Author Archives: nchfp

Jar Size Choices Have You Frustrated?

I am often asked what the process time should be when home canning in a jar size not listed with a food.  Well, there is not just a formula to apply to change assorted empty canning jarsprocess times for sizing up or down a jar. (If there was, it would be easier to offer a wider range of jar sizes for all products.)  Different foods heat up at different rates and require different adjustments.

Therefore, the general rule of thumb is if you want to use a smaller jar than one listed with a tested process, use the process time for the next size larger jar than you have.  For example, if a procedure only lists pint jars as the smallest choice, and you want to use half-pint jars, you use the process time for pint jars. The product is likely to be even softer when processed in this manner, but it is the only choice for safety and you need to take that into consideration if desiring to use smaller jars. Do remember if you use too small of a jar compared to one studied, say a 4 oz instead of a pint jar (16 oz), you could end up with a very overcooked product and it may not be desirable to do so, even if safe.

Another example, since there are some 24- and 28-ounce jars now manufactured for home canning: These are between pint and quart size jars, so you would use the quart process time if one is available.  If there is only a pint and/or half-pint process listed with the procedure, then there is no tested process available for a 24-, 28- or quart size jar. So this leads to the next situation, there is no way to offer a known safe process for a jar larger than the largest one studied. If the largest jar size recommended is a pint jar, then there is not a formula to be able to say how to increase the process time for a larger jar.

To come up with a minimally safe and still optimum as much as possible process, one has to have the actual heat penetration (heat tracking data) from the food being heated in the jar size to be recommended in order to calculate a specific process to the jar size and type.  For more about how process times are researched, especially for all low-acid foods, there is more description here: https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/heatprocessingbackgrounder.html

As you choose jars, in addition to size, please remember we recommend jars properly tempered for the temperature extremes of home canning, as well as those with closure systems recommended for home canning so you obtain good vacuum seals using recommended processing procedures. These jar choices will also be a limiting factor in sizes for which you need process times.

Please be safe in your home canning choices. The research-based processes available may seem very limiting for what you want to do; however, there has been little public funding for researching new recommendations in a long time and there are few labs set up and staffed to do home canning research. This often means when something new can get researched, there will not be multiple jar sizes tested.

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Canning Dry Beans: It Matters How They Go in the Jar

As a low-acid food, all beans require the use of a pressure canner for preservation by home canning, unless they are sufficiently pickled (acidified) to bring them out of the low-acid food category. But pressure canning isn’t a magic bullet if you don’t know the safe way to prepare food and carry out the right process for each food type and style. If you are new to pressure canning or could use a refresher of the basic how-to, then please read Using Pressure Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, then also read Principles of Home Canning from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. 

The USDA recommended processes in the Complete Guide to Home Canning for home canning dried beans require a hydration step prior to filling jars:   https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/beans_peas_shelled.html

The options are to (1) place sorted (for stones or other contaminants) dried beans or peas in a large pot and cover with water. Soak the beans 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Then drain off the soaking water and do not use it in canning the beans. The other option is, to more quickly hydrate the beans (2) cover the sorted and washed beans with boiling water in a saucepan. Boil them 2 minutes, remove them from the heat, soak them 1 hour and then drain. That cooking water is also not used in canning the beans.

The procedure then calls for covering drained beans hydrated by either method with fresh water and boil 30 minutes. The USDA canning process recommendation is for a hot pack prepared this way only: hot beans boiled 30 minutes then filled quickly into jars while still hot. (But of course being careful not to burn yourself, as with all canning steps.) Optional salt can be added to the beans in the jars if desired (½ teaspoon of salt per pint or 1 teaspoon per quart jar). The jars with cooked beans (and salt if added) then get filled with the hot cooking water, leaving 1-inch headspace. As with all jars packed this way, water should cover the food pieces for expected heat distribution during processing and best quality in storage of the canned beans.  See the link above for full instructions and the processing times and temperatures (pressures) for pints vs quarts, and for various altitudes.

According to inquiries I get, and what I read elsewhere on the Internet, it is popular practice to put dry beans in the jars, cover them with water and put them into the pressure canner that way. Unfortunately, I have never found or been shown research for home canning that has determined what the process time should be for dry beans filled into jars in this manner.  A safe process time is partially dependent on jar size and type of food, yes, but it is also partially dependent on the texture of the food, the temperature of the food and liquid, and the weight of the food filled into jars.  Dry beans sitting in water at the start of the process time will not heat up at the same rate as beans prepared as described in the research-based method described above and in the USDA materials. The final sterilization of the jar contents achieved by the end of the process will not be the same as when the process is applied to jars filled as described in the recommended methods.  People canning their dry beans by other methods, and especially by starting with dry beans in the jars, are taking a big risk on food spoilage and possibly botulism food poisoning.  Those doing this and getting away with it have just been lucky – so far.

I guess part of my message is do not expect me to endorse or support this method of filling jars for home canning of dry beans.  If you choose to do it, you are taking a chance by your own decision.

There are also different processes for different types of beans and dry bean recipes for home canning. For canning dry beans, there are research-based processes in the USDA database for Baked Beans, prepared as described in the process directions, and Dry Beans with Tomato or Molasses Sauce versions provided.

If you have fresh beans of the Lima variety, then follow these directions for Fresh, Shelled, Lima Beans. Follow these similar procedures, but slightly different directions for Snap and Italian Green and Wax Beans. As you’re deciding whether to prepare a hot pack or raw pack, remember that hot packs are often considered to produce the highest quality final product, and you can often fit more beans into one jar, even though raw packs do cut down on the prep time.

The home canning processes which we can recommend for these various bean products can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at this menu: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can4_vegetable.html .

Please be safe in your home canning choices. The research-based processes available may seem very limiting and traditional but there has been little public funding for researching new recommendations in a long time and there are few labs set up and staffed to do home canning research. You can flavor or combine your home canned vegetables with other ingredients after opening them, at the time of serving, rather than risk botulism or losing money from spoiled food from making up a process for your own recipes. This solution doesn’t address choosing an easier way to fill jars than has been tested such as with dry beans, but is something to consider for other food choices.

Even though this has been about dry beans, I hope you all are looking forward to another season of local, fresh vegetables coming in like I am!

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Vidalia Onions Are In!

It’s May in Georgia and that means Vidalia onion season. While these are famous for their sweet flavor, there are numerous varieties and colors of onions. Onions are used in many unique, flavorful condiments – relishes, salsas, pickles, and jams to name some of the most common. Sometimes we just need to preserve onions themselves.

I’m often asked why our University of Georgia So Easy to Preserve book does not have the option of freezing diced onions. Well, I can’t explain why it was never in the early editions and we just haven’t been able to issue a whole new edition since the 6th edition in 2014. This is one of the drawbacks of a large book that you don’t revise or reproduce for one issue at a time.  We have had this additional option on our Freezing Onions page at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for the past few years:
https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/onion.html

Peeled, washed onions can be diced or chopped (1/4-1/2 inch pieces suggested) and frozen without blanching. If you have room in your freezer, it is best to spread the pieces out on a clean cookie/baking sheet in a single layer.  When they are frozen (hardened), promptly remove from the tray and package air-tight in freezer bags or containers while they are still hard.  This keeps pieces separated in their freezer packaging enough that you will be able to remove only as much as you want at a time.  If they are all put into the bag or container at room temperature, they will freeze into one large mass and not as separate pieces. If you are going to remove part of the amount frozen at a time versus using the whole amount, it works best to use freezer bags, so you can push the air out when you re-seal the remaining frozen pieces.  In a hard container, the air left in the box/jar as you keep removing some is not good for quality and can cause freezer burn (drying out of the food).

The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has this webpage with more ideas and tips for preserving onions: https://nchfp.uga.edu/tips/summer/onions.html.  At the end of it, there are links to our Canning Relishes factsheet with several that emphasize onions and others that contain some onion content.

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Play it Safe with Easter Eggs!

If Easter egg decorating is on your list of activities this spring, play it safe when handling fresh and hard cooked eggs! To avoid the possibility of foodborne illness, fresh eggs must be handled and stored correctly. Even eggs with clean, shells with no cracks may occasionally contain bacteria called Salmonella that can cause an intestinal infection. And, once eggs have been cooked, food safety rules apply for proper handling, serving and storing.

 Food safety tips if you plan to eat the dyed eggs later:

  • Start by washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after food handling. Wash hands during each step of handling eggs before dyeing them.
  • Hard-cook, dye, and refrigerate the eggs within two hours.
  • Use only food safe natural or commercial dyes.
  • Non-refrigerated Easter eggs that are used as decorations should not be eaten.
  • Hunt eggs for 2 hours or less, 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is 90°F or higher.
  • Hunt only eggs that have been refrigerated with non-cracked shells before hiding.
  • Hide eggs in areas that are clean, protected from dirt, pets and other highly possibly sources of large numbers of bacteria. Make sure the area has not been treated with various lawn and/or insect control chemicals.
  • Wash “found” eggs and refrigerate right away at 40°F or below.
  • Eggs must be eaten within seven days of cooking.

Food safety tips for blown out egg shells used in decorating:

  • Use only eggs that have been kept refrigerated and are not cracked.
  • Before blowing out eggs, wash the eggs in hot water. Then rinse them in a solution of 1 teaspoon liquid chlorine bleach per half cup of water.
  • Be careful not to get any of the raw egg into your mouth or on your lips.
  • The contents blown out of the eggs could be used, but they must be refrigerated right after being blown out and used within 2-4 days.
  • These contents should be used only in foods that are cooked thoroughly before eating, such as breads and cakes.

Freezing eggs:

The contents of raw whole eggs may be frozen for later use. To freeze raw whole eggs:

Thoroughly mix yolks and whites. Do not whip in air. To prevent graininess in the yolks, add 1½ tablespoons sugar, 1½ tablespoons corn syrup OR ½ teaspoon salt per cup whole eggs, depending on intended use. Strain through a sieve, or colander to improve uniformity. Package, allowing ½ inch headspace. Seal and freeze. Another method of freezing whole egg mixture is to use ice trays. Measure 3 tablespoons of egg mixture into each compartment of an ice try. Freeze until solid. Remove frozen cubes, and package in moisture-vapor resistant containers. Seal and freeze. Three tablespoons of the egg mixture (one cube) equals one whole egg

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References: The Incredible Egg website, American Egg Board. Easter & Egg Safety, at https://www.incredibleegg.org/easter/easter-egg-safety/

The Partnership for Food Safety Education. Egg-stra Care for Spring Celebrations, at http://www.fightbac.org/egg-stra-care-for-spring-celebrations/

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Freezing Animal Products. Eggs. In So Easy to Preserve, 6th Edition, 2014, p. 298.