Can-do attitude

Canning is no longer just for grandmothers (if it ever was, really). Cooks of all generations are putting up jars of heirloom tomato sauce, favorite jams and tangy pickles, for holiday gifts or for a taste of summer in the gloom of winter.

Ball® Canning gives us a friendly nudge this summer with its third annual Can-It-Forward Day on Aug. 17. Download labels and get tips for your own canning party, or follow their live stream of events. Plan on taking part? Tweet your success, using the hashtag #CanItForward. (Follow us at @ModHomebodies; follow Ball® at @BallCanning.)

Why can?

Most of us have access to out-of-season foods throughout the year, so preserving food is not a necessity. For some cooks, canning is a natural extension of everyday cooking. For others, it’s a time-honored method of capturing the taste of freshly harvested food. Others strive to avoid preservatives and potentially dangerous chemicals that have made their way into commercially-processed foods.

Vanessa Metz, of Arcata, Calif., likes tuna but wants to avoid the mercury common in many fish. She and a friend opted to buy fresh, locally fished albacore (or “white”) tuna.

“We made sure to buy smaller tuna,” Metz explained. “The low-mercury albacore tuna caught along the West Coast are smaller and younger, and therefore haven’t accumulated as much mercury as the larger offshore tuna.” The smaller fish average less than 0.3 parts per million (ppm) of mercury; commercially processed tuna, from older, larger fish, average 0.3 ppm and higher, depending on source (imported tuna often contains more mercury).

Metz and her friend took part in a canning workshop, to ensure they could safely preserve their catch. Their pressure-canned tuna “was very delicious. We’re planning on canning some more tuna this fall.”

Mercury is a well-known hazard. Less known, and more pervasive, is Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in linings of tin cans, hard plastics and other common items. The estrogen-like compound has been linked to thyroid hormone changes in pregnant women and newborn boys, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study.

Getting started

Beginners will find that late summer is a perfect time to easily find what you need. Jars and lids, sold by the pack, can be found at grocers, hardware stores and the kitchen sections of merchants like Bed Bath & Beyond. Many popular foods are at their peak now, too — fruits for jams and preserves, cucumbers for pickles, tomatoes for sauces and chutneys.

There are two home canning methods: waterbath canning and pressure canning. Both require some specific equipment: a tall pot, or canner, and rack for the former; a pressure canner or combination pressure cooker/canner for the latter. Use the right equipment and follow directions — food safety is paramount. Ball® has a helpful guide online.

Resources

Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, offers a library of free publications on safe food preservation methods. UC Cooperative Extension also offers canning workshops and other resources at its county offices throughout California; locate your nearest office here.

U.S. Department of Agriculture canning guide, produced by the University of Georgia

— Terri Hunter-Davis