WHAT WE CAN’T EAT, WE CAN!

Canned Veggies WatercolorUnfortunately, Sometimes I have to take break from making art and tend to the needs of the garden.

Once, there was an old farmer in his garden picking his bountiful harvest. Along came a man and his wife who were observing him from the road. The wife told the man to ask the farmer if he would sell them some vegetables. The man walked over and asked the farmer, “Are you going to eat all of those vegetables?” and the farmer replied, “ We eat what we can and what we can’t we can.” The man looking puzzled returned to his wife. And she said, “Well?”. The man said, “He said the craziest thing. He’d eat what he could and what he couldn’t he could!”

There is nothing better than fresh vegetables straight out of the garden, but when the garden is exhausted and the ground is beginning to turn white, the next best thing is canned veggies! Oh, the ones from the store are fine, but if you want great taste, you cant beat the ones you can yourself!

What? You’ve never canned? Well until recently, I hadn’t either. I grew up in the mountains and my family canned everything you can imagine, green beans, carrots, potatoes, squash, meats and even fish. However, I had never tried to do it myself, until this season! Canning is not for the faint of heart. All my life I had heard horrible stories about canners blowing up and scattering beans to the high heavens. I guess that’s why it took me so long to try it. However, I was eating so many green beans out of the garden I was beginning to turn green. Hence, the idea to can them.

Tin cans were used originally for canning. Jars replaced cans in the home because they were reusable, easily found in stores and more cost effective. You can choose from quarts, pints, half pints, and jelly jars, available with regular or wide mouths. Pressure canners are available at your local Walmart, along with the jars, lids, and rings, that are required to preserve all of your wonderful meats, fruits and veggies!

The history of the pressure cooker / canner dates back to the 1600′s when it was invented by Denis Papin. His version was quite cumbersome and required a special furnace to heat it. He called it a “Digester” because it softened bones in meat and cooked food to a tender state in a short amount of time. It was very unpredictable and often was quite dangerous. Today, pressure canners are made safer than ever, with pressure locks and release valves, but you do have to tend to them closely and follow the manufacturers directions exactly.

The process of canning is quite extensive and time involved, however, the rewards are great! Just think of opening a jar of green beans and smelling them as if they were freshly cooked, only needing to reheat them. And the taste! Yum, Yum! The vitamins from home canned veggies are just as beneficial as fresh! Now, can we can? Yes! We can!

First, you pick your veggies, in this case, green beans from the garden or purchase them from the local farmer’s market. Next you will “string and break” the beans. Stringing them is actually removing the ends and strings that run along the green bean. You will also break the beans in edible length pieces. Then you will “boil the off the green” by placing them in a big pot of hot water and bring to a slow boil for about 30 minutes. This is not going to cook the beans thoroughly, just remove the brightness. After removing the beans from the heat you must drain them and cool them with water. This stops the cooking process and enables you to handle them. You will then pack the green beans in clean quart jars about an inch from the top. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then fill jars with water to just cover the beans. Place the flat lid on the top and screw on the ring tightly. Fill the pressure canner with about 3 inches of water and begin heating on medium heat. Place the jars in the canner and bring the water in the jars up to boil gradually. Usually between 5-7 jars will fit in a large pressure canner. When the jars have heated to a slow boil, place the lid on the canner and follow the instructions exactly. Timing is crucial. This is the most unnerving time, when the pressure regulator is starting to “jiggle” or sing. This device is to allow the steam to escape when it is about to exceed the 10-15 lbs. of pressure. After the cooking time has expired, turn the burner off, and allow the cooker to cool until the pressure is released and the lid will unlock. Remove the lid. The jars inside may still be at boiling temperature. Be very careful when removing them with a pot holder and place them on a towel to cool overnight. This is when you know if your hard work paid off. The lids will “pop” when they are sucked down as the jars cool. This ensures that the jars are pressurized and the food inside will stay fresh up to a year.

Now when it is cold outside and everyone else is opening cans from the grocery store, you will be enjoying your fresh vegetables that you canned personally. Knowing that there are no preservatives or additives gives you an organic choice! Now, what will my next canning job be? Zucchinis or Crooknecks!

P.S. collections of the clear jars and their contents can give you some fascinating still-life creations!

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