Hey you all! Chris has asked me to write a little bit on here to share what I know about canning and preserving. My knowledge is by no means expert or exhaustive – this is just something I got into for fun a few years ago, with lots of trial and error during the summers in between.

My first foray into canning was jelly-making – pepper jelly to be specific. My friend LL taught me how to make this formerly “wha’?? pepper? jelly?” (I had never heard of it, being a Northern Girl) maybe seven years ago. The first time ended in some evil brown goo that was the result of cooking the sugar waaaaay too long. We called it Jelly Moreno. Since then, I have mostly perfected that recipe, which I will share with you as my habaneros come to fruition – but for now I’ll just go over the basics of canning and preserving as I see them.

First, I only do water-bath canning. Not to knock the pressure canner, but the one and only time I tried that for tomatoes, it ended somewhat anticlimactically, if not explosively. Not our fault: it was all due to a faulty pressure gauge (which we cleared up after a few Bloody Marys and a call to the manufacturer), but it definitely steered me back to the ease of the boiling water canning. This does mean that I only work with foods which are either naturally high in acid or have acid or sugar added in order to create an inhospitable environment to any beasties that might try to set up shop. I don’t want to get all microbiological on here, but acidity, high sugar, and high salt will knock out most of the evils. That being said, if you ever notice any mold, weird lid bulges, or off odors in anything that you’ve preserved or canned, it’s best to toss it. Some say that you can scrape mold off, especially on jellies and jams, and to that I say:
How very European of you. You probably won’t die, and Americans are probably too concerned with anti-bacterial this and microbial that, but err on the side of caution – especially if you’re serving any product to children or anyone who may be immuno-compromised. Of course, we can talk about natural fermentation on here too, which invites certain molds and bacteria, but I can burn that bridge later.

The take home message from all this is you should start out with a fairly clean kitchen. Wash your jars before you use them; use produce that if not at its best, then free from mold; and wash your hands and utensils. You can re-use the jar rings, but probably not the lids. Some sources say to boil/sanitize all utensils that you may use, but I rarely go that far. Here are some things you will need, regardless of what you are cooking up:

Glass jars with appropriate lids (if you are canning – plastic freeze jars for the um, freezer)
Sturdy tongs
A jar lifter
A water bath canner or large stockpot (I got mine at the Target a few years ago, but you can sometimes find them at hardware stores or online)
A funnel (there are wide-mouth funnels specifically for filling jars)
Paper towels
Labels and a Sharpie

It’s been more difficult for me to find canning supplies this year than in the past – I hear that the economic downturn has made canning and preserving more trendy – plus my local Kroger has stopped carrying canning supplies because as I was gently reminded by a kind employee earlier this summer, “College students don’t CAN a whole lot, do they?” But the Meijer between Nicholasville and Harrodsburg has a large stock of needful things, and Chevy Chase Hardware does an admirable job as well.

So, go shopping, and I’ll be back next week with lesson one: canning tomatoes!