Can it

October 02, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Betty Byers has worn out several boiling-water canners, but she still has the four-quart canner she's used since she was first married more than 50 years ago.

Why does Byers do home canning?

"We know how we raised it," she says of the food grown at Linden Hall, the Hagerstown farm that's been in her husband's family for more than 100 years.

Linden Hall has two of its 166 acres in peaches and 25 acres in apples. Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples are available now. The family's sells their produce at a stand on their farm.


Byers and her daughters already have preserved some of this season's bounty. They've "put up" peaches and pears and peach and cherry preserves, says daughter Joanna Calimer. Later, they'll make and can apple butter. Byers admits that canning is hard work. But many hands lighten the labor.

"We all work together," Byers says of her canning team - daughters Calimer and Chris Forsythe.

Want to try it?

Canning fruits and vegetables involves a lot more than sticking produce in a jar. "You really have to be pretty careful about what you're doing," says Lynn F. Little, family and consumer sciences educator, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.


Those wonderful-tasting fresh foods spoil because of microorganisms - bacteria, molds, yeasts.

Enzymes also change them. Fresh foods react with oxygen and they also lose moisture, according to information on the Web site of the National Center for Home Food Preparation.

Little recommends the Web site, which includes information from the United States Department of Agriculture, for up-to-date answers to questions in many areas of food preservation.

Canning can preserve fresh foods, but canning has to be done right. It's important to be aware of the most current methods, Little says.

The science of canning has come a long way since an American glassblower named John L. Mason introduced the first glass jar with a screw-on cap in 1858.

The food to be canned must be clean and in good condition.

There are two basic canning approaches: the boiling-water bath method for preserves, rhubarb, tomatoes and most fruits; the pressure method for low-acid foods including most vegetables, meats and poultry that need to be processed above the boiling point to ensure killing bacteria that can cause deadly botulism food poisoning.

To ensure safe canning of modern-day tomatoes, which are lower in acid than their ancestors, experts recommend adding lemon juice or vinegar, Little says.

Having the right containers is important. The U.S.D.A. recommends glass Mason-type threaded home-canning jars with self-sealing lids. The jars may be reused many times, but must be washed and carefully rinsed before each use. New lids, however, are required.

After you fill the jars with food, get air bubbles out by putting a flat, plastic spatula between the food and the jar, turning the jar and moving the spatula up and down.

Adjust the "headspace," the unfilled space above the food in the jar: 1/2 to 1 inch for vegetables; 1/4 to 1/2 inch for fruits.

Wipe jar rim with a damp paper towel.

Place lid - gasket down - on jar.

Fit metal screw band over lid and follow manufacturer's directions for tightening.

Timing is everything - of critical importance. The food must be processed long enough at high enough temperatures. U.S.D.A recommendations are available on the Penn State Food Safety Web site at

When you remove the jars from the canner, cool them for 12-24 hours. To protect your counters place them on racks or towels.

One way to test the jar's seal is to press the middle of the lid with your finger. If the lid springs up when you release your finger, the jar is not sealed.

When jars are cooled and safely sealed, you can remove the metal bands, wash them and store to use again.

U.S.D.A. recommends washing off the lid and jar to remove any food residue. Rinse, dry, label and date. Store your home-canned treasures in a clean, cool, dark, dry place.

Is home canning a snap, a piece of cake?

No, even Betty Byers, who's been canning for a long, long time, won't say that.

But she says the results are worth the effort.

"We may be spoiled, but we think it tastes better."

Canning resources

Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Agricultural Education Center, Md. 65, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, Md. 301-791-1504

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