For people of a self-reliant ilk (as Primal readers usually are), what better way to ensure the quality of your food than preparing it yourself? I post a lot of recipes for various meals on MDA, and I’ve urged readers to produce their own food if possible – either by hunting or gardening. There was even that sauerkraut guide last week. But until today, I haven’t tackled the age-old process of home canning.
In the past, I’ve been a bit critical of canned items, and rightfully so. The soups are often loaded with preservatives and lines and lines of unrecognizable ingredients, while canned fruit is usually soaking in a syrup bath. Canned vegetables are a great choice when fresh produce isn’t available, but you still have to check the ingredient list. Still, the convenience of canned goods can’t be beat, and all those concerns about unPrimal ingredients go out the window if you take it upon yourself to learn how to can your own food. Just as cooking at home allows you to make sure your meal is truly Primal, home canning allows you to control exactly what goes into your canned food.
You can can just about anything: fruits of all kinds, vegetables, pickled items, salsas, sauces, even meat and fish. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid the sugary jams or baked beans that are typical in home canning, but as long as you stick to already Primal foods, you’ll reap the benefits of canning (which are considerable). You can buy in bulk and never worry about things going bad. If you’re the survivalist type, you can can your own goods for the disaster of your choice – canned goods won’t go bad just because the power went out.
Probably the easiest for beginners is canned tomatoes, so that’s what I’ll talk about today. I started by gathering the necessary items:
- Eight largish tomatoes (red and yellow, preferably homegrown or organic)
- A dozen basil leaves
- A bit of sea salt
- Three 1/2 pint mason jars
- Tall crock pot for sealing the jars
- A rack that fit in the bottom of my crockpot
- Smaller pot
- Bowl for cold water
Clean your hands with soap and hot water. An absolutely sterile environment is required for good home canning.
Put the rack at the bottom of your crock pot. I didn’t have one that fit, so I had to bend and break a little-used oven rack (mini-workout!) to size. Fill your crock pot with enough water so that your jars can stand up straight and still be covered by an inch of water. Boil it. Fill your smaller pot with water, too, and get it boiling.
Wash the mason jars with soapy water and rinse, then sterilize the jars, their rings, and their tops in the boiling crock pot for at least ten minutes. Leave them in the water until you’re ready to can.
Wash your tomatoes and dunk them in the boiling water in the smaller pot for about a minute. Once the skin starts to split, dunk them in a cold water bath and peel the skin off. It should come off easily. After removing the cores and any bruised spots, sprinkle your peeled tomatoes with sea salt. Cut, dice, or leave your tomatoes whole – it’s your choice (I tried to keep them as whole as possible, but I did end up cutting a bit and smashing them down in the can).
Put your tomatoes, along with a few basil leaves (optional), into your jars. You’ll want to avoid any air bubbles, so force them down. Do a little smashing if you have to. Once they’re all in, use a wooden spoon to go along the sides and remove any lingering air bubbles. Leave about 1/2 inch of space at the top.
Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rim of the jar clean. Put the tops on and screw them down with the ring, but not too tight – don’t strain. Place your jars in the crock pot on top of the rack (the rack allows water to flow underneath the jars); the water should be at a roiling boil.
Remove your jars after 40 minutes and place on the counter to cool. Don’t touch or move them. After about a day, you might hear a popping noise as the seal occurs. A properly sealed canned item will have a depressed indent in the lid. If you don’t have that indent, your food isn’t sealed. In that case, eat the stuff now or try again.
If canned tomatoes are properly sealed, keep them in a cool, dark place and they’ll stay for years. Enjoy!
If you truly want to get into big-time canning, buying a pressure canner is a good first step. Canning acidic items, like tomatoes (or tomato-based sauces), salsas, or fruits, can be safely done using the above method, but canning meats, fish, and other less acidic foods requires a proper pressure canner. These can be a bit pricey (around $100-120), but they’re very useful if you think you’ll be doing a lot of canning. There are also dedicated boiling canners for less money that do essentially the same thing as my makeshift crock pot-with-a-broken-oven-rack, only the rack is built in (but again, these are only good for acidic foods). Otherwise, if you’re just going to be doing the occasional canning, the Primal quick and dirty method will work just fine.