Plan ahead to preserve the bounty of the season

By Jennifer Bridge

 Spring has arrived and gardening season is underway. Nothing tastes better than locally grown produce picked fresh from the garden.

 Many consumers preserve the season’s bounty to use once the growing season has passed. Current conditions have enticed many consumers to also become beginning gardeners and first-time preservers. Either way now is the perfect time to gear up for the season. Start by inventorying supplies and getting a head start on purchasing needed jars and lids and other necessities. Now is also a great time to make sure equipment is working properly and ready to use or purchase needed equipment. Nothing is more frustrating than having produce ready to process and not having what you need to complete the process.

 Pressure canners: Dial gauge canners need to be checked for accuracy to ensure safe processing pressure and temperature. Contact me at the extension office to schedule an appointment. If you are not in a hurry, leave the dial gauge lid in the extension office foyer along with your name and phone number. I will test the lid for accuracy, and you can pick up later. This is a free service offered through your extension office. We also have free canning booklets which contain recipes, processing methods and other related information. The booklets are formulated for Kentucky altitude levels and common products found in the state.

 Pressure canners made after 1997 have been redesigned to increase accuracy and are safer to use. If you have an older canner, you may want to look into purchasing a new model, especially if you preserve a large quantity of vegetables or meats.

 Canning jars: The most common size jars used in home food preservation are pints and quarts. Once canning season is in full swing, they can be difficult to find. Now is a great time to stock up on needed jars, lids and bands. Avoid using jars that have been used repeatedly as they weaken after each use. Visually inspect each jar for cracks or nicks paying close attention to the rim. Use jars designed for home food preservation. Avoid using commercial glass jars in which you purchased foods, such as spaghetti or pickles. The lid surface may be narrower, and the glass may crack or break more easily. These factors could result in jar breakage during processing or the lid becoming unsealed afterwards.

 Lids and bands: The only lids recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are two-piece sets. Canning lids are designed for one-time use and should not be reused for future home canning. Doing so significantly increases the risk of food spoilage and bacterial contamination. Newly manufactured lids contain a reformulated compound that no longer needs to be heated prior to use. Bands can be reused but tend to rust if not stored properly. To prevent rusting, bands should be removed from canned products 24-hours after processing and prior to food storage. Simply wash, rinse and thoroughly dry the bands and store in a dry environment until ready for use. Bands do not need to stay on the product during storage.

 Spices, herbs and additives: Watch for sales on spices, vinegar or additives designed for home canning. Check expiration dates on pectin and other products left over from last year’s canning. If in doubt, throw it out and replace. All vinegars should contain at least 5 percent acidity to be safe for home canning. Salt should not contain iodine, which can make liquids appear cloudy in-home canned goods. Now is a great time to plant herbs to preserve or use in preservation recipes later in the season.

Home food preservation has evolved over the years, and the many new recipes and gadgets on the market make canning safer, easier and more enjoyable. Feel free to call the office 270-422-4958 or email for more information.

 Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

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