Friday, October 1, 2010

Daring Cooks September 2010: Food Preservation

Apple butter on cornbread.  Yum.

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation. 

This month for the daring cooks, we were supposed to preserve food.  Since my friend who I often do these challenges with had the closest thing a grad student can have to a canning system, we decided to make and can apple butter.  The directions are pretty simple.  Make apple sauce, add spices, then cook it for another two hours, then can.  We cooked about 6 pounds of apples (well, about 6 pounds before we cored and peeled them), cooked them for half an hour or so with a little honey, then added a "tablespoon and a half" of cinnamon, which was probably over 2 Tbsp of cinnamon, which made me nervous at first because it was quite strong, but eventually cooked down.  We also added some cloves, not much though.  Over the two hours we tested and adjusted, mostly adding more sugar.  We also added a little vanilla to balance the flavors a bit.  We dipped challah in it and had a grand old time.  And then I went out for dinner... bad planning there, i was full from the apple butter and challah.

But the fun of it (and the point of it) was the canning.  I'll include the actual directions, since I'll probably leave something out if I try to explain it from memory.

For our challenge, apples are high acid foods. Golden delicious apples have an approximate pH of 3.6. Boiling Water Canning is an appropriate method of preserving apple butter. 
Apple Butter processing information: 
Headspace when canning apple butter is 1/4 “ (0.64 cm) 
Processing Time: 
15 minutes for altitude of 0 ft (0 m) to 1,000 ft (305 m) 
20 minutes for altitude of 1,001 ft (305.1 m) to 6,000 ft (1828.8 m) 
25 minutes altitudes above 6,000 ft (1828.8 m) 
For boiling water canning, you need a pot that is high enough to cover the jars with at least 1” (2.5 cm) of water. Also, a rack, to prevent thermal shock, is used to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot. Any type of rack will work – a tea towel, a trivet, tying together unused bands… etc. I improvised a rack by tying metal bands to a bamboo sushi mat. Also, for my pot, I used a large tamale steamer. 
Jars are filled using a wide mouth funnel. A plastic bubble remover is run along the sides of the jar, in an up and down motion, to remove air pockets. Headspace is measured to •••" (6.5mm). 
The top and side of the jar are wiped down with a damp paper towel. 
Lids are placed in a pan of hot water (180ºF or 82ºC) to soften the sealing compound. 
The lid is seated, centered on the jar and the band is screwed on. 
The purpose of the band is to hold the lid down, but not too tightly. Air from the jar needs to escape into the boiling water. 
I generally screw down the bands (using two fingers) until resistance stops the band. After which, I give a slight additional 1/4" (6.5mm) twist. 
The jars are lowered into the hot water canner. Water temperature is about 180ºF (82.2ºC). 
The water level is checked to ensure there is at least 1” (2.54 cm) of water above the jars. 
Next, pot is covered and heat turned to high. 
When the water comes to a boil, the timer is started (15 minutes). The heat can be lowered as long as the water remains at a boil. 
After the 15 minutes are up, the whole canner is removed off the burner (I have an electric stove) and uncovered. Jars are left in the canner for 5 more minutes. 
After 5 minutes, the jars are lifted out level. 
The temptation is to tilt the jars to drain the water off the top of the lids. Do NOT do that! You don’t want to contents of the jar to running under the seal. 
Jars are placed on a dish towel to minimize thermal shock and allowed to cool for 12 to 24 hours. 
While the jars are cooling, you may hear a ping or a pop from the lid as it seals. That ping is a good sound. For these three jars, they all pinged within a minute. 
After 24 hours, test the seal. The lid should be bowed down (concave), when you press down the lid should not move or pop up. Also, try lifting the jar by the lid only. The lid should stay on if properly sealed. The final thing is to look at the lid to see if there are any cracks or debris caught between the jar and the lid. 

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