Cantastic Creations!

So, the two readers who have been paying attention might remember that I recently attended a City Chicks (soon to be Homemade Modern) class for the Boston Globe.

I visited the first class for work, but I had a lot of fun. So, I decided to go back just for me.  Heather Schmidt has put together a great list of classes, and I picked Canning 101: Winter Soups and Stocks.  Like a lot of Heather’s classes, she brought in an expert.  In this case, Ken Cmar did the heavy lifting.  As you can tell, Heather was as awestruck and amazed by the finished product as the rest of us.

If we could can Heather's enthusiasm, the world would be a better place.

If we could can Heather’s enthusiasm, the world would be a better place.

(Incidentally, Ken is enough of a badass to make his own Asian fish sauce. Yes, he caught, fermented, and processed his own fish to make the super-tart, ultra-salty, majorly-tasty Asian condiment. You don’t mess with a man who makes his own fish sauce.)

Ken has apparently been canning for…forever.  Like, a really, really long time.  He has a lot of wisdom to impart.  First, he told us everything we’d need for a economical, efficient pressure canning system.  I immediately went out and purchased everything on the list.  Wanna see?

Whew!  That's a lot of stuff!

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff!

Here’s a list:

  • One extra large pressure canner. (Go big or go home!)
  • Plenty of jars and, eventually, lids. (The jars are reusable, the lids are not.)
  • A jar lifter. (I went deluxe, because I really didn’t want this item to fail.)
  • An extra pressure canner rack. (Not required, but useful for double stacking jars in that great big canner.)
  • A bubble lifter. (I could have made due with a plastic knife, but I had a gift certificate.)
  • A lid rack.  (Yes, you could use that magnet thing, but it really isn’t worth the drama.)
  • A funnel. (I wish I had gone for stainless steel. It just seems cleaner.)
  • A super-enormous stock pot. (For sterilizing everything!)
  • Canning Books. (Knowledge does not come for free.)

Sadly, the books I ordered were less-than-useful. The first turned out to be a print-out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.  Don’t pay for what you can access for free!

The second seems to have lots of fantastic recipes for jams, fruits, and other sweet treats.  I want to can soup.  How many soup recipes does this book contain?  Zero.  Yes, zero.

The third book was the most useful.  It cost almost nothing at my local evil box store.  It’s the Ball’s Blue Book.  It’s awesome.  At least at the beginning, don’t bother with anything else.

But…back to class.  Heather’s not known for her overly serious classes, but for a while…this one turned deadly.

Look at those faces.  Those faces do not mess around.

Look at those faces. Those faces do not mess around.

Okay, so it comes down to this. There’s a super-serious toxin. It’s called botulism. It loves dark, oxygen-weak environments.

Do you know what’s dark and oxygen-weak?

Someday, when I become a canning expert, I will make this.

Someday, when I become a canning expert, I will make this.

Canned foods, baby. Canned foods are kept in the dark, and processing removes most of the oxygen.

So, Ken had some rules for us newbie canners.

  1. Only can approved, tested recipes.  You don’t want to die!
  2. Don’t can dairy or anything that’s high in fat.
  3. Don’t can pasta or rice.  It will turn to goop.  Only can ingredients that can be cooked to hell.
  4. Use kosher or sea salt. Never use iodized.  Iodized salt will cause your liquids to cloud.
  5. Put a date on your finished cans, so you know when they should be consumed. (Within a year, in case you were wondering.)

There is only one problem with the above rules.  We left class without a single recipe.  No print-outs.  No book recommendations.  Ken merely told us to “follow recipes” and that there were many “available on the internet.”

Here’s the problem with the internet.  So very many recipes are posted by random internet chicks.  Do I know who these women are?  Are they experts?  Are they willing to take responsibility for my health?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the most official official-source, only offers the following recommendations for canning soups and stews.

I used a screen shot, so that you know I'm not screwing with you.

I used a screen shot, so that you know I’m not screwing with you.

Let’s sum up.  Basically, this just says you can can whatever soup you want…as long as it doesn’t include pasta, rice, milk, cream, or other thickening agents (for the record, that includes flour and cornstarch!)  Dried herbs are hunky-dorey, though they tend to get more intense over time.  I read elsewhere that sage is a bad idea, because it turns bitter.  I’m sure there are some other random no-nos.

The more I looked around, the more I was concerned.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells me that I shouldn’t add thickeners to my soups and stews, but there are plenty of random internet chicks who add flour or cornstarch.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells me I should never, ever can butters or breads, but just google “canned butter recipe” or “canned bread recipe” and you’ll come up with a bazillion options.

Ken said that it was okay to experiment with “seasonings,” but what does that mean?  I know I can’t substitute fresh lemon juice for canned lemon juice in water bath recipes (the acidity level in the former is not consistent.)  But, can I substitute broth for water? (I think I can.)  Or, wine for water? (We did that in class…so does that mean it’s okay?)

So, I came up with Karen’s Rules of Canned Soups and Stews.  Are you ready?

Karen’s Rules of Canned Soups and Stews

  1. Don’t screw with ratios.  Don’t use more veggies, more meat, more fat, or less liquid than the recipe requires.
  2. Don’t use any ingredient that doesn’t appear in an approved pressure canner recipe.  (If I can’t find an approve recipe that uses garlic, I need to omit garlic when making my soup.  Luckily, I found plenty of soup recipes that included garlic!)
  3. Use dried herbs, not fresh.  Keep in mind that their flavor will get more intense over time.  (Avoid sage…it turns bitter.)
  4. Check instructions for individual ingredients.  For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that potatoes should be boiled for 10 minutes before canning.  If you make soup that includes potatoes, boil them for at least 10 minutes before canning.)
  5. Do not add any thickeners.  This includes dusting meat with flour before browning.  Skip the flour, and be patient during the browning process.
  6. Good food is good food.  Don’t compromise technique, ingredients, or know-how for the sake of convenience.  (Lots of canning recipes call for garlic salt, which I think tastes weird.  They also skip important steps like browning meat before boiling.  You know better.  Don’t be lazy.)

So, those are MY starting rules.  Who am I?  I’m some random chick on the internet.  Only follow my suggestions if they seem logical and smart to you.

Keep in mind, this is my best friend, Tina. She canned peaches without following a recipe, using fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Much of the class was spent convincing Tina to throw away her precious peaches, for the sake of the little one growing in her belly.

Ahhh...that's my Tina!

Ahhh…that’s my Tina!

I have even less experience than Tina does with canning. Keep this in mind when following my rules.


One Comment to “Cantastic Creations!”

  1. loving your posts Karen!!! – I am a big lover of preserving and canning too! here on the ‘ol farm in canada!!! cindy

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