Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canning Update: Observations, Successes and Busts

I mentioned as how I was going to start pressure canning this year. (Can it really have been more than a month ago? Where did August go?) I said planned on canning tomato sauce, borscht soup, and salsa. Well, I gotta tell you, I've had very mixed results.

The pressure canning itself is pretty straightforward and less nerve wracking than I had feared. Nothing's exploded in my kitchen yet, anyhow. But my very first foray into pressure canning left me feeling mightily depressed. After a deal of work making a large batch of borscht from garden vegetables that included our beets, tomatoes and savoy cabbage, as well as some carrots donated by another gardener, then canning it all in quart jars...well, the results looked just godawful. This is a picture of the one jar that didn't seal, probably because it was overfilled. All the others popped themselves shut. But the color was horrid in every case, and the cabbage looked like it had been boiled to death in there. Given that the jars were under 10 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes, I guess that's a pretty accurate description.

I was so dispirited. I couldn't even persuade my normally brave husband to try my experimental first run; it was that bad. Looks like we'll chalk this one up to learning the ropes. Unless someone who sounds like they know their business comes along and offers a canning-proof borscht recipe, (please?) I'm sticking my borscht in the freezer from now on, just as I did last year. Humph!

Happily, the tomato sauce went much better. The tomatoes have been coming in slowly this year. And I don't have enough equipment to make very large batches of sauce at one time. But still I've gotten 8 quarts of roasted tomato sauce put away. My intentions of making salsa have been forestalled by the sluggish production of the tomato plants. But I may well get around to that before tomato season winds down. I would guess we still have a few weeks of good beefsteak tomatoes left to us, if the weather kindly cooperates.

So, yes. Baby steps in the canning department this year. I hope to get more proficient and braver with the process as time goes on. I also plan to can some apple butter in the fall when our apples ripen up. I'm almost at the point of being ready to say, "I'm ready for fall and all the apple chores."

Got any good canning recipes you want to share? Please, please do so in the comments!


el said...

That's too bad about the borscht! You know, there are a fair number of things I freeze because of the heavy cooking process that pressure canning puts them through. Last night it was minestrone soup: the green beans and squash stay a lot more crisp that way. But really Kate lots of this really is trial-and-error. The best book I have for decent canning recipes is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (yellow cover).

I've had lots of luck canning beets, though, including roasted ones; perhaps you can give that a try and then puree them into a soup later? Like, maybe the carrots and the beets together then throw in the cabbage?

Kate said...

Thanks for the encouragement, El. I will probably look for the book you recommend. Part of the reason I wanted to learn canning is that the chest freezer filled up WAY too fast last year. So I wanted to put some things elsewhere. I also just wanted a way to preserve things that didn't rely on electricity once they were stored, ya know? But I also feel a little hampered with the whole canning scenario because I cannot stand pickled things. So that pretty much eliminates a wide swath of the canning possibilities.

When you can your roasted beets, do you pickle them? Care to share your recipe?

el said...

Ah, no, I am no huge fan of pickles either...though the ones I put up this year were rather tasty! The beets, though: I either boil them or roast them to remove their skins, then cut them up, pack them in jars then pour boiling water and a bit of salt over them, then process them in the pressure canner. They're not mushy when they come out. I sometimes just use the canning liquid and my immersion (stick) blender and whoosh away at them to make a kind of lumpy soup (adding them to a pot with browned other soup things like celery and onions etc). But I suppose a trip through the food mill would do the same thing. Anyway, that's my beety 2c.

And I completely hear you, Kate, on the freezer fill-up. We ended up buying a second chest freezer recently, mainly for all the meat coming in Sept and Oct. from our meat guy. I had a very tense four hours one day when our electricity cut out. Made me want to can a WHOLE lot more stuff.

Kate said...

Thanks for the suggestion, El. I bought just a few beets the other day at the farmer's market. I plan to just make up a big batch of borscht and freeze it. We just have so much stuff ready to be harvested that can go into borscht. And it's one of our favorite soups. But if I grow a lot of beets next year I may try your method. I do really like them. And if I could can them without turning them into pickles, that sounds really good.

Hmmm...I see changes to my garden-on-paper plan for next year.

Thanks much!