September 4, 2015 8:47 pm
Updated: September 5, 2015 10:22 am

Preserving 101: why you should try it and how to do it

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WATCH ABOVE: Christine Manning of “Manning Canning” shares her tips and tricks for pickling your own food at home. 

TORONTO — Looking for a fun long weekend activity? Why not try your hand at preserving (aka canning). It’s a DIY project that’s surged in popularity in recent years.

Why you should try it


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In case a Zombie Apocalypse ever strikes, your pickled produce could help you survive. Or so some picklers believe. Toronto-based food author Sarah B. Hood, who wrote a book on preserving called ‘We Sure Can!,‘ found several other reasons why people are drawn to it.

It can save you money

“People thought, ‘oh, it will be cheaper if I pickle things at home.'”

Homemade dill pickles can run you about $2 a jar and taste exactly how you want them to, Hood pointed out. She said one of the biggest money savers when it comes to preserving, though, is actually tomato sauce.

“Even just for cheesy dollar store tomato sauce, they charge around $3 a jar. And if you go to a place where they do it from scratch, they’ll charge like $10 or $12. I can have gorgeous, amazing-tasting tomato sauce through the winter for about $2 a jar.”

You can eat local all year long

More and more people now take a bigger interest in what they eat and where it comes from. Preserving lets you have greater control over that.

READ MORE: Do you want to know what’s in your food?

“This time of year when you’re going to the farmers’ market, it just all looks so beautiful. But the regular urban dweller isn’t going to take home a crate of plums and eat them,” said Ivy Knight, who runs an annual “pickle battle” every fall at The Drake Hotel in Toronto.

“So they have to be preserved. You have to take home this bounty and clean it up and then preserve it in these jars and then have it all winter.”

READ MORE: Interactive map of your favourite farmers’ markets

That’s how the art of preserving started. It was actually Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his army fed, who apparently offered a reward to whoever could create a reliable method of food preservation.

Back then, people didn’t have the luxury of going to their local grocery store and stocking up on fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter. And for farmers living off the land, preserving their harvest was a necessity.

It’ll make for cool presents

Homemade gifts are usually the best kind of gifts. So when Christmas-time rolls around, your labour of love will be all you need to give. Just think of the hours of shopping and waiting in line that you’ll save!

READ MORE: Toronto pickle battle proves canning is cool again

What you’ll need

  1. Jar lifter (this is one of the most crucial parts of the whole operation if you don’t want to burn yourself)
  2. Pot with tight-fitting lid (that’s where you’ll boil your jars to create an air-tight seal)
  3. A metal rack for the bottom of the pot (so the jars boil evenly and the glass doesn’t explode in the water)
  4. Funnel (for pouring brine)
  5. Head-space measurer (if you want to be “hardcore”)
  6. Chopped up vegetables

Dos

  • Use the freshest local produce you can find. What your put into your jar is what you’ll get out of the jar.
  • Find a trusted, recent recipe.
  • Cut any visible brown spots off your produce. Those might breed bacteria.
  • Unscrew the outer rims of the lids after you boil the jars. If bacteria later forms inside, it will force the lid off (and you’ll know not to use it).
  • Store in a cool, dark place.

Don’ts

  • Don’t store your pickled product on a shelf. It may look cool, but it will shorten the shelf-life.
  • Don’t sterilize your jars in the oven, use paraffin wax, or turn jars upside down to seal them. These techniques are now outdated.
  • Don’t double or triple the recipe. Preserving is a science and playing with the measurements can mess with the pH.

Baba’s Dill Pickles Recipe

This recipe, which makes 6 qt/L jars, belongs to Elsie Petch and was provided by Sarah. B. Hood. It’s taken from her book, “We Sure Can! How Jams and Pickles Are Reviving the Lure and Lore of Local Food”

Petch wrote: “This is a simple recipe which has been followed for four generations and perhaps longer. Most important is to get medium-small cucumbers as fresh off the vine as possible. Little hands can help by gently scrubbing the cukes before putting them end-down in the jars. The garlic in this recipe will probably turn blue in the jar; that’s just fine.”

Ingredients:

  • about 6 lb (2 ¾ kg) small to medium pickling cucumbers (about 21 cucumbers, or 3 pint baskets)
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 cups white vinegar (at least 5 per cent acid)
  • ½ cup kosher or pickling salt
  • 12 cloves whole garlic, peeled
  • 12 heads fresh dill
  • (optional) 1 dozen fresh (and unsprayed) oak or grape leaves

1. Sterilize jars and warm lids.
2. Wash the cucumbers and take a thin slice off each end.
3. In a wide, deep non-reactive pot with a thick bottom, combine the water, vinegar, and salt, and bring to a boil.
4. Put 2 garlic cloves and 2 dill heads into each jar. (Some people put a couple of oak or grape leaves in as well because they contain tannin, which helps to keep the pickles crisp.)
5. Pack the cucumbers as tightly as possible into the jars, leaving ¾ in. (2 cm) of headspace.
6. Pour the brine into the jars, leaving ½ in (1 cm) of headspace.
7. Run a plastic or wooden knife or chopstick around the inside of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles (this is called “burping” your jar). Top up with more brine if necessary.
8. Seal with warm lids and process at a rolling boil: 10 minutes for pint (500 mL) jars, 15 minutes for 1 qt/L jars, and 20 minutes for 1.5 qt/L jars.
9.  Remove the canner lid, turn off the heat, and allow the jars to sit in the hot water for another 5 minutes to cool down.
10. Wait 4 to 6 weeks before eating to allow flavors to develop fully.
11. Use a plastic lid after the jar is open to keep the vinegar from corroding the metal one.

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