Farm Horizons, October 2013

Tradition of canning lives on

By Kristen Miller

Canning – you either love it or hate it, according to Sue DeMars, of rural Winsted, who learned how to can from her grandparents as a youth.

Canning has since become Sue’s hobby, while her husband, Neal’s hobby is planting and tending a garden filled with vegetables and fruit for her to use.

Sue will spend the whole summer canning a variety of vegetables and fruits, such as green beans, beets, and stewed tomatoes. She is also a fan of jams, and uses strawberries and raspberries also grown in the garden, along with store-bought peaches when they are in season come August.

“When the kids were home, [canning] was something we did. Now it’s with the grandkids,” DeMars said. “It’s a fun time,” however, “you don’t do it if you don’t like it – it’s a lot of work,” she said.

For Sue and Neal, it’s been a team effort since they married 40 years ago, in 1973. That was their first year of canning together.

Even to this day, Sue uses the canning book she got free with the purchase of a crate of peaches she bought that year. “It’s well-loved,” she said of the heavily used cookbook.

“I can just about everything . . . stewed tomatoes are probably everyone’s favorite,” Sue commented. Her canned stewed tomatoes include ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, and celery from the garden.

Stewed tomatoes are also the most versatile, Sue said, explaining they make for great chili, soups, spaghetti, and other tomato-based dishes.

She even cans mincemeat – a family favorite – which Sue said tastes better than most people would think.

For her mincemeat, she grinds green tomatoes (those that haven’t ripened at the end of the season), apples, raisins, beef; cooks them and cans them to use later in pies or bars. “It’s really very tasty,” she commented.

For canning, Sue uses a water canner for acidic fruits and vegetables, and a pressure canner for less-acidic produce and meats. The pressure cooker ensures against botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning that can form from bacteria in improperly canned produce.

To prevent this from occurring, Sue recommends using the US Department of Agriculture’s canning and food preservation guidelines, which can be found online, and include recipes and step-by-step instructions for properly canning a vast array of produce.

“It’s really easy to navigate,” Sue said of the USDA preservation guidelines.

USDA guidelines must also be followed when entering canned and preserved goods for county fairs, Sue noted, adding that her granddaughter entered canned beef for the McLeod County Fair this year.

Though Sue will usually stick with much of the tried-and-true produce when it comes to canning, this year, she and Neal are trying sauerkraut with the hope of receiving better results than the couple had the first time they tried it 40 year ago. The results have yet to come in, as the cabbage was fermenting in the basement at the time of this interview.

In addition to canning, DeMars also does a fair amount of freezing as well, such as sweet corn, applesauce, squash, strawberries, and raspberries.

This year, she froze 35 dozen ears of corn. “I told my husband he can’t plant that much corn next year,” she said.

For the DeMarses, it’s not necessarily to save money, as there are costs that come with planting a garden and canning, not to mention the labor and time that goes into it. For them, rather, it’s more for the fun of it and being able to spend that time with family. They also like the idea of knowing where their food comes from.

“I know exactly what I’m getting,” Sue said, explaining she knows her produce is at its peak and grew without herbicides and pesticides.

As much as she enjoys the canning season, Sue equally looks forward to October, when the garden is put to bed for the winter and she can once again take up her other hobby, knitting.

Advantages of home canning

According to the USDA, canning can be a safe and economical way to preserve quality food at home. Disregarding the value of one’s labor, canning homegrown food may save a consumer half the cost of buying commercially canned food.

Canning also offers a healthy alternative to store-bought vegetables, as many vegetables begin losing some of their vitamins when harvested. According to the USDA, nearly half the vitamins may be lost within a few days unless the fresh produce is cooled or preserved. Even refrigerated produce loses half or more of some of its vitamins within one to two weeks.

According to the USDA, the heating process during canning destroys between one-third and one-half of vitamins A and C, thiamin, and riboflavin. Once canned, additional losses of these sensitive vitamins are from 5 to 20 percent each year, while the amounts of other vitamins are only slightly lower in canned compared with fresh food.

The USDA notes that the advantages of home canning are lost when one starts with poor-quality fresh foods; when jars fail to seal properly; when food spoils; and when flavors, texture, color, and nutrients deteriorate during prolonged storage.

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