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Finding holiday recipes online

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I know it’s early in the season, but it seems once kids are back in school and Labor Day has passed, people begin to think about those winter holidays. I had a couple phone calls and email requests about making homemade canned products for Christmas gifts.
Please beware—while numerous recipes circulate on the Internet, in recipe blogs, and on television shows, not all of them are safe.
Canning chocolate sauce
One lady found a recipe on the Internet for a chocolate and raspberry sauce. The recipe simply said to put the sauce in jars and process; it didn’t give any instructions on how to or how long to process. She was calling for this information. While the sauce idea sounded great, I recommended that she not use this recipe.
Chocolate sauces are low-acid recipes and are a risk for botulism food poisoning; therefore, any recipes that use the boiling water canning process are especially at risk. Furthermore, there are no science-based, tested recipes for chocolate sauces utilizing the pressure canning process in either the “USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning,” the University of Georgia’s “So Easy to Preserve” or in publications from land grant university partners in the Cooperative Extension System.
If you do want to make a chocolate sauce, here’s a safe and tested recipe that is frozen:
Freezer Chocolate
Fudge Sauce
1/2 cup margarine or butter
3 squares (3 oz.) unsweetened chocolate
2-1/2 cups sugar
Pinch of salt (optional)
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Melt margarine in the top of a double boiler. Add chocolate and melt, while constantly stirring. Add sugar gradually, 1/4 cup at a time, while stirring. Then add salt, if desired. Next, stir milk in gradually and finally add the vanilla. Cook until desired thickness, approximately one hour, stirring occasionally.
Pour sauce into a clean, warm, wide-mouth quart jar or similar freezer-safe container(s). Allow the sauce to cool at room temperature for 1-2 hours. Seal and freeze. The sauce should remain soft enough to spoon out portions while frozen.
Bread in jars
Another recipe that has been going around for several years are breads and cakes baked in canning jars. They are attractive and popular items at holiday craft shows. We cannot recommend these products, either.
These instructions or recipes typically call for baking in the jar and then closing with a canning lid. The heat of the bread allows the lids to seal, but they aren’t really canned. While this may seem good, it’s not. Many recipes for quick breads and cakes are low-acid and have the potential for supporting the growth of a bacteria like Clostridium botulinum (better known as botulism) if it is present inside the closed jar. One university’s research showed a high potential for this and other problems. Just don’t do it. Why take the risk?
You will see these canned breads and cakes made commercially; however, additives, preservatives and processing controls not available for home recipes are used. Canning jar manufacturers also don’t endorse baking in their canning jars. If you want to bake bread or cakes for gifts, it’s best that you choose recipes that can be frozen instead of canned.
I know I’ve said it before, but I am going to repeat it. Just because you find a recipe on the Internet does not mean it is safe. Be sure to use recipes that have been tested by food scientists.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is an excellent source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. Other good sources are the Ball Blue Book (get the latest edition) and University and Cooperative Extension resources.
Sources: Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D., National Center for Home Food Preservation, “So Easy To Preserve,” The University of Georgia and USDA complete guide to home canning.
Cheryle Jones Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.