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Plan ahead to preserve the bounty of the season


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. For those who preserve food, now is a great 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. Nothing is more frustrating than having produce ready to process and the canner not work.

Last year, many consumers had a difficult time finding home canning jars and supplies as the demand was high from those who grew gardens for the first time or first time in a long time. So items you may to focus on include the following:

Pressure canners: Dial gauge canners need to be checked for accuracy to ensure safe processing pressure and temperature. Contact your local family and consumer sciences extension agent and make an appointment to have your canner inspected and gauge tested for accuracy. This is a free service offered through your local extension office.

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 food, 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. Be on the lookout for upcoming classes related to home food preservation. Our doors are open, and we hope to offer in person classes, socially distanced, soon!

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.