Story last updated at 8/7/2013 - 4:17 pm
Is your freezer packed with salmon? Wondering what to do with all those vegetables growing in your garden?
Canning is one method of preservation that you could use to enjoy your catch or the fruits of your labor all year round - and longer.
Canning is easy, but it must be done carefully for food safety reasons. You wouldn't want to pack in nearly undetectable disaster with botulism, or leave conditions for mold.
"We use the latest, best research we can get," said Roxie Rodgers Dinstel, Home Health and Family Development agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks cooperative extension office. "Our job is to pass on research-based information. Our job is to keep you from killing yourself - and your family too. Some canning is easier. When you get into meat, a high risk of bacteria is right, but proper procedures make it safe."
Dinstel spoke to a community canning class in Juneau, hosted by the Juneau District's newest agent, Sarah Lewis.
Participants learned how to safely can salmon, chicken and vegetables.
For those three food types, pressure canning is needed for safety. Water bath canning is used for highly acidic fruits - like for jams and jellies.
Dinstel said that since water boils at 212 degrees, things that can be canned in a water bath canner are foods where 212 degrees will kill anything bad.
Pressure canning is also a nice option because it's faster than a water bath. She said one item may take 1 hour to cook in a water bath, but 25 minutes in a pressure canner (times vary based upon size of jar and contents). A water bath relies on boiling water, while a pressure canner relies on steam heat.
"The process of sealing only keeps new stuff from getting in there," Dinstel said. "The heat needs to get to the center of the jar and let it get hot enough."
With meats, you can raw pack or heat pack. If you raw pack, you don't need to add any water because the fish or meat will generate its own. If it's pre-cooked, you'll need to add some water. The other caution is with adding spices. In canning, less is more - the flavor is more intense.
Dinstel said you can also can frozen products. She said you could take last summer's frozen catch and can it, giving the canned product another year of best quality preserved fish.
Canning requires 11 pounds of pressure. There are two methods to tell whether the pressure canner is at the right pressure - there will be either a gauge that tells the exact pressure, or there's a rocker gauge, which should tick 2-3 times per minute at 11 pounds of pressure. Dinstel said the UAF Extension service tests pressure gauges for free. They need to be checked annually.
Lewis said it's best to preserve the foods as quickly after harvest as possible to retain as many nutrients as possible.
"There are pros and cons," Lewis said. "You can do it quickly, so that you're not having to buy something that was picked four weeks ago. One of the ways we can preserve our local harvest. One of the reasons why you might choose it over freezing s freezer space, electric costs. If you're doing soups and things like that it's the ease of having it ready made. It doesn't take electricity to keep it."
While the best quality of a canned product is going to be a year after the canning date, the product will still be safe to eat for a lot longer.
"It is still safe, as long as the seal hasn't been popped," she said. "It will just lose the quality. It's not instant. It's not like at day 356. You've got a good chance of having a good quality after the first year if it was processed and sealed properly."
Lewis said that canning can be a skill that's important for overall family resilience.
"It depends on where you live, but if there isn't ready access to foods," she said. "If there's some reason why shipping lines aren't working for a period of time, if fuel prices get to be really high and shipping (food costs) gets really high, being able to have your own food that is shelf stable, you won't have to worry if the freezer goes out. Family resilience can help with those slow fluctuations in prices and availability of foods."
Ready to get canning? Check out the UAF Cooperative Extension website for details on how to properly can Alaska's bounty. http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/preservingalaskasbounty/
Also check out this guide from UAF Extension on canning: http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publications-db/catalog/hec/FNH-00562A.pdf
UAF Cooperative Extension will be hosting more healthy living classes.
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.