Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Home Canning the Amish Way

 
Sterilized jars waiting to be filled
Canning food at home has long been the tradition of the Amish.  Growing up, Mom canned hundreds of quarts of food every year.  Much of it from her garden and the balance she brought home from trading with friends or buying from a local farmer.  This was part of how she fed a family of nine kids through out the year, especially those long cold Indiana winters where we didn't have food ready to hand out of the garden.  Mom learned her canning skills from her mom who also learned from her mom.

Grandma Eicher had even more mouths to feed when Mom was growing up.  Mom is the oldest of fifteen children and lived through the Great Depression.  The Amish had a tradition of living off the land which helped them during that time.  That said, it was still very difficult.  I've heard more than once how they lived off of potatoes and often ate them for every meal at times.
 
Canning food has been a way of life for many for generations.  The tradition continues on through tried and true methods but also through attention to detail.  The main critical aspect is cleanliness and sanitation.  Mom always took great care to boil and clean the jars and lids as well as pull out any that had chips or nicks in them.  She knew that the quality and safety of the food she was 'putting up' for her family began with these basics.
 
The typical method of canning for the Amish (and that Mom used) was 'cold packing'.  This is the process of packing the food directly into the jars raw followed by processing in a boiling water bath or in a pressure cooker.  The jars would all need to be submerged under the water.  Officially this practice is know as 'raw packing', but its not a term we used.  Also officially, the USDA does not consider the cold pack method of canning safe.  Though it is still widely used by the Amish.
 
The cold pack process involved filling the clean, sterilized jars with food.  About 1/4 inch of space was left for jams/jellies, juices and etc; with about 1/2 inch of space left for more solid foods such as meat, sauces, pickles, relishes and etc.  Any drips are to be wiped away off of the rims and then attach the seals and lids.
 
The jars, firmly sealed, are placed in a large pot filled with water (approximate temperature should be the same as the jars be placed in the pot) over the top of the jars.  Bring the pot to a boil.  The time it processes depends on the type of food in the jars.  The food is carefully removed from the boiling water and set aside to cool gradually at room temperature.  Storage should be a cool dark place until the canned food is ready for use.  A good site to use for additional reference is homecanning.com.
 
The USDA recommends the use of a pressure cooker today for home food canning.  The jars are placed in a pressure cooker filled with water (approximate temperature should be the same as the jars be placed in the pot) over the top of the jars. Place cover on the pressure cooker and lock securely and follow the cooker guidelines for the pressure desired. Allow the pressure to reduce on its own before un-securing the cooker.  For full details on how to use a pressure cooker to can see the USDA canning guidelines.
 
Tips on Sterilizing Jars:
Properly-handled sterilized equipment will keep canned foods in good condition for years. Sterilizing jars is the first step of preserving foods.

Sterilizing Tips:
Jars should be made from glass and free of any chips or cracks. Preserving or canning jars are topped with a glass, plastic, or metal lid, which has a rubber seal. Two piece lids are best for canning, as they vacuum seal when processed.

To sterilize jars, before filling with jams, pickles, or preserves, wash jars and lids with hot, soapy water. Rinse well and arrange jars and lids open sides up, without touching, on a tray. Leave in a preheated 175 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Or, boil the jars and lids in a large saucepan, covered with water, for 15 minutes.

Use tongs when handling the hot sterilized jars, to move them from either boiling water or the oven. Be sure the tongs are sterilized too, by dipping the ends in boiling water for a few minutes.

As a rule, hot preserves go into hot jars and cold preserves go into cold jars. All items used in the process of making jams, jellies, and preserves must be clean. This includes any towels used, and especially your hands.

After the jars are sterilized, you can preserve the food. It is important to follow any canning and processing instructions included in the recipe and refer to USDA guidelines about the sterilization of canned products.

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