Home canning enthusiast Timothy Young, Chef and President of Food for Thought and Esch Road brands, talks to MyNorth’s Eliza Foster about why he is passionate about canning and shares what items are in season for fall canning. He also gives recommendations for first time canners and more! Read on for the whole discussion.
Tell us a little bit about Food for Thought.
We are creators of organic, wildcrafted and Fair Trade specialty foods based on an organic farm in northern Benzie County. Founded with the mission to “create and raise awareness around just and sustainable foods” in 1995 we make a range of products from preserves, dessert toppings, sauces and dressings in both the Food For Thought and Esch Road brands.
How long have you been canning?
Since I was a child my mother encouraged me to cook. That included helping her with making freezer jams and doing some basic canning. I then picked it up again fresh out of college. It eventually morphed into how I make my living. And even though I may make thousands of jars of jam or salsa on any one day at work, I still can at home.
What’s the best thing to can right now and into fall?
This is the time. We’re in the tail end of the corn season and tomatoes are peaking now that we have some warm weather. The local farmers markets are overflowing, so this is a good time for pickling, canning, drying and freezing.
Speaking of fall, what can you do with apples?
Drying them is fun. You can dry rings, flavoring them with cinnamon or other spices. You can then add them to your trail mixes, granola, oatmeal or just enjoy as is. Applesauce is also a staple and easy to can. You can mix them up with different flavors or add some pear, or other fruits like blueberries and raspberries.
How much do you suggest someone makes?
I’m not a good example. I often make it a day-long project, canning multiple products at one time. I would suggest a more modest approach for beginners. Like most things it’s best to choose a few easy goals and as your comfort level increases you can increase your volume and variety.
Is canning a year round possibility? What are seasonal options?
Canning is clearly a year-round endeavor. While it always makes sense to can when fresh and local ingredients are available, I actually do quite a bit of canning in the late fall and winter. Normally that’s when I get out the pressure canner and can soups and stews, beans and other staples. Beans seem counter-intuitive to can since they are so readily available and pretty inexpensive. However, by canning my own I can play with different combinations and flavor them. I even can beans and rice together so I can make a quick Mexican dinner for my family faster than it takes to cook rice. Leftover ham and turkey from holiday meals easily becomes pantry stocked with pea or turkey soup. I also make and can chicken and turkey stock from leftovers. Little goes to waste in my house.
What is the simplest item to can?
Fruit preserves are really the entry point. They are very easy and can be done in a hot water bath.
If someone is thinking about canning and has never done it before what is your best advice? Can you give a quick rundown of what to do and not to do?
First, get a good canning book. They all have introductory chapters on the basics of canning. They also have tables, charts and other reference material you will need. I have a bunch of them, but if I had to have just one, it would be Putting Food By by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan. Mine is well “loved” and filled with all kinds of notes from 25 years of canning. It’s also important to read the basics on canning science to understand why some items may need a simple hot water bath or require pressure canning.
Beyond that, my best advice is the same you give your kids when they’re feeling “not good enough” to participate in something. All good things take practice and patience. Mistakes will be made, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. A jam that doesn’t set can be used as an ice cream topping, or a batch of chili with popped lids can be poured into tubs and frozen or simply re-processed. While the end product can be very rewarding, you need to enjoy the journey. If you don’t like spending a whole day in the kitchen, canning may not hold your interest.
Is canning costly?
While it has some economic advantage to it it is hard to justify canning on labor alone. You can spend a whole day making 20 jars of jam. It does bring a greater appreciation for the true cost of food. I never think twice about the $7 jar of jam because I understand better. It’s about having better control of your food supply. Plus you can have better control over the quality of your food.
Is there a distinction between pickling, preserving and canning?
Pickling, preserving and canning are all means by which we take a perishable food item and preserve it. For example pickling is a means of preserving a low acid food, (such as a cucumber, corn or asparagus), and preserving them by adding acid, normally in the form of a vinegar and salt solution (brine). Products or combinations of ingredients that are more acidic, such as fruit preserves or salsa can normally be canned without the addition of acid and easily processed in a bath of hot water.
Another means to preserve low acid foods is via pressure canning. That is a bit more complicated, but with a good canning book anyone can do this. One recommendation I would make is to use a really nice canner with a pressure gauge and pressure weight on them. Today there are many cheap pressure “cookers” out there that are designed for cooking food fast and don’t have all the safety components of a pressure “canner” even though the manufacturer might say they are fine for canning. I recommend the All-American Canner line because they are forged right across Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. They start at about $200 and go up depending on size. The model 921 was my first canner and that’s a good size to take someone from beginning to advanced canning.
What are you canning right now?
Right now is a busy time for me so I haven’t really been canning. I mostly make canning meals. I am putting things up in my freezer right now and sometimes I will freeze tomato and corn and then add them to something else. Most years I have a pretty extensive garden but this year I didn’t, so I went to a local farm market or Oryana.
Have you noticed a trend over the years in canning? Are there more people doing it now than say, five years ago?
Absolutely. There’s been a steady increase over the past 20 years as people have become much more food savvy and are questioning the globalized factory food model that sustains most of humanity. Ever greater numbers of people desire both a more authentic experience with and a greater participation in their food choices. And as is common during economic downturns, the depression that hit the planet in 2008 led to a surge in home canning interest.
Why should people can?
Everyone has different reasons, from the pure love of food, improving the food budget or prepping for a food shortage. There are lots of good reasons. I love it because I’m attracted not only to the better quality of things you can make at home, but also feeding my desire to know more about my food, where it comes from and that sense of self-sufficiency. It’s a skill that could benefit any family should there ever be a significant disruption in our food supply. Enough wood to heat my home for the winter and a pantry full of preserved food always feels good.