Our garden is now overflowing with vegetables, and neighbors are giving us ripe tomatoes before they drown in them, we have more than we can eat. Solution: canning! My early thoughts on canning were rosy-hued and nostalgic, based on this illustration in Blueberries for Sal, one of my and Toddler Harbat’s favorite children’s books:
So I started off, instead of the “kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk” of blueberries in a tin pail, with the “thunk, tap-tap-tap” of my knife on the cutting board as I chopped up 12 cups of tomatoes and handfuls of herbs and onions for our own garden tomato sauce. The sauce happily simmered away on the stove while I opened up our new canning kit, a $30 assortment that looked straight from the 50s. Perfect!
In short, hot water bath canning involves preserving a fairly high-acid food by putting it in a jar, sealing it, and boiling it like crazy to kill off all the dangerous bacteria. You know, botulism and other fuzzy-wuzzies that kill you. I realized that Uncle F#$k-Up would need some help in the kitchen, so my wife and I tackled this job on a weeknight after work. Mistake #1: give yourself lots of time!
While the sauce simmered for 75 minutes, we set the jars into a hot water bath in the enamel pot. Five minutes before canning, you’re supposed to put the lids into the hot water to soften up the rubber seal. “Sure, easy, here we go!”
Of course I underestimated the time needed to push the sauce through a sieve to remove the skins and seeds. Mistake#2: allow time for getting the food ready to jar, THEN put the lids in for five minutes. Now it’s hour three of the canning process, and we’ve got the sauce strained, the jars ready, and the kitchen sink piled high with strainers, colanders, dirty bowls and cutting boards. We fill up the first jar, then the second. Then the third. Then…no more sauce.
Seriously? All this for three jars? Mistake #3: double or triple the recipe so it’s actually worth your time to can. I’d envisioned having enough jars of pasta sauce to distribute to neighbors and friends, and our pantry would be packed with rows of labeled glass jars, all while my wife danced around in the living room to big band music, her poodle skirt flaring out and pedal-pushers clacking on the hardwood floor. Instead our three jars of sauce are like liquid gold, a precious to be squirreled away in the pantry only to be used…at the utmost end of need.
So our canning process went from this:
We haven’t tasted any yet, and since botulism is tasteless and odorless, we’ll never know if we did it right. Whee!