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Preserving Summer's Bounty

Canning, once thought to be an old-fashioned home economics skill our grandmothers mastered, is making a comeback along with other homesteading practices. 

And it’s not just about a lifestyle choice. Canning allows us to eat healthier, preserve freshness for the dead of winter meals, and put that food to good use rather than wasting the bounty of summer.

“Canning is a great thing,” says Kristina Knight, master food safety advisor with the Colorado State University Extension in El Paso County. “Anytime people can get into the kitchen, use local ingredients and know exactly what they are eating is positive.”

Knight explains that canning costs a bit more to get started but the ongoing benefits are well worth it.

There are two methods of canning – water bath and pressure canning. Both create the same end result of fresh food that is preserved in jars for up to one year when stored at room temperature.

The water bath equipment is less expensive and a great way to get started, says Knight.  It is suitable for highly acidic foods such as fruits, tomatoes and vegetables that will be made more acidic by adding pickling ingredients. Pressure canning is for low acidic foods including most vegetables and meats.

Basic canning supplies can be found in the grocery store or large super stores but to get more authentic equipment, you should visit a homestead supply shop such as Buckley’s Homestead Supply at 1501 W. Colorado Ave. The store carries an abundant assortment of canning equipment including Ball products, salts, flavoring packets, pressure canners, water bath canners and canning accessories.

When thinking about what to can, experts say the answer is simple. Whatever is in season is perfect as long as you like it enough to enjoy it all winter long. Also, produce that is in large supply will be more affordable. And Knight says you can also buy in bulk and freeze it in preparation for canning later.

While Knight suggests starting out with simpler jams and jellies, she warns that whatever you settle on as the main ingredient, following a tested recipe is vital.  “The Ball Blue Book contains safe, tested recipes and that’s an easy way to start,” she says. “Also, any recipes that are connected to a state university extension would be tested.”

Starting with quality ingredients will result in better quality once that jar is opened. Knight says to choose only the freshest produce – peaches, apples, raspberries, strawberries, green chilies and cucumbers are plentiful this time of year.

And just as with baking in the Pikes Peak Region, altitude comes into play with canning. Knight suggests checking the altitude in the kitchen where you plan to can by going to veloroutes.org/elevation and then checking your recipe for high-altitude instructions. If none are given, she says the CSU Extension office can help by calling 719-520-7675. Other online resources include the National Center for Home Food Preservation, nchfp.uga.edu; the official Ball site, freshpreserving.com; and the CSU Extension site, elpasoco.colostate.edu. Knight says, “Canning is easy and fun and makes a great gift.”