Spring is here! Gardens have been planted and hopefully your plants are growing and thriving. Most gardeners I know always plant a big garden … sometimes bigger than necessary to feed their family. What do you do if your garden provides more than your family can possibly eat? Why not preserve your garden’s produce so you will have home grown veggies throughout the year?
While you are eagerly awaiting your first crop of goodies, it’s time to take inventory of your home canning equipment and supplies.
• First, check your canning equipment. Safety and good operating condition is important. If the pressure canner has a dial gauge, it is recommended you test the gauge yearly. Bring your gauge by the office and I can test it for accuracy. You can make pressure adjustments up to two pounds; but if the gauge is “off” by more than two pounds of pressure, it is best to replace it. Check the rubber gasket in the lid to see if it is pliable and in good condition; if not, replace with a new gasket. Write down the model number of the canner and either order the gasket online or your local hardware store may carry canner replacement parts. Remember, not all canners use a rubber gasket. After you’ve had the gauge tested, perform a maintenance check on the vent, safety valve and edges of the lid to be sure they are clean and working properly. To clean the vent, draw a string or narrow strip of cloth through the opening. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning the sealing edges for the canner.
The darkened surface on the inside of aluminum canners, both water bath and pressure, can be cleaned by filling it above the darkened line with a mixture of one tablespoon cream of tartar to each quart of water. Place the canner on the range, heat water to boil, and boil covered until the dark deposits disappear. Add more cream of tartar if stubborn spots remain. Empty the canner and wash it with warm soapy water, rinse and dry. Check the canner racks for cleanliness and good condition. Until time to can, store the pressure canner with the gasket removed and with the lid inverted over the bottom, not twisted into position. Make sure the water bath canner lid still fits tightly.
• Next, inventory canning jars, lids and rings. Mason-type jars specifically designed for home canning are the best. Mayonnaise jars or other jars that you may be tempted to recycle and use for canning may not seal and may break, especially in a pressure canner. If properly used and cared for, canning jars may be reused indefinitely. Do not reuse any jars with cracks or chips around the lid as they may break during canning or may not properly seal. Most canning jars sold today have two-piece, self-sealing lids. The lid is used only once; the screw band may be used over and over, unless it is rusted or bent. New lids should be good for at least five years after manufacture if stored carefully. Throw away old, dented or deformed lids or those with gaps or flaws in the sealing compound.
I’ve noticed our local stores have spruced up their canning goods selection. Inventory your gear to see if you need to make any purchases. Canning utensils that can make home canning easier includes: jar lifter, filler or funnel, bubble remover, lid wand, clean cloths, knives in good condition, timer, clean towels, hot pads, and a new cutting board made of hardwood or plastic if your old one is scarred. Additional items such as corn cutter, apple slicer, decorative labels and special canning spoons are nice, but not essential.
• And last, but not least, make sure you are up to date on the latest research-based food preservation methods. I have recipes and information available on canning, pickling, jellied fruit, freezing and drying. Once you complete your food preservation equipment inventory and maintenance, all you are waiting on is the garden to grow.
Mitzi Parker is Sumter County Extension agent/Family and Consumer Science, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at 924-4476.