Thinking about canning this year? It’s time to heat up your kitchen

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The home canning season isn’t really that far away. If you’re thinking about “putting food up” this summer, this is a great time to learn more, before the busy time gets here.
As a friend of mine who is a food safety specialist says, “Home canning isn’t rocket science, but it does require time and effort. And it must be done properly to ensure safety.”
People have been preserving food for centuries in an effort to keep food from a time of plenty for a time of need.
Trends in home preserving come and go, usually based on the economy. The last couple years we have had more interest in learning to can with people trying to beat the rising cost of food by growing and preserving at home.
Before you get carried away with thinking you’re going to save lots of money by doing-it-yourself, there are several things to keep in mind.
According to Elizabeth Andress, extension specialist with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and the director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, canning can be one of the least expensive ways of storing food, but considerable time and energy are spent in preparing and processing the food.
 “Canning some foods can be difficult for beginners and it requires preserving foods by using methods that keep the food safe when stored at room temperature. Food may spoil and make you sick if reliable canning directions are not followed exactly,” said Andress.
In addition to the food itself, costs associated with canning include the purchase of canners, jar funnels, lifters, jars and lids. The cost of water, fuel and extra ingredients like vinegar, sugar and spices must also be counted. Canning jars cost $7 to $12 a dozen, but can be used for many years, if handled carefully. Lids, however, need to be purchased every year and cost around 12 to 30 cents each.
The cost of added ingredients can be minimal when canning vegetables, but sweeteners for jams and jellies, or spices and specialty peppers for pickles and salsas, can add significant costs.
You might want to compare the cost of similar food purchased at the grocery store before making the do-it-yourself investment to see if it is cost-effective.
Another thing to remember when thinking about canning is how up-to-date are your methods? The way you’ve “always done it” or how your mother (or grandmother) taught you may no longer be the right way.
Food preservation recipes and techniques are constantly being studied and revised. We know more and more each year about what processes are safe and not safe.
Don’t guess on how to do it. Before you do any food preservation, you need reliable, up-to-date instructions. Publications and information are available at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service office in Brunswick County. N.C. Cooperative Extension also has a Food Safety/Home Food Preservation site online at www.fcs.ces.ncsu.edu/site-fcs-home-foods/
In North Carolina, we are fortunate to have Dr. Ben Chapman on staff (and on-call) for the more difficult food safety and food preservation questions. He’s an assistant professor at NCSU and a food safety extension specialist. He’s a wealth of knowledge about food safety and the best practices for food preservation.
Another good place to start to learn about safe canning is online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://nchfp.uga.edu. This site contains detailed canning information and a downloadable copy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a great online home study course that’s free of charge.
If you’re new to food preservation or would like to get a “refresher” on your skills, the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Brunswick County is offering a class on basic food preservation.
The class will be from 10:30 a.m.-noon Saturday, March 9, in the demonstration kitchen at N.C. Cooperative Extension at the Government Complex in Bolivia.
This class will be taught by Sarah Barnwell, Extension Family and Consumer Science extension agent. She will share the basics of home food preservation, food preservation safety and the basics of pressure canning. Class size is limited and pre-registration is required. Call 253-2610 for more information or to register.
Sources: National Center for Home Food Preservation; Elizabeth Andress, University of Georgia and Chow Line from Ohio State University Extension.
Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.