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Canning or freezing home-grown vegetables is a great way to preserve summer's bounty for year-round enjoyment. For beginners, most experts recommend freezing over canning.
As long as you have plenty of freezer space, this option requires very little initial investment and is a simple and convenient way to preserve fruits and vegetables. Freezing also helps retain the fresh flavor better than canning.
Home canning of fruits and vegetables is becoming more popular as more people try to find ways to cut grocery costs. If your current freezer space is limited, buying canning supplies would be cheap compared to buying a new freezer, and, of course, canned goods don't need to be kept cold, thus saving utility costs over freezing. But canning must be done properly. The risk of botulism is a serious one.
Interestingly, the Clostridium botulinum bacterium is harmless until it finds itself in a moist, low-acid, oxygen-free environment or a partial vacuum. That's exactly the kind of conditions found inside a jar of canned vegetables, and it's why following proper canning procedures is vitally important.
Purdue Extension has food-preservation fact sheets which are available for free download at www.cfs.purdue.edu/extension/food_health/food_safety.html.
Topics include preserving vegetables and fruits, drying foods, uncooked jams and safe storage of foods.
From the Purdue Web site there is also a link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia, which offers in-depth information on canning, freezing and other preservation methods.
Anyone interested in home food preservation should definitely review the "General Information" on the "How Do I Can?" page. It offers general safety guidelines, recommendations on jars and lids, and helpful information on using boiling water and pressure canners.
It should be noted that most vegetables are low-acid and require a pressure canner for canning. Boiling water canners simply cannot get hot enough to destroy micro-organisms in low-acid foods. You can use a boiling water canner for tomatoes as long as proper acidification measures are taken. All tomatoes should be acidified by using commercial lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid. Always follow official canning guidelines to the letter, and use reliable, research based recipes and guidelines for all home food preservation.
Recommended resources include the National Center for Home Food Preservation reference "So Easy to Preserve," the "Ball Blue Book" and the "USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning." Remember not all recipes and guidelines you will find on Internet sites are reliable or research based.
For novice home food preservers, a self-study course on preserving foods at home is also available on the Purdue Web site. Check out the free online study course offered through the National Center for Home Food Preservation to learn more. For more information contact Purdue Extension at 547-7084 in Perry County or (812) 649-6022 in Spencer County.
Hagedorn is consumer and family-sciences educator for Purdue Extension in Perry and Spencer counties.