The stern, matronly home economics volumes published during the frugal mid-decades of last century may seem hopelessly out of touch with reality today. And in many ways they are. Yet these schoolmarmish lessons—especially on canning and preserving foods—have newfound relevance for those of us experiencing a resurgent or initial interest in melding modernity with domesticity.
There’s a campy charm to these home ec tomes, despite the humorless old-school pragmatism they harbor that hearkens back to the days of wholesome simplicity. (Witness such finger-waggling admonishments as practicing “scrupulous cleanliness and eternal vigilance.”)
Our domestic desires for preserving foods have not changed so greatly over the years, though the means to their ends have. Today’s home cook clatters at the keyboard whilst a pot of jam simmers on the apartment-sized stove, the mind musing about life on the homestead and puttering about in a frock and apron, newly canned lids pinging in a steel-drum orchestra, pickles burping fetid fumes in their crock, chickens clucking contentedly in the backyard. She (or he!) can even adorn her (or his!) home-hewn goods with vintage-inflected labels in gingham or faded floral print, thanks to the advent of home printing. The yesteryear of yore is our new future, and we embrace it with calico-clad arms.—Sean Timberlake, founder of Punk Domestics
LC Putting Food By Note: The term “putting food by” is simply a quaint term from the days of yore that refers to any manner of preserving foods, whether canning, pickling, jellies, curing, or so forth. We rather like the old-fashioned phrase and would like to see it, too, make a resurgence.
TIPS ON CANNING AND PRESERVING FOODS
Excerpted from Home Economics: Vintage Advice for the 21st-Century Household by Jennifer McKnight-Trontz
Why is canning and preserving so important? Fresh fruit is usually more palatable and refreshing than cooked fruit, but it is not always obtainable. The importance of canning and preserving is therefore obvious. Canned goods of all sorts can be purchased, but they are usually inferior to the home-prepared foods. Many homemakers refuse to can and preserve because they are scared. If proper care is taken, no harm can possibly befall the foods. The great secret of success in the canning of any food is absolute cleanliness. Fruit must be carefully picked and washed, and all stems removed, and only as much as can be cooked while it still retains its color and crispness should be prepared. Peaches, plums, and tomatoes may be readily skinned after a three-minute plunge in boiling water. (Although we think a 30-second dip is plenty.—LC ed.)
The Science of Canning and Preserving Foods
Fruits and many other foods spoil because certain kinds of yeasts, molds, and bacteria grow on them and cause changes that make them unfit for us to eat. Therefore, it is necessary to kill all these organisms and to use preserving jars that are free from germs and sealed so tightly that no germs can get in.
The first thing to do is to sterilize the jars (include the lids and rubbers, too). By sterilizing is meant the killing of all bacteria, yeasts, and molds. This is done by boiling the jars for about 20 minutes in a kettle of water. It is best first to wash the jars clean, rinse them, and put them in a kettle of cold water; this tempers the jars as well as sterilizes them. To keep the perserving jars from cracking, put a cloth in the bottom of the kettle and place the jars on their sides.
The beginning canner should start preserving high-acid foods, such as fruits, that can be safely canned using the open-kettle method. Low-acid foods, such as many vegetables, need higher temperatures, and often require the use of a pressure cooker.
This canning method is one using an open kettle. The fruit is put into a kettle with a little liquid, boiled directly over the flame until tender, and then put into jars and sealed. It is most satisfactory for berries, jellies, jams, and fruit for sauce. The steps to be followed in preserving by the open-kettle method:
- Sterilize the jars, rubbers, and lids.
- Prepare the fruits or vegetables by washing. Have them as clean as possible.
- Have the required amount of liquid boiling hot, with the seasoning of sugar or salt as necessary.
- Put the fruits or vegetables into the liquid and boil them until they are tender.
- Put into the jars, seal quickly, and test for air bubbles by turning upside down.
- Label the contents. Store in a cool, dark place when cold.
Again, Keep it Clean
Scrupulous cleanliness and eternal vigilance are the price of canning success. The kitchen should be freshly swept and dusted; the fruit should be carefully gone over and bruised or gnarled portions removed; and all jars and utensils should be thoroughly sterilized. Saucepans, spoons, jars, covers, straining bag, etc., should be put on the fire in cold water, heated gradually, and boiled for 10 or 15 minutes. The preserving jars must be taken one at a time from the boiling water, and not removed until the moment each is to be filled. Never use old rubbers or lids that are bent. Be sure that lids are boiled and rubbers dipped in boiling water just before using.
In Preserving Fruits, There are Several Tips to Remember:
- No iron or tin utensils should be used, as the fruit acids attack these metals and so give a bad color and metallic taste to the food.
- All fruits should, if possible, be freshly picked, and it is better to have them underripe than overripe, as the fermentative stage follows closely upon the perfectly ripe stage.
- It is more satisfactory if fruits are heated gradually to the boiling point and then cooked the given time.
Jelly is made from sugar combined with the juice of fruits that contain acid and pectin. Ripe or overripe fruit does not contain as much pectin as underripe fruit. Some fruits like apples, quinces, grapes, and currants contain sufficient pectin to make jelly. Other fruits like peaches, pineapples, and strawberries do not contain enough pectin to jelly.
Another way of storing food for the winter is pickling, one of the oldest preservation methods. The term pickling is applied to the process of preserving food when either salt or vinegar is used. Pickled foods whet the appetite and help to make dishes—especially meat ones—more palatable.
Attractive labeling is just as necessary for jars in the home fruit cellar as for those offered for sale. It is always a good idea to write the contents when these may not be readily identified, and the date of canning as well.