Want to avoid zip lock bags in the freezer this winter? One way is to dry summer produce, as Jean Nicks suggested a couple of weeks ago, instead of freezing it. Another method is to can produce in glass jars. In this post, Fake Plastic Fish reader Brekke Bounds explains what she’s learned about plastic in canning jar lids and shares her spiced applesauce recipe, complete with pictures.
Living in Chicago, I am very lucky to be surrounded by great local food options. There is a farmers market just 10 minutes from my house as well as a co-op committed to local and organic foods. But, living in the Midwest means that there are several months out of the year there is very little in the way of fresh produce available locally. Because of this I’ve always been interested in preserving food. My grandmother did a lot of canning. I specifically remember her canned peaches and her canned green beans. Both delicious. So, I decided that this was the year that I should break out the canning!
Canning is a great way to make sure that you have healthy, local food year round. And with the plastic and BPA liners that come with commercially canned or processed food, making my own canned produce seemed like a good alternative
BPA in Jar Lids
Now canning is not a perfect plastic free solution. Often the seals that are sold for canning have a plastic coating and often the plastic seals include BPA. The seals that I am using this year are Ball brand seals. They were a gift and they do contain a BPA coating.
There are some non-BPA coating options, but none that are entirely plastic free. One of the most promising products I found in my search was the Tattler plastic lid. These are reusable, BPA free seals that can be used for water bath and pressure canning as well as vacuum sealing. Now while these are made with plastic, at least the plastic is made in the USA and durable.
The difference between canning at home and buying canned produce from the store is that when canning at home you control your plastic exposure. The food mostly only touches the glass jar. In fact, after processing, as long as the food is stored upright it does not touch the plastic seal at all.
My Canning Adventure
So far this year I have done tomatoes and applesauce, both high acid foods that can be processed in a hot water bath canner. What follows is my process for canning spiced applesauce.
I had about 4.5 lbs. of apples, and they yielded four pint-jars of sauce. I also bought and used a “canning pot” with a specialized rack. It is perfectly possible to can without a pot and rack like mine, but having this equipment makes it much easier and since that is the only way I have canned I am giving the directions using that equipment.
Prepping the Apples
Wash, peel and core the apples. I used a potato peeler and one of those apple slicers that divides the apples into 6 wedges.
From there, put the apples in a pot with just enough water to cover. Boil gently until the apples are soft. Remove the apples from the water and then run them through a food processor or food mill. I find food processors to be a pain much of the time, so I processed my applesauce with a food mill. Food mills have no separate parts to clean and are plastic free! Also, while you can’t see it in my picture, this mill has two hooks that help position it over the pot, making it very convenient.
Prepping the equipment
For complete safety, all the jars and seals that you use for canning should be sterilized. To do this I run my glass jars through the dishwasher alone and boil my seals in a small pot before use. I leave the jars in the dishwasher and remove them one by one for filling. Same with the seals. If you do not have a dishwasher you can sterilize both the jars and the lids in hot water. Boil the Jars for 10 minutes at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The lids should be simmered for 10 minutes at about 180 degrees. Over heating the lids may cause the seal to fail.
At this point it is a good idea to start simmering the water in your canning pot. Set the rack on the lip of the canner and simmer the water below the rack, keeping a temperature of about 180 degrees.
Canning the applesauce
Bring the processed apples to a low boil in a large pot, stirring to keep from sticking. At this point in the process I added cinnamon and allspice to taste.
Some might also be interested in adding sugar at this point. Typically º cup of sugar per pound of apple is recommended. If you are unsure I say leave the sugar out, apples are already pretty sweet.
While the sauce is boiling, use a clean ladle to fill each glass jar leaving 1/2 inch of headspace (this means stop filling 1/2 inch from the top of the jar). The jars should be taken directly from the dishwasher or hot water, and should still be hot during this step.
After filling, wipe the threads around the lid with a clean cloth, make sure there are no air bubbles, place the seal on the jar and tighten the ring evenly and firmly just until resistance is met. Do not over tighten the rings. Place each jar unto the rack.
Once you have filled all of your jars and placed them on the rack, lower the rack into the simmering water and add boiling water until the jars are covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. Cover and process (boil) for 20 minutes.
After the 20 minutes is up remove the jars from the water and let set overnight. After 18 hours check the seals to be certain that the seal worked. Do this by unscrewing the metal ring and gently lifting up on the seal with your fingers. If the seal remains on then the seal is good.
If the seal is not good you can immediately reprocess the jar for another 20 minutes in boiling water, but only up to 24 hours after the original canning.
Home canned food is good for 6 months to a year from the date of canning. They will last longest if kept in a cool, dark spot. If exposed to heat or partial light the longest you can expect that food to be good is 6 months.
I got my info for this post and all my canning needs for this fall from the Ball Blue Book: Guide to preserving.
Brekke Bounds writes about green living and education topics at Bright Hub and is planning a relaunch of her own blog, A Deeper Green, in the next month or so. You can follow her on Twitter at @adeepergreen.