"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me?" ~ Ayn Rand, "The Fountainhead"

Friday, December 21, 2012

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance, Part three

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the March, 2012 issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, placed here with their permission.  For more great articles you can read the latest and all archived monthly editions of the Owl Creek Gazette online!

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance
Part 3 of a 5 part series
By Roxanne Bare, owner of Terra Mater

Can you feel it? Spring is just around the corner.  Some people are already planting the earliest crops that can withstand the chilly nights and light frost.  We may be a couple months away from planting the less cold-hardy crops but time flies and it will be summer before you know it.

In the January issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, I started this series with reasons why to preserve your own food.  In February, I talked about food safety and prevention of food-borne illness, particularly focusing on Botulism.  Preventing the growth of Cl. Botulinum, the organism that causes the Botulism, is key to having the safest food possible from your home preservation endeavors. This month we explore the methods of home canning your foods, proper equipment and which are appropriate for what foods. 

The canning methods I follow are the ones that have been studied, tested, and approved by the USDA.  The University of Illinois and other land-grant colleges have put a great deal of research into safe food preservation and it is my humble opinion that this may be the best thing the USDA has ever been behind.  Historically, there have been other methods of canning done in homes that may have worked out ok most of the time, but now we know more about dangerous micro-organisms.  It just makes sense to use the methods that have been proven to be the safest.  The two methods that are used for home canning are the water bath method and the pressure canner method depending on whether your food is low-acid or high-acid.

First, you will need are some canning jars, also referred to as Mason Jars.  The ‘Mason Jar’ was patented in 1858.  The Mason jar was developed to withstand the high heat required for canning foods.   Thinner glass jars and bottles will not take the repeated exposure to high heat and somewhat quick cooling.  Canning jars are still being produced and you can purchase them at many stores.  They can be expensive to buy brand new but you can probably find them at yard sales and estate sales.  Before using a jar it is important to check the jar carefully for cracks and chips.  If there are chips in the rim, the seal will not be made properly.  A crack in the jar will likely lead to leaking or even an explosion in the canner.  I have had this happen!  Let me tell you, it is quite a noise when a jar of green beans blows up inside a pressure canner.  It is a rare occurrence though and easily avoided by inspecting the jars carefully.

 Today’s canning jars use a two-piece lid system.  The first part is a flat lid that has a soft ring of rubber built in that sits on the rim of the jar and creates the seal.  The lid flat is intended to be used just one time then thrown away after opening the jar.  The second piece is a metal ring that screws onto the jar to keep the flat in place through the process.  The ring is not thrown away and can be used many times.  I have rings that are many years old and only throw them away when they begin to get quite rusted. 

For canning high-acid foods, a water bath canner is appropriate.  This is a large pot that is deep enough to have 1 inch of briskly boiling water covering the jars.  It should have a rack on the bottom to keep jars from resting directly on the bottom of the pot and a well fitted lid.  High-acid foods that can be water bath canned are fruits, jellies, and pickles.  Tomatoes are on the line between high and low acid, depending on the variety of tomato. To ensure the safety you may add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to pint jars.  For quarts, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Vinegar can be used instead of lemon juice at a rate of 2 tablespoons to pints and 4 tablespoons to quarts. 

When canning low acid foods, a pressure canner is necessary.  It takes the buildup of pressure to achieve the temperatures needed to destroy spores of bacteria that cause botulism as well as other types of spoilage.  Low acid foods are vegetables, meats, poultry and fish.  Low-acid tomatoes should be processed in a pressure canner as well.  Pressure canners are large, heavy pots with very tight fitting lids that seal tight.  There is a rubber ring that fits just inside the rim of the lid.  There are two types of gauges on a pressure canner; a dial gauge and a weighted gauge.  If you have a dial gauge, it should be checked every couple of years for accuracy.  If you accidentally knock the gauge or drop the lid, you may want to get it checked.  Often, local University Extension offices can arrange the testing for you.  You may have heard stories of pressure canners exploding and food splattering all over a kitchen. There are safety features built into pressure canners that prevent this sort of thing from happening.   Properly cleaning and maintaining the seal, safety plugs and vents will keep your canner in tip-top shape.

There are many books available that have all the instructions for canning methods, recipes, procedures of preparation, and time tables.  The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is available online at http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html or can be ordered in print from the link given on that webpage.  The booklet printed by “Ball Corporation” is usually available in stores near the canning supplies and is an excellent resource for the basics of canning.  Their website includes an online version of their guide and it can be located at http://www.freshpreserving.com.  

One of the cons to canning is that there is a lessening of nutritional value of food due to the high heat and longer cooking times.  However, using the freshest foods available and processing the food quickly can help reduce that nutrition loss.  It does take some invest of money to get started.  However, there is something very satisfying about seeing those jars filled with delicious foods lined up on the shelf.  With canned foods, you don’t have to worry about losing all of your hard work to a prolonged power outage.  You can open a jar in a snap and be ready to cook something delicious without additional thawing time. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance, Part 2

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the February, 2012 issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, placed here with their permission.  For more great articles you can read the latest and all archived monthly editions of the Owl Creek Gazette online!

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance
Part two of a series
By: Roxanne Bare

Last week I was outside, in the ‘warm weather for January,’ walking around my garden and noticed a lot of green plants that were not only surviving, but actually thriving.  A few days later, winter hit with a vengeance of cold, wind and a smattering of snow.  This brings me back to the realization that it is too early to earnestly think of gardening but not too early to plan.  The seed catalogs have hit the mailbox and I am now up to 7 or 8 different companies all vying for my attention and my gardening dreams.

In the January issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, I started this series on Food Preservation for Self-Reliance and gave you some reasons to consider preserving your own food.  In a nut shell, those reasons include quality of food, better nutritive value, and environmental conservation.  Being able to supply yourself and your family with much, if not all, food leads you to greater self-reliance and less dependence on the food delivery systems. 

With the February issue, we want to discuss the most important consideration in home food preservation:  the prevention of food-borne illness.  Food safety should always be at the forefront of buying and preparing your food.  Even if you do not garden nor preserve your own food, this is a topic that affects everyone.  It seems that there are monthly recalls on some food product issued by the government agencies concerned with health and food safety.   E-Coli and Salmonella are the two bacteria that one hears about most often on the news.  However, this hardly makes a dent in the sources of food-borne illness that is possible.  Bacteria, viruses, molds, parasites and fungi are all potential illness creating organisms.  If you would like to do some really deep reading on all of these you can go to http://www.fda.gov and do a search on their website for the “Bad Bug Book”.  You will find an extensive work on food-borne pathogens there.  Fortunately, utilizing good sanitation practices and keeping one’s physical health in top condition will go a long way in reducing the dangers that lurk. 

The food-borne pathogen that we most want to focus on preventing during home food preservation is Clostridium Botulinum, the cause of Botulism.  Botulism is rare but when it does occur more than 65% of cases are fatal, according to the FDA’s “Bad Bug Book.”  In non-fatal cases, recovery may take weeks to years, depending on the severity of the poisoning.  Botulism is different than many other food-borne illnesses in the symptoms that present.  Symptoms include double vision, vertigo, inability to swallow and progressive respiratory paralysis.  Unlike other food-borne illnesses that affect the gastrointestinal tract, botulism attacks the nervous system.  It should be noted that the popular cosmetic injection drug, Botox, is derived from this bacteria for the purpose of “curing” wrinkles by paralyzing the muscles in the immediate injection area.

Cl. botulinum is the reference organism in home canning because:
1.       It is anaerobic (grows only in the absence of oxygen)
2.       It is potentially deadly
3.       It is sensitive to acid (prefers low acid food products)
4.       Its spores are heat-resistant
5.      Cannot tolerate more than 5% salt.
6.      Requires sufficient water
(Source: U. of I. CES Master Food Preserver Manual, Brewer, 1994.)

Preventing the growth of this particular pathogen during food preservation, especially during canning, is likely to result in preventing other food-borne pathogens as well.  The spores of Cl. botulinum and most other pathogens are all around us and normally pose no danger and with proper practices, you can maintain a healthy food supply for your family.   Just in case I have instilled a great sense of fear of food in you, let me give you the best and easy ways to be safe and have no need to fear your food.

Personal Hygiene:
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before touching food or equipment.
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing.  Be sure to clean the fingernails too.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw meats, eggs or poultry and before handling other foods such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid handling food if you have cuts, sores, or are ill with a cold, sore throat, or intestinal illness. 
  • Wear clean clothing and keep your hair pulled back or covered while cooking.
  • Use proper utensils when mixing or stirring and if you must taste the food during preparation, use a clean spoon, only one time before cleaning….no double dipping!!
  • Do not smoke or eat while preparing food.  If you must do either, be sure to leave the food preparation area and wash your hands with soap and water before going back to the food preparation.

  • Use clean dish clothes or sponges when cleaning up, working or doing dishes.
  • Keep dishes, utensil, equipment and work surfaces clean by washing with soap and water and allowing to air dry.  You can also sanitize utensils and work surfaces with bleach water.  Use 1 Tbsp. of bleach to a gallon of water.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning work and cutting surfaces between different food items.  Be especially careful to clean surfaces after cutting meats and before cutting produce or even have separate cutting boards.
  • Keep your equipment clean and in good working order.  Do not use dishes or other equipment that are chipped, cracked or difficult to clean thoroughly.  Pay special attention to those little nooks and crannies in equipment and work surfaces.
  • Use the proper equipment for whatever food preparation and food preservation methods you are going to be doing.  Keep a thermometer in your refrigerator and have one for checking the temperature of cooking food…and use it.

Next month we will delve into the subject of home canning foods.  We will discuss the proper techniques and equipment for low-acid foods and higher-acid foods.  The following parts of the series will also cover freezing, dehydrating, and pickling.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Food preservation for self-reliance, part 1

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the January, 2012 issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, placed here with their permission.  For more great articles you can read the latest and all archived monthly editions of the Owl Creek Gazette online!

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance
Part one of a series
By: Roxanne Bare

With the January Issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, focusing on acquiring new skills and practices which promote self-reliance, I found myself thinking, “What could be more self-reliant than preserving your own food, whether it was grown in your own backyard or purchased at a local farmers market?”  And with that thought came the inspiration for this 5 part series on food preservation.

Food picked at its peak and prepared or preserved right away will give you the highest quality food and more nutrition for yourself and your family.   January may seem like an odd time to talk about fresh produce, gardening and food preservation but now is the perfect time to plan ahead for our food needs.  Soon the seed catalogs will be hitting the mailbox and some department stores will be stocking supplies for gardening and food preservation.
When you go to your grocery store you are normally looking for two things; food that will nourish and money savings.  However, what you often find in the grocery store is pale colored, limp produce and continuously rising prices.  Did you know that each food item in a typical U.S meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles?  Produce is usually picked well in advance of actually being ripe, packed and shipped hundreds and thousands of miles so that we can have something that resembles fresh produce out of season.  Consider the thing they call a tomato in the grocery stores and restaurants right now.  My husband and I call them fake tomatoes because they do not resemble that luscious burst of rich tomato flavor when picked and eaten right out of the garden in August.  Also, consider the amount of fossil fuels required to bring that food from places such as Chile and Argentina in February.  Much of the rising costs of foods in retail are directly related to the rising price of oil and oil based products. 

You do have a couple of options when it comes to being less dependent on that food that traveled from the opposite side of the planet.  First, grow some of your own food in your own backyard and second, preserve some of your food when it is actually in-season locally.   There is a growing movement in our country towards eating locally and in season.   There are health benefits to eating in this manner as well as conserving fossil fuels which, in turn, benefits our environment and our pocket books. 

Here are my top three reasons to encourage home food preservation:
1.        Foods processed at the peak of their freshness will give you superior nutritive qualities and health benefits.
2.       Foods grown in your own garden in healthy soil or even locally grown and sold at farmers markets will have more nutrients and will have less loss of vitamins and minerals without the long shipping times.
3.       You can have more control over the purity of your food by choosing food that has been grown without dangerous chemicals or at the very least minimal chemical usage.  Furthermore, you decide if and how much sugar, salt and additives to use. You also can have control over the method in which the food is processed, each method having its pros and cons. 

Never preserved food at home?  Really, it isn’t hard and there are numerous resources to guide you. In this series, I will be making some suggestions for excellent sources of information.  There are books and websites full of information.  This series will also give you the very basic information on how to preserve food at home by different methods including canning, freezing, dehydrating, and pickling and how to prevent food borne illness in the process, remembering food safety is paramount in the endeavor of food preservation for self-reliance.

Bio:  Roxanne Bare has an array of technical and practical experience in teaching basic food safety, nutrition and budgeting as a result of her combined time spent as a coordinator and instructor of the Family Nutrition Program (at the county level) for the University of Illinois Extension Service and with her training as a Master Food Preserver also through the University of Illinois Extension Service.
Roxanne has earned the Diploma of Holistic Health Practice with Honors from the American College of Health Sciences with certificates in Flower Essences; Nutrition, Body Care and Herbalism;  Holistic Structure and Function of the Human Body; Natural Health Consulting; and Holistic Pathology and Protocols and is the owner of Terra Mater, an herbal and aromatherapy product business.  Readers can find her at www.terramatermarket.com and here on the pages of the Owl Creek Gazette writing her 5 part series on Food Preservation for Self-Reliance.