Growing up on a farm was special in many ways. It's an experience I treasure and proudly shared with my children. One of those special experiences was teaching them to can vegetables from our small garden. From cucumbers to carrots, every last savory bite was preserved. But there are a lot of things to consider before canning vegetables - taste, safety and nutritional value are just a few.
First things first
Temperature is a driving safety factor in much of the canning process, and any delays can cause temperature to drop. Read your recipe all the way through before you start, and make sure everything you need is at hand.
Don't take short cuts
Although canning vegetables is a fun experience, it is also serious business. Don't rush the process or take dangerous short cuts like substituting a hot water bath for pressure cooking. This is especially important with low-acid foods like green beans, as the potential for botulism is very real.
Never reuse flats
Although it is perfectly OK to reuse jars and bands, you should never reuse canning flats. Flats are specifically designed for a single use and will not seal properly if used more than once.
Recruit a partner
Canning goes much more smoothly when you have a partner. One person can fill jars while the other extracts flats from the hot water, wipes rims and tightens bands. Especially when you're "hot pack" canning, this preserves heat and ensures a healthy seal.
Maintain your equipment
Be sure to have the pressure gauge on your pressure cooker checked each year. Some extension offices will do this for free. Also discard any chipped jars or rusty rims.
Use only top quality vegetables
Discard all bruised or otherwise damaged vegetables. Bacteria is the enemy when canning food, and any item that is bruised, discolored or otherwise inferior should be discarded to avoid potential contamination.
Vegetables begin to lose vitamins the moment they are harvested. Nearly half can be lost within just a few days. However, if you take care in handling and can them immediately after harvesting, they can be more nutritious than canned vegetables which have been professionally processed.
Take care with pressure cookers
When using a pressure cooker, be sure to follow all the manufacturer's instructions. Allow the pressure to totally dissipate before removing the lid, and never force it open. Protect yourself from the escaping steam with oven mitts or towels, as serious burns can result from carelessness.
Adjust for altitude
Water boils at a lower temperature in higher altitudes, which can adversely affect the safety of canned food. When canning in high altitudes you should increase the pressure and/or processing time.
When in doubt, throw it out
If you open a jar and the contents seem off color, are frothy, smell strange or are otherwise suspicious, toss it out. There's never been a more appropriate use for the phrase "better safe than sorry."
More from Cherri: