This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
The extent to which it pays to can fruits and vegetables depends entirely upon whether or not they are home grown, or whether they must be purchased. As a general rule it costs almost, or quite as much, for the materials used in preparing home-canned fruits and vegetables as it does to buy commercial canned goods of high quality, and when the time and energy involved are considered, it would seem to be a mistake to spend the entire summer working in a hot kitchen when no economy is effected.
But if one lives on a farm, or has a large garden, canning becomes an economic necessity. However, the old days of the open-kettle method with its doubtful results are gone, and the intermittent, or three-days'-canning method has also become a part of culinary history, the wise woman, choosing, rather, the new cold-pack method which insures fine, firm, colorful results, and products that will keep, all with a minimum expenditure of time and energy.
The outfit needed in carrying on the new method of canning is as follows: A good wash boiler fitted with a wire rack made to contain from six to ten jars, according to the size of the boiler, and equipped with handles so that the jar-filled rack may be removed without burning the hands. This device is a real time-saver, as it obviates all necessity of handling each jar separately. The jars should be of glass, of any good make, preferably of the type with a cover that clamps on, although screw-top jars may be used. The rubbers must be new and of the very best quality; there should be a steamer, or an improvised one, consisting of a wide-topped kettle over which a steamer top may be fitted to use in steaming greens and other bulky vegetables before putting them into the canning jars.
Commercial canning outfits may be purchased if desired. The hot-water-bath outfit is especially made for out-door work and is equipped with a fire-box with smoke pipe, sterilizing bath, lifting trays, etc., is quickly set up and light enough so that it may be easily transported from place to place. If a very large amount of canning is to be done, this outfit will more than pay for itself in the long run, but the results are no better than those obtained by means of the wash-boiler equipment already described. A second type of commercial canner is used, as a water-seal outfit in which a higher temperature may be obtained than in the hot-water-bath outfit described, and is particularly good in the canning of meats or certain vegetables which are difficult to keep. Then there are the steam-pressure outfits which are very practical and may be used in the household as general utensils. The first cost is a little high, but, again, if one lives on a farm, or has a productive garden, the cooker will pay for itself in short order if the vegetables or fruits are faithfully canned.
Several new terms have come into being along with the new cold-pack method. The following list with its definitions is self-explanatory:
This means the packing of uncooked or blanched foods together with some liquid, as syrup, water, soup stock, or vegetable juice into clean jars, covering and then sterilizing (cooking) them with their contents by means of boiling water or steam.
The dipping of a vegetable or fruit into boiling water to loosen the skin, so that it can be removed with the least possible loss of pulp. To remove undesirable acids. To start the flow of the coloring matter, which must be arrested immediately by the cold dip.
This means the dipping of the scalded fruits or vegetables immediately into cold water for two or three minutes to arrest further cooking and therefore to harden the heated pulp. This coagulates the coloring matter so that there will be less loss of color during the sterilization period and at the same time the products may be handled to better advantage during the packing.
This means to boil, or steam, the product to be canned for a brief time before packing into the cans. Unless it is necessary to remove a strong flavor, as that of cabbage or dandelions, it is far better to blanch the products by means of steam as there is then no loss of food value. This process is necessary to remove objectionable acids and bitter flavors, and to reduce the bulk of vegetables, like spinach, and to obviate all necessity for the use of the old-time intermittent process by which it was necessary to boil the fruit or vegetables in the jars for three days in succession to insure the destruction of all germ life.
These terms are used interchangeably and refer to the steaming, or boiling, of the filled jars for the purpose of destroying all spores, germs and bacteria. Needless to say, this is the most important part of the whole process, for if sterilization is incomplete the canned goods will not keep.
To achieve good results in the home process of canning it is absolutely necessary to follow the directions carefully and to make sure that the products actually sterilize the right length of time. It is a very easy matter, for instance, to prepare half a dozen jars of corn and to leave them sterilizing in the kitchen while work is being done in another part of the house. However, the fire may get low, and the jars actually sterilize by means of the boiling water only two hours instead of the necessary three. The corn would spoil; the method would be blamed, while the real trouble would center around carelessness. When vegetables or fruits demanding a long period of sterilization are to be canned, they should be put on the first thing in the morning, before the breakfast dishes are washed, so that the housewife may be "on the job" all the time while doing up her kitchen work and preparing dinner. If a short-time-vegetable or fruit, as asparagus, or tomatoes, or soft berries, is to be canned, the work may be accomplished in odd periods, whenever other short-time work is in progress in the kitchen. Unless it is necessary to can in large quantities, to save foods that would otherwise spoil, or in order to save money by purchasing in large quantities, canning may be done a few jars at a time in a kettle of moderate size, equipped with a round wire rack to hold the jars. If two or three jars of each fruit and an equal number of suitable vegetables are canned as they come in season, the housewife with a small family will find that during the period from May through October she will have accumulated a wide range of foods at comparatively little cost and labor. The collection should begin with rhubarb, going through the whole gamut of fruits and berries and continuing through quinces and citrons. The vegetables may begin with asparagus and continue through sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
Whatever the vegetable or fruit the general processes of preparation and sterilization are the same.
1. Scald or blanch the food according to the length of time noted in the table.
2. Dip in cold water.
3. Remove the skins, if necessary, any cores, blossom ends, stems or stones, according to the nature of the food to be canned.
4. Pack into wide-mouth jars as closely as possible.
5. Fill the jars almost full with the desired liquid and add salt according to directions, if needed.
6. Adjust the rubber and top and partially clamp it on, or if a mason jar is being used, screw the top down until it touches the rubber, but do not close the jar, as otherwise the expanded air cannot escape.
7. Cover with water, two inches over the tops, bring to boiling point and boil, or sterilize, the required length of time.
8. Remove the jars, tighten the covers and turn them upside down on a cloth away from a draft, covering them with a cloth so that a sudden breeze will not cause the jars to crack.
9. After a few days, loosen the clamps and pick up the jars by the covers. If sterilization has been complete, the covers will not come off. Clamp again and put the jars away, after, wrapping them in paper to assist in preserving the color.