

Last week we attended a course taught through the city’s park and recreation program. While my expectations may have been a little high for a two hour introductory course, I was disappointed overall. I plan to do a little more research, but I think for the immediate future canning will not be an option. Here are ten things I took away from the class.

1. One of the most important aspects in successful canning is keeping the temperature and/or pressure consistent throughout the process, this can be difficult on a smooth top stove. Often these burners fluctuate heat temperatures to protect the surface so you need to check with the manual or manufacturer. Since we just moved into a rental with such an appliance, I doubt I will be investing in the materials or time to start canning this year.

2. There are two main types of canning: water-canning and pressure-canning. A pressure cooker is NOT the same thing as a pressure-canner.

3. Whether a food is safely stored with water-canning or pressure-canning revolves mainly around the acidity. This means following reliable recipes closely is extremely important for beginners. Changing a recipe might affect the acidity or cooking time needed.

4. Clostridium botulinum is the cause of foodborne botulism and it is only killed at temperatures of 240* or higher. It is everywhere, but is usually dormant. Improperly canned foods can be the perfect greenhouse for the toxin. Since water canning only reaches 212* (boiling point), foods with a higher risk of this toxin are usually processed with pressure-canning.

5. The jars used in canning only have two diameters at the opening, no matter what shape the jar itself. The wider of the two is what is described as wide-mouth jars. (No honey, mine doesn’t count).

6. You can buy plastic screw-on lids to be used once you have opened a jar for use. This allows the metal ring to be reused on another jar.

7. The jars and rings can be reused, but the flat, metal lids have a single use lifespan.

8. Some people eat jelly by the spoonfuls. The instructor joked about this to the point that I think she must be one of those people. I am not one of those people. I guess canning would be more important to me if I did.

9. Classes through your local city are a great way to get out with a girlfriend or two and try something new. They may or may not be a place where you actually learn something useful.

10. I miss my Granny.

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Top Ten {Tuesday}

Is there a skill you wish you’d learned from someone who is no longer with you? Have you taken a class through your community that actually proved helpful (or at least fun)?