When Jeannie Coe moved into her Naperville home, she was surprised by the previous owner’s plantings.
“There were pears, grapes and apples. We were moving in, and we didn’t know what to do with them, so we just let them ripen and fall to the ground,” Coe recalls. “Then a neighbor asked if he could have the fruit the next year if we didn’t want it. I said to him, ‘What? You can eat this stuff?’”
She didn’t let the fruit go to waste the next year.
“We had like 250 pears all at once,” she says. “They were so delicious, but there were so many. I decided that we needed to know how to can all of this.”
Jeannie and her husband, Kevin, learned how to freeze and water-bath can their backyard bounty, but were curious and a little frightened about the option of pressure canning, the process of preserving food using a pressure canner.
Jeannie contacted Laura McLaughlin of the Glass Rooster who teaches country concepts for an urban lifestyle. Jeannie opened the class up to her friends and others through the Naperville Mom’s Network. A small group gathered in Coe’s home last Saturday to learn how to pressure can.
McLaughlin started the Glass Rooster while finishing graduate school.
“I was looking at green roof technology and started attending various conventions,” she says. “I noticed that no one talked about preservation, and since you can grow more than you can eat, preservation is important.”
She started the Glass Rooster in 2007 and mainly teaches classes at Treasure Island in Chicago but also teaches some home-based classes.
She says that, in the past, canning skills were passed from mother to daughter. But with the convenience of grocery stores, “canning skills skipped a generation.”
“Most of us have parents who didn’t can, but grandparents who did,” McLaughlin says. “After studying our food systems, I see them as very fragile. The way we grow our food today is not sustainable.”
She has found an increased interest in canning in recent years.
“Six years ago, there were no recipes for canning on the Internet,” McLaughlin says. “Now there are all kinds of recipes for canning.”
To prepare for the evening, McLaughlin covers a work table with white terry cloth towels to provide a surface that was clean and less likely to chip glass jars. She then instructs the class members to fill jars with beans and quartered potatoes. They busily snap off beans and arrange them in the jars, which are filled with water.
Unlike water-bath canning, the jars need only to be sterile, not hot. The water added to the jars also does not need to be hot. McLaughlin shows the group how to remove air bubbles in the jar using wooden tongue depressors.
“If there are air bubbles, you might end up with too much head space,” she explains, referring to the space above the jar contents.
Ideally, there should only be about 1 inch of head space from the level of water to the top of the jar for canned vegetables.
“Too much head space can cause some foods like peaches to oxidize and discolor,” she says. “It still is edible. It just isn’t very attractive.”
She also discusses adding other ingredients to the vegetables. She often adds salt to vegetables, but McLaughlin notes that “canning salt or kosher salt should be used or the water will be cloudy. Table salt has a caking agent, which causes the cloudiness.”
Fresh herbs like basil can be added if they are first blanched, McLaughlin notes. Dried herbs, cooked bacon, red pepper flakes and even hot sauce also can be added to the water in the jars.
“The thing to remember is that a little goes a long way,” she says. “When adding herbs and things, start with a small amount and check the results.”
They then add lids to the filled jars and rings are screwed on just until they are secure. Jars are placed into racks in the pressure canner.
“With water-bath canning, you add water so that it goes over the jars. With pressure canning, there is a lot less water,” McLaughlin notes.
For example, in a single-level canner, water covers about a third of the jar.
“Pressure canning uses steam instead of boiling water,” she explains.
The class waits to see the build-up of steam that comes out in a steady stream from a vent on the canner. After the visible trail of steam has been continuous for 10 minutes, a pressure regulator or jiggler is placed over the steam vent that allows steam to build up inside the canner. Once the gauge shows 10 pounds of pressure, the timer is set for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the pressure regulator is removed so the steam can escape. Once the pressure drops to zero, the jars are removed.
McLaughlin talks about safety issues with the pressure canner, explaining the purpose of safety valves and attention to gauges. The process is safe as long as procedures are followed and equipment is functioning correctly, she notes.
In the end, class members take home jars of brilliant green beans and potatoes and the confidence to give the process a try at home.
McLaughlin hopes her recipes for pressure canning beans and potatoes, and sweet potatoes will give others the catalyst to try it, too.
Canned Beans and Potatoes
12 pounds fresh green beans
21 small red potatoes
Clean beans and potatoes thoroughly in cold running water. Snap off ends of beans and discard. Cut out any spots or eyes on potatoes. Halve potatoes or cut them in quarters if they are large.
Raw pack beans and potatoes into sterile jars. Fill with water to about 1 inch from the top of the jar. Remove air bubbles. Add ½ to 1 tablespoon canning salt per jar. Wipe rim and add lid. Screw on the lid so it is fingertip tight. Process 30 minutes in a pressure canner at 10psi. Turn off heat and allow to cool before removing jars.
To eat, open jar and discard water. Season to taste and warm on stove or microwave.
Canned Sweet Potatoes
Wash sweet potatoes, then steam or boil for 25 minutes and peel. Cut out damaged spots and cut into desired size (large to medium chunks).
Make a simple syrup by combining one part sugar to two parts water and heat until dissolved.
Pack sweet potato chunks into clean pint jars. Add 1 tablespoon citric acid to preserve potato color. Cover with hot simple syrup up to about ¾ of an inch from the top of the jar. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Place lids on jar and screw on rims fingertip tight. Process 60 minutes at 10 psi. Allow to cool before removing jars.
To eat, open jar, drain, add butter and brown sugar if desired and heat.