I have dabbled with canning. I preserved some of my home grown tomatoes, in 2017 but not since, I make jam and marmalade but full on canning has been something I’ve thought about but not actually done.
Most of my preservation before has been jam, which I mostly do the traditionally British (in sterilised jars, with waxed papers and done), this is still how I make marmalade and blackberry jam. I know that lots of people right now will be ready to tell me how wrong that is, but it’s how I was taught and I’ve never had an issue with mould before I’ve opened the jars, and marmalade has sugar and acidity going for it and it’s not been an issue. So while I understand the issues you may have with this process, I’m not going to have a fight about it. Do your research, make your own decisions or follow the recipes that you’re comfortable with.
However, this year we had lock down, I’ve begun to grow more food on the plot, developed a ‘making pesto for winter’ habit and so my ambition has exceeded my freezer space! There is no room or money for another freezer, so earlier in the year, I bought the Kilner Canning Pan and Rack so I could preserve rhubarb compote in jars instead of freezing it. I now have 7 litres of rhubarb compote, 500ml of plum compote and 750ml of cherry compote all canned and in a cupboard.
The other things that take up a lot of space in my freezer are beans and stock, and I thought about a pressure canner but they are pretty expensive in the UK as they need to be imported from the US, which is currently in the middle of a COVID panic induced shortage of canning supplies. I decided that for the two things I would really use it for, it really wasn’t worth the hassle or expense. (For anyone who doesn’t know pressure canning is food preservation for low acid food, it basically pressure cooks jars and kills all nasties.)
Then came a friend who has been thinking buying one and we’ve spoken about it and he decided that it would be a good birthday present and so now I have a pressure canner! So in the last couple of weeks, I’ve learned about canning beans, stock and tomatoes (because 25 minutes in a pressure canner even coming up to pressure is so much easier than hot water bath canning for 85 minutes!). I have about 7- litres of chicken stock, 18 jars of tomatoes and 4 jars each of chickpeas and black beans. This weekend, I also canned some dill pickle relish because we had 18 cucumbers from the plot! The cupboard of doom has been re-arranged to accommodate, this bounty.
There are lots of reasons not to can. It’s a hassle, it’s expensive, the initial cost of buying the jars and lids is expensive and aren’t easy to come by in the UK (I use Kilner jars that currently run at roughly £25-£30 for 12 500ml jars) and that’s before we talk about the cost of the other equipment, canners and thermometers and funnels and the whole shebang. It’s a peculiar kind of madness.
I do it to preserve the food I grow and to free up space in my freezer. I spend a lot of time and effort and money growing some of my food and it would be ridiculous if I had to give the majority away or worse throw it away because I couldn’t eat it all in a week. It’s amazing to sit down in January to a meal containing food that you grew and preserved. Having the plot has made me more aware of the cost of food. This weekend Ma and I spent about an hour and a half, just harvesting produce, growing food costs money and in the UK we are not paying nearly what it costs to grow and harvest. So I’ve been making an effort this year to eat more UK produced fruit and veg and to pay more for food that is produced to higher food standards. I’m not even close to perfect on this, I need to quit eating bell peppers and cucumber in the winter, but I’m trying.
I also can’t pretend that a lot of these issues have crystallised for me with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. Which is looking pretty likely, that would mean that in January, there would probably be some food shortages in the immediately similar to the issues in supermarkets just before lockdown and higher prices in the longer term because of how much food we import (in the winter 75% of the UK’s fresh food is imported), remember a couple of years ago there was unexpected bad weather in Spain and there were no courgettes? (Although why anyone is buying courgettes in January is beyond me!).
Further down the line if there is a UK-US trade deal then there is a danger that food standards will be lower and I don’t want to eat chlorinated chicken, I did sign the NFU’s Food Standards petition but I have little confidence that it’ll make any difference.
In an ideal world, Ma and I would be be able to grow all the fruit and veg we eat and keep chickens. But it’s not an ideal world and we live in the city, in flats that aren’t designed for that kind of storage, to say nothing of the difficulties Ma would have getting her share home on the bus! I know that my small scale preserving efforts aren’t going to feed me for the entire year, or radically change the way food is produced for most people. This is about me putting (or at least starting to) my money where my mouth is. As I start to make sure that the food I eat meets the food standards that I believe are important, preserving the food I grow and make will help me afford to do that.
This is also not a rant about people who aren’t able or don’t want to do the things I’m doing. This is about the things I have the capability to do, that work for me. It’s more of an explanation of how my cooking journey is changing because my standards are.
I’m not going to explain canning here because I’m no expert, my go-to sources are Sarah at Sustainable Cooks, Cassie at Wholefully and Marisa at Food In Jars. All of them have good, easy to follow recipes that are tested to a high standard and meet the US standards on canning. Cassie is doing a whole series on canning this summer and Sarah doesn’t just talk about canning, she has loads of posts on how best to freeze produce too! So if any of this is interesting to you, please go and check those guys out!