Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First post

I've been canning for several years now. When I began canning, I had difficulty figuring out how to do it. All of the information was either by word of mouth, in a format that was difficult to understand or simply scattered about from one book to another. It seemed like each time I wanted to can something new, it would take as much time doing research on how to can as the actual canning itself.

I bought every book available, including some used books from the 40s and 50s and I was fortunate to meet some other home canners who had a lot of experience and taught me how they did it. I compared what they did with what all the books and internet sources said and researched safe canning by the USDA. I then began developing my own canning recipes, which I posted to CanningUSA.com with step-by-step instructions and photos. After canning everything from jam to foie gras and duck confit to a freshly slaughtered whole pig (including making sausage!), I sat down and began developing a pedagogy for canning. I was able to break all canning into six basic canning methods that were progressive in difficulty.

The first method is the easiest - canning jams and infused fruit. It doesn't require a lot of skill or equipment and is the most commonly learned method. It only requires a water bath canner.

The second method was a little more difficult and focused with fruit: Canning fruit in syrup or as a pie filling. It's a little more difficult than canning jam and is the next logical step for a home canner. It also only requires a water bath canner, but introduces the difference between cold pack and hot pack canning.

The third method increases the level of difficulty, as it moves into tomatoes. They are still a fruit, but everyone uses them as a vegetable. The objective here was to learn how to can tomato sauce which is very popular and an extreme time-saver. Along with tomato sauce, we included canned salsa and whole or diced tomatoes for those who want to make their sauces at a later date. Again, this method only requires a water bath canner and reaffirms the difference between cold pack and hot pack canning.

The fourth method introduces how to can vegetables and soups. They are low in acid and are canned very similarly to the fruits in methods 2 and 3. However, this method requires a pressure canner and the majority of this method is spent on getting comfortable using a pressure canner.

The fifth method moves into meat packing with whole meals in a jar; chili, stew, etc. It's more difficult to do, but if one learned the other steps first then they wouldn't have any trouble catching on. This is super handy when making a large batch of your favorite chili, stew, chicken soup or meat marinara sauce. This method also uses a pressure canner.

Method six finishes off the pedagogy by teaching how to can pates, meatloaf and fish. This method introduces the raw pack method, meaning that the product is canned uncooked and then cooks while it is being processed in the pressure canner.

Using these progressive methods, I was able to develop a series of six, approximately ten- minute home canning videos, with the help of my dear friend Andrea Van Wallenburg and Fergus Anderson. We scripted the six methods and filmed the videos in Andrea's kitchen. Fergus had intended to be on holiday from filming short films and documentaries, but was nice enough to help us get the videos produced.

CanningUSA.com had existed with just recipes until we added the videos. At that time, we also changed the quantity formats in recipes to be unique to a common jar size so that someone could decide how much they wanted to can and make a batch that size. This was contrary the confusing recipes found in practically all canning recipes, which have inconsistent quantities; 8 pints, 9 quarts, 1 peck or bushel, etc.

Andrea and I are canning buddies and we use different philosophies for canning. I live in town and entertain a lot, shopping at the farmers' market. My focus is on things I can use for entertaining. Andrea has a blended family with seven children and lives in the country, where her husband, Johan, grows some vegetables and tomatoes for her and they have some nice fruit trees and brambles. They also have an organic farmer friend, Stu, who drops off incredibly beautiful fruits and vegetables. She's cooks for a hoard of people everyday, in between raising kids and a full-time job. I don't know how she does it.

Rather than try to describe why Andrea is a home canner and the differences between what we can, I hope Andrea will make an occasional post to this blog. When we post, we'll try to tell you why and what we're canning, what we're doing with canned goods upon opening or tips for how to can more easily. We might even throw in some of the questions we get from CanningUSA.com inquiries and our recommended solutions.

Before I end this post, please remember to visit the CanningUSA.com Canning Supplies Store. We're associates of trusted Amzon.com and have been able to develop the store in conjunction with Amazon.com and their other associates. The pricing is the same as at Amazon.com, checkout is through Amazon.com and their shipping rates and policies apply. The shipping can sometimes make canning jars more expensive that you might find them locally. However, we think the other products are good quality, competitively priced, including the shipping and handling charges. Plus there are some unique products that aren't easily found locally.

Happy Canning!