Cindy Morgan of Percy, Illinois, uses her grandmother’s secrets when she puts up fruits, vegetables and condiments for the winter, but she doesn’t mind sharing them.
“My grandmother told me what her mother told her,” Morgan said, while packing cucumbers into quart jars to make kosher dills. “Cold-packing will always mean soggy pickles”
So, she almost never uses that canning method to preserve anything. Cold-packing is the process of putting everything into the canning jar cold and then superheating the food, jar and all, either in a pressure canner or in a boiling water bath.
The process she uses, sometimes called an open kettle process, is widely-accepted in traditional home-canning, but frowned on by experts who say that it does not get the food hot enough to process it completely and can lead to spoilage.
Morgan doesn’t disagree with the science, but she points to three generations or more of it working for her family.
“You have to make sure that you have a rolling boil [for the brine or water] to pack in,” she said. “And, the most important thing is to inspect your jars and lids before you start. A crack or chip in the lip of the jar can mean it won’t seal or the jar will break when you add the boiling liquid.”
Checking the gasket on the lid before using it is also important, she said, adding that even a small nick in the lid can prevent the jar from sealing.
Her grandmother’s tips also included some myth-busting and advice on how to get jars to seal. “There used to be an old wives’ tales that said you had to get rid of the lid if it got rusty. They said it wouldn’t seal. My grandmother said sometimes, especially in this climate, things rust. A rusty lid will not prevent sealing.”
The key to getting her jars to seal, she said, is letting them cool naturally, through air circulation. “You can’t let the jars rest on each other. There needs to be room between them for air to flow,” she said.
If a jar seems stubborn about not wanting to seal, she learned to turn it upside down for a few minutes while it is still warm from the boiling water poured inside. “When you turn it back over, it will seal,” she said, adding that the other option is to put jars in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
Morgan cans ever three or four days this time of year, she said, putting up everything from barbeque sauce and ketchup to kosher dill pickles and squash butter. Right now, it’s dependent on how husband Fred’s garden grows.
“If I have to go out in the heat and grow it, she has to can it,” Fred said. In an average year, that means canning pickles, salsa, jelly, squash butter, beets and pickled beets, tomato juice, ketchup, barbeque sauce and relish of several different varieties. Squash butter, usually made from zucchini, is much like apple butter in consistency and is flavored with cinnamon.
Fred also grows two crops of green beans each year, but he and Cindy have decided they prefer to freeze the beans instead of canning them.
Fred and Cindy say they don’t intend to stop canning anytime soon, but they certainly don’t save any money doing it.
“You probably give half of it away,” Cindy said, “And, people almost never remember to bring the jars back.”
Replacing the jars and buying new lids each year can get pricey, but Cindy said she prefers her home-canned food. “I don’t ever have to wonder what’s in it. I know there are no chemicals or preservatives,” she said.
And, really, it all comes down to taste. “It just tastes better, fresher,” she said.