Judging Preserves At The Alameda County Fair

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I was asked to be a judge at the fair. I’m very naive thinking I was going to taste some wonderful home made preserves. They had me tasting butters, marmalade, curds and hot sauces. They had other judges tasting jams, pickles, olive oils, honeys, relishes, chutneys, canned fruits and jellies. The butters had too much spice and sugar. I couldn’t taste the fruit. The marmalade had big pieces of peel, very bitter. The curd had the smell of eggs and you could see the egg whites. The hot sauce was in a new category for professionals. This is a category for people that sell their products and want to say they won in the Country Fair. We all know the first thing you do when opening a jar is look, smell and taste. The ” look”  you are looking for is bubbling and or mold. The “smell ” will be stinky if there is a problem. If a jar has bubbles, mold and smells bad please do not taste. After opening one of the hot sauces it started to look like a volcano, pouring out all over the table. This is a bad jar with a lot of bacteria built up inside. This could have happened because the room was warm. They had another category that was mixed fruit. This is where I found the best jar of the day. It was a Cherry Balsamic Chutney. It was a beautiful color with great texture. The balsamic was the perfect hint of vinegar and it had some nuts for a little crunch. After I was done I walked around to see what was out there. I asked where is the Pie Filling and Mustard. They wrote them down, so maybe they will be doing that next year.  There are a lot of bad canners out there and I hope they find All In A Jar Private School. Remember to keep jars in a cool dark place. Happy Canning.

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What Is Water Canning?

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People ask me all the time, “What is a water bath canner?” Well, they are easy to find. You can buy a water bath canner at many places like Orchard Nursery, Ace Hardware or Target. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money and store a water bath canner (they can quite large) you can use a big pot with a lid and a cake cooler at the bottom. A water bath canner is a way of processing high-acid foods like fruits and pickled vegetables for long term storage. High-acid food is packed into clean sterile glass jars with metal bands and new lids, and the jars are boiled in water for a prescribed amount of time (hence the name water bath). Successful water bath canning is composed of two simple stages: killing elements that cause spoilage of foods ( enzymes, mold, yeasts, and bacteria) and establishing a sealed container where new elements cannot be introduced. These conditions, along with high acidity of the food within the jar, ensure that harmful microorganisms do not develop and foods are safe to store on the shelf for an extended period of time. Because spoilers, including Clostridium and botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism, cannot develop in a high-acid environment, foods that have pH of 4.5 or lower are safe for water bath canning.

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Half Full

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I received another great question from a student. Their question was, “When I’m canning and I only have enough food left to fill half of a jar, do I process that jar that is only filled up half way?” The answer is no. Every recipe has a head space recommendation which needs to be carefully followed. As a general rule, leave 1 inch of head space for low-acid foods like vegetables and meats (when you are pressure canning); leave 1/2 inch head space for high-acid foods like fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and relishes; 1/4 inch head space for jams and jellies. Care must be taken when filling jars to the correct head space. To much air can turn food a dark color and may cause it to begin to mold. To much food in a jar can cause the jar to break in the water bath during processing. If you have a jar that is only half full, put it in the refrigerator and eat it first.

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