How-to tips on food canning, preserving, and freezing

PRESERVING and pickling, freezing and canning -- these are the usual methods of food conservation, handed down from generation to generation. And not only do they conserve food, they save money, too. They also let you know exactly what goes into your foods. If you think the idea of canning sounds like too much work, consider freezer jams and jellies, which do not need any blanching or boiling -- no cooking at all.

This means you can preserve the country-fresh flavor of fruits virtually intact while saving your own energy as well as part of your food budget.

There are several things about these jellies that are a bit different from others. Because they are not sterilized by boiling, they must be stored in the freezer to prevent spoilage, although freshly made or defrosted jelly will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Also, because the natural pectin is not activated by boiling, it must be added (in liquid or powdered form) after the sugar is added. For best results you may need to stretch the natural acid of the fruit used by adding lemon juice or a citric-acid solution as well as pectin and sugar.

The jellies must be packed in sterilized, freezer-proof jars, with headspace for expansion, and must be sealed with sterilized, tight-fitting lids. Filled and capped, the containers must stand at room temperature until the jelly is set, up to about 24 hours, before going into the freezer.

This kind of jelly cannot be made successfully with canned fruit juices because the natural pectin has been lost by the heat of processing. It can, however, be made with frozen juice, not heat-extracted or sweetened, or from the juice of berries frozen without sugar.

Although home canning and preserving are traditional fall chores, they have become year-round projects depending on what's available in quantity at a good price. There is something immensely satisfying in having your own supply of food for the coming winter.

The first thing to think of when canning your own fruits and vegetables is the right canner for each food. For fruits, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables, use a boiling-water bath canner to process these high-acid foods safely.

For all common vegetables except tomatoes, use a steam-pressure canner, since processing these low-acid foods safely in a reasonable length of time takes a temperature higher than that of boiling water.

When canning low-acid food, be sure to follow all canning recommendations to prevent spoilage.

If you've decided that freezing is the way to store your excess fruits and vegetables, make sure you have the right containers for freezing. To retain highest quality in frozen food, packaging materials must be moisture-vapor-proof to prevent evaporation. Glass, metal, and rigid plastic are examples of moisture-vapor-proof materials.

Plastic bags, wrapping materials, and waxed cartons made especially for freezing are moisture-vapor resistant, and fruits and vegetables will keep their quality if frozen in them for up to a year.

Ordinary wax papers and paper cartons from cottage cheese, ice cream, and milk should not be used for freezing, as they are not sufficiently moisture-vapor resistant.

An important step in preparing vegetables for freezing is heating or ``blanching'' before freezing. Practically every vegetable, except green peppers, maintains better quality in frozen storage if it is heated before packing. Heating time varies with the vegetable and the size of pieces.

If you have never done any home canning and don't know quite where to begin, you may want to check out a few cookbooks on the subject. Two of the best are those put out by the United States Department of Agriculture. ``Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables'' (Item 199N, $1.50) and ``Home Freezing of Fruits and Vegetables'' (Item 200N, $2) may be ordered by writing to Consumer Information Center, Department RW, Pueblo, Colo. 81009. Include item numbers of booklets you want, along with a check or money or der for the cost. No-Cook Strawberry Jam 1 3/4 cups prepared fruit (about 1 quart) 4 cups (1 3/4 pounds) sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemon) 1/2 bottle commercial fruit pectin

Prepare fruit by crushing, one layer at a time, about 1 quart fully ripe strawberries. Measure sugar into large bowl or pan. Combine, mix well, and let stand 10 minutes. Mix water or lemon juice and commercial pectin in small bowl. Add and stir into fruit. Continue stirring 3 minutes. A few sugar crystals will remain.

Pour quickly into prepared containers. Cover at once with tight lids. Allow to set at room temperature -- up to 24 hours. Store in freezer. For use within 3 weeks, store in refrigerator.

If you're wondering what to do with too many tomatoes, home-canned tomato juice will use them up quickly and provide you with a flavorful drink. Use only juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes with plenty of ``fresh tomato bouquet,'' advises the author in ``Jean Anderson's Green Thumb Preserving Guide.'' Tomatoes that have been picked green and left to ripen indoors are pithy and flavorless by comparison. It is important, too, that the tomatoes be unblemished, for the smallest moldy spot can spoil an entire

batch of juice. Home-Canned Tomato Juice 20 large, ripe tomatoes 1 medium sweet green or red pepper, minced 2 large yellow onions, minced 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional) 2 celery stalks, diced 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup lemon juice 1 tablespoon salt

Simmer all ingredients, covered, in large heavy enamel or stainless steel kettle over moderate heat 35 to 40 minutes, stirring now and then, until tomatoes have cooked down to juice. Put through a food mill or fine sieve, forcing out as much juice and solids as possible.

Wash and rinse four 1-quart preserving jars and closures and keep immersed in separate kettles of simmering water until used.

Return strained tomato juice to kettle and bring to full boil. Pour into hot preserving jars, filling each to within 1 inch of top. Wipe jar rims and seal, then process 30 minutes at 10 pounds' pressure in a steam pressure canner.

Remove jars from canner, complete seals if necessary, and cool to room temperature. Check seals, then label jars and store in cool dark place.

In the following recipe, use white onions called silverskins for a strong, crisp relish. For a softer one use yellow or Spanish onions. Onion Relish 1 quart coarsely chopped onions, about 20 white, 8 to 10 medium-size yellows, or 2 to 3 large Spanish onions 1 pint sweet red peppers, diced 1 pint sweet green peppers, diced 1 cup sugar 1 cup white vinegar 4 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Wash and rinse 6 half-pint preserving jars and closures. Keep immersed in separate kettles of simmering water until ready to use.

Combine all ingredients in large heavy enamel or stainless steel kettle. Stir to mix. Bring slowly to boil, uncovered. Mixture should be quite juicy; if not, add 1/4 cup more vinegar.

With slotted spoon and wide-mouth funnel, pack hot relish into hot jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops.

Run a spatula around inside of jar to free trapped air bubbles. Wipe rims and seal jars. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath at 212 degrees F.

Remove from water, complete seals, and cool thoroughly. Check seals, then label and store on a cool, dry shelf. Let relish mellow about 3 weeks before serving. Makes 6 half-pints. Sweet and Sour Spiced Crab Apples 3 pounds firm ripe crab apples 3 cups cider vinegar 3 cups water 2 1/4 cups sugar 3 dozen whole cloves 4 to 6 3-inch sticks of cinammon 1 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg or 6 short blades of mace

Wipe fuzz from apples but leave stems on. Wash well and prick with darning needle to keep from bursting.

Tie spices loosely in cheesecloth and place in large kettle with vinegar, water, and sugar. Boil 3 minutes. Add apples and simmer until tender, not mushy. Test after 15 minutes with darning needle.

Discard spice bag and pack apples immediately into hot pint jars and cover with hot syrup in which they were cooked, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process jars in a boiling water bath at 200 degrees F. (100 C.) for 10 minutes. Remove; complete seals if necessary. Makes about 5 pints.

Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.

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