Author Archives: nchfp

That Leftover Pickling Brine

A frequent question lately has been about re-using that leftover pickling brine when making homemade quick pickles.

Sometimes quick pickles are made by heating cut pickbrine
or sliced vegetables in a vinegar solution to acidify them. If this is done prior to filling jars, we refer to that as a hot pack method for canning: heating vegetables in the pickling liquid before filling them into your jars and covering with the hot liquid. Other times, quick pickles are made by the raw pack for canning: prepared raw vegetables are placed directly into the jars and then the hot pickling liquid is filled over them into the jars.

Once you heat, or even soak, your vegetables in your pickling solution, pH changes start to happen. (Heating makes the interaction happen faster.) The vegetables become more acidic, which is what we want to happen in pickling. However, the pickling solution then becomes less acidic. So if your recipe is a hot pack for canned pickles, and you have heated your vegetables in the pickling solution (“brine”), then you should not use leftover brine from filling jars for another round of the recipe. The expected ratio of acid to low-acid ingredients and ultimate pH adjustment in the next recipe will not be the same.

If you are making a usual raw-pack recipe for canned pickles and have leftover vinegar or pickling solution, then that could be used for another round of the recipe if you have a significant amount left over. An example of this type of raw pack would be pickled dill green beans, or quick dill cucumber pickles. The beans or cucumbers are never combined with the vinegar solution until it is filled over them in the canning jars.  The initial boiling may have concentrated the vinegar (and other ingredients like salt or sugar) just a little, but that does not make it less safe.  If you boiled it quite a bit to concentrate the mixture, you may not want to use it for its effect on flavor, however.

In some recipes, sliced raw cucumbers are soaked for hours in the pickling liquid (vinegar, sugar and/or salt, for example). Then the liquid is drained off the cucumber slices into a pan. The soaked raw slices are filled into jars while the liquid is then heated and poured over them. Even though this is a raw pack in terms of filling jars, this vinegar solution had its original pH (acidity) altered from that initial soaking before it was heated and poured into jars. It should not be used again for a canned pickle recipe since it is now of unknown acidity.

Leftover solutions from preparing a canning recipe could be used to flavor some veggies that only get stored in the refrigerator. This would be similar to marinating for flavor. Not knowing each recipe and situation, I cannot give you a definite storage time for this new mixture in your refrigerator.  I would treat it as a fresh vegetable salad and consumer it within several days in most cases.  And remember, home refrigerators should keep foods at 40 degrees F or lower!

Unfortunately some of our “legacy” USDA pickling recipes, as well as those from other sources, and especially those using whole pickling cucumbers, do result in some leftover brine after filling jars. Different varieties of pickling cucumbers have varying diameters and lengths and will not always fit into canning jars to the same degree. Therefore, there are more uncertainty and variable results in issuing recommendations for general use.

Do realize that the safety of pickle recipes for home canning in boiling water will depend a great deal on the ratio of ingredients and preparation steps including piece size. And not all pickle recipes produce the same final, equilibrated, pH in the vegetable and brine. Even though safe for boiling water processing, the length of the process time needed for keeping them on the shelf at room temperature can vary depending on the actual acidity.

Our Pickled Products recommendations for home canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website or in So Easy to Preserve, 6th edition, from the University of Georgia. The University of Georgia Extension also has two factsheets that can be downloaded for free, Pickled Products and Canning Relishes. Please be safe in choosing your pickling recipes for canning!

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Orange Marmalade to Brighten Your Day

Sometimes new is better than the tried and true older version of something.

We took a look at the long-standing original Orange Marmalade procedure in the University of Georgia’s So Easy to Preserve book and decided to make it easier (and better?). The book version has a 12 to 18 hour standing period of the fruit and water ingredients before continuing with adding sugar and cooking. We found this wait to be unnecessary in affecting the outcome of the final product so we were able to shorten the procedure. Also, the book directions have you measure the fruit and water volume in cups after this standing period and then calculate the amount of sugar to add. That was a bit messy (and dirtied more dishes to wash!), so after some repetitions to figure out a specific amount of sugar to use with each batch, we eliminated that step, too!

Of course this will not get changed in the book until there is a new edition (a totally unknown date at this time, by the way) but our National Center for Home Food Preservation website makes it possible to bring it to you right away. The recipe is posted here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/orange_marmalade.html. We used navel oranges in our recipe development, and left all of the white albedo attached. See notes at the bottom of the recipe page.

This is still a traditionally very sweet marmalade that gels from correct cooking with the right proportions of sugar and pectin as well as acid. It is partially preserved for the recommended short canning procedure by the sugar content as well as acidic fruit, also. We recommend cutting the orange peel into very thin strips; it is “chock-full” of orange peel. However, the sweetness makes it not too bitter. (I will admit, I have never been a marmalade fan, but I do really like this one!)

The pectin comes from the citrus fruit albedo (the white pith or tissue right under the outer peel) that is included. As with all cooked jams, jellies or marmalades that gel without added purchased pectin, but only with the pectin found in the fruit, cooking to the right temperature for gelling will be a little variable depending on your actual fruit and pectin content, speed of boiling and size of cooking pot. Our yield is usually just the 7 half-pint jars or in one batch, at least another partial jar. It is important not to overcook, also, or you pass the point where the pectin will gel.

Brush up on your measurement of determining “doneness” if you need to! Temperature might work well with this one, or get a small glass plate cold in the freezer while you cook. When you are ready to test for doneness, take the plate out and drop a few drops of the marmalade onto the cold surface. It should hold its shape pretty well. If you use the Spoon Test, be sure you are capturing the jelly part of the marmalade on your spoon and not fruit or peel. You have to work  quickly with all these, and take the pan off your burner. You don’t want to overcook, either, and get a marmalade that is too stiff or gummy. This stage makes these methods a little less precise than cooking jams or marmalades with added pectin, but also makes them more special as you work to perfect your product!

If marmalade is something that can help brighten your morning or other meals with a little addition of flavor and color, enjoy!

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Why do you recommend processing jams and jellies?

puttingjarinBWBUSDA and the Cooperative Extension recommend a boiling water canning process for jams and jellies even though some entrepreneurs or small batch processors are told to just fill the jar hot and close it. Why? Some other sources say processing isn’t necessary for any home canning of jams and jellies — just fill the jar hot and close it. Some others will say to invert the jar (turn it upside down) after putting the lid on, with various numbers of minutes recommended for this inverted position. Why?

A “process authority” advising someone packing jars for sale may indeed not recommend a boiling water process, but then other controls should also be specified for the particular recipe and full preparation procedure, such as a measured minimum hot fill temperature with every batch, specific acidity levels that would allow for no process with that specific product, perhaps measured and documented water activity control or degrees Brix for each batch that allows for no processing, and/or specific processing steps that would support this recommendation. Home canning recommendations for the general public have to cover a wide variety of recipes and methods of cooking the jam or jelly.

Even with a very acid fruit jam or jelly that has good water activity control, there can be some benefits to even a short boiling water process if food safety isn’t the reason. For one thing, molds can be airborne and settle into your jars at filling. The retained heat from filling jars in many home situations may not be enough to kill airborne mold spores. The goal in this case for a boiling water process would be to minimize the risk of spoilage during storage and thereby prevent “economic loss” by product having to be thrown out. Many larger scale commercial operations, in addition to tighter batch-to-batch cooking and filling temperature controls, have equipment systems that force an injection of superhot steam into the headspace before the lid is placed on the jar. This helps with closing temperature, but also forcing air out of the headspace.

So that leads to a second benefit to the home boiling water process. With a properly applied lid, the processing helps force some of the retained air of the headspace in jar. When the jar then cools after processing, this evacuated headspace can lead to better vacuums in the sealed jars (if lids are applied correctly) than just hot filling. Not all vacuum seals are equal. A jar may seal with a weak vacuum. A weaker vacuum is related to more occluded (trapped) air, and therefore oxygen, in the headspace of sealed jars. That oxygen can lead to discoloration and possible flavor changes over time, so quality retention is often better with a processed product than one just hot filled at home.

Finally, one of the considerations discussed when USDA was making recommendations is the potential for burns or leaking jars with the inversion process vs. a boiling water process. Although not in published journals or other sources, there are documentations from some research experiences that leaking and failure to seal are higher risks with inversion than processing. I have read one journal article using inversion that caused the researchers to abandon it in their future studies because of leaking and needing better control of temperature for safety reasons with their particular recipes. Other concerns with inversion include individual variation in practicing this procedure or that unexpected interruptions can result in delays between filling jars, getting lids screwed on, and inverting the jars. If the product cools down too much, the temperature of the product can become low enough to no longer be effective in sealing jars or preventing spoilage. Not ALL jams and jellies/spreads even fit criteria for even a 5 or 10 minute boiling water process; they might need a longer process!

USDA made the decision to recommend processing for all jams and jellies and very acidic foods for reasons of preventing economic loss and physical injury from burns as well as food quality during storage, even if it might not be needed for food safety.   We in Extension consumer education firmly believe the best practice to recommend even for very high acid foods is a boiling water process vs. hot fill only and inversion even though the other may be successful and safe for some food products.

Celebrate Eating Together

On December 3, Family & Consumer Sciences Day is being celebrated with a “Dine In” theme. Since 2014, more than 300,000 people have publicly committed to dining in on the annual Family & Consumer Sciences Day http://www.aafcs.org/fcsday/home). This day also celebrates the birthday of Ellen Swallow Richards, the founder of what is now the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS), formerly called the American Home Economics Association. The website above lists over 30 different valued sponsors or partners in this initiative. The promotion is an international event.

People are being encouraged to make a commitment to preparing and eating healthy meals with their family or others in their community. This is a fitting tribute to Ellen Richards, as she so believed in people working together and valuing family and community. You might consider this a good day to get some home prepared and preserved foods out of your freezer or pantry and share them together in a setting of community eating, whether with our own family or a group you invite to eat home prepared foods together. Maybe your community garden groups would like to share a meal of local foods and talk about community and health!

For other ideas, you can monitor the entries communities are sharing at http://www.aafcs.org/fcsday/home, or on Twitter and Facebook. Resources, such as an original recipe from the Beekman Boys cookbook and recipes certified by the American Heart Association can be found here: http://www.aafcs.org/fcsday/fcs-day-resources/dining-in-resources and http://www.aafcs.org/fcsday/fcs-day-resources/fcs-day-web-resources. Links to food preparation videos from The Art Institutes as well as Texas A&M University, food-related resources to use with children, and many other resources are also provided links. And of course, even if you do not want to can them, you can find interesting recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for some relishes, fruit dishes, and salsas for your sides! (http://nchfp.uga.edu)

You can read a little more about Ellen Swallow Richards here, http://connect.aafcs.org/about/about-us, as well as in many other sources. Ellen Richards, a chemist, was the first female graduate and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Smith College conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Science on her. She was an activist for nutrition, foods education, child protection, public health, women’s rights, and the application of scientific principles to everyday living for the family. Her activism, vision and professional experiences led to formalization of the home economics profession and founding of the American Home Economics Association. Here is one short biography: https://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/esr/esr-biography.html. I have done a lot of archival research and reading myself about Ellen Richards’ life and professional contributions, especially regarding public health and safe food and water. It is nothing but inspiring, especially when you read a lot of her correspondence with other foods and nutrition professional leaders in the late 1800s.

(References are the links provided above throughout the text.)