Canning proves its worth when weather turns cold


The onslaught of cool, wet weather turns people to projects that can be done where it's warm and, with a summer's worth of produce available, many people are preparing to store that food for fresh tastes during the cold season.

Canning fruits, vegetables and meat can be a timely process but it is simple, rewarding and cost effective.

In many cases, a person is able to can seven-pint jars for the same price it would cost to purchase a quart of some food, canning expert Sharyn

Sanborn said.

The Moffat County Extension Office has received several calls regarding canning in the past weeks, most with questions regarding altering recipes for high altitude, agent Elisa Shackelton said.

"People are doing some of the last big batches of tomatoes, salsas and peaches," she said. "They're making what seems like annual trips to Grand Junction to get bushels of fruit and vegetables."

Shackelton said all canning recipes, unless otherwise noted, are formulated for sea level. She said those who can need to add about 15 minutes to the process of a boiling water bath or to pressure can at 15 pounds of pressure to make up for the increase in altitude.

No modifications are needed for making jams and jellies.

Preserving foods by canning puts them at a high risk for botulism, an anaerobic organism. Jams and jellies aren't at risk because the organism can't survive in the amount of sugar that's used. Other canned foods, though, are the perfect hosts.

"That's the number one enemy," Shackelton said.

She recommends that all canners be armed with information sheets published by Colorado State University and available for free at the Extension Office or the Craig-Moffat County Library.

The Extension Office also just received a supply of Ball Blue Book canning books, which are available for $5.

"That's a must if you want to put up food," she said.

The guide, published with color pictures, offers high-altitude adjustments and some tricks of the trade.

"We've got some great resources available," Shackelton said. "You should have these in hand before you begin."

She said the Extension Office would mail or fax information sheets if necessary or walk people through them over the phone.

One of the most common mistakes canners make, she said, is to double and triple recipes that are not meant to be altered.

That ends in a variety of problems, such as jelly not setting,

and a phone call to the Extension office.

The Extension Office has all the canning equipment on hand and, with plenty of notice, will walk people through the process.

First-time canners can be intimidated by the process but Sanborn said it is a simple process that takes time, diligence and knowledge. It is self-gratifying, she said, to know you are providing for your family in a nutritionally sound way.

"There's a lot to know, don't get me wrong," Sanborn said. "But you don't have to know it all to start. The first time I did it, I was intimidated but it's important to overcome that fear. We really need to pass this on so it's not so foreign."

People can fish, meat, vegetables, fruits and juices.

There are two ways to can. One is referred to as a cold pack -- a hot water bath created by boiling food-filled jars to create a seal that keeps food safe and fresh. The other is called a hot pack -- the process of using a pressure cooker to force the oxygen from a can to form an airtight seal.

There are three major purchases that must be considered before beginning:


If a person has their own garden, then canning is the perfect way to preserve the fruits and vegetables. If not, people can buy produce from the grocery store or a farmer's market. Canning while the fruit or vegetable is in season is the cheapest way to get produce. Make sure the fruit or vegetable is ripe, but not overripe and is clean and not damaged or bruised. Be aware when you select produce that uniform sizes are the easiest to can and have the best chance for even cooking.

Pressure canner

Meat, seafood, vegetables must be canned in a pressure canner. Some fruits or jellies can be prepared in a hot water bath.

Pressure cookers can be expensive items if bought brand new. Some estimate they can cost between $100 and $120. Sanborn recommends the serious canners shop garage sales and classified ads for a used pressure cooker. Some people can borrow pressure cookers from friends or family members.

Getting a properly functioning pressure cooker is a must. The cooker must have a rubber ring inside the lid that is in good shape, not cracked or hard. Replacement rings can be purchased at several places, so don't not buy a cooker because of its ring, Sanborn said. Make sure the lid forms a proper seal around the pot and have the pressure gauge checked to make sure it is accurate. This can be done at the Colorado State University Extension Office.

A malfunctioning pressure cooker is a dangerous item, Sanborn said.

"I would treat this tool with as much respect as you would a gun because it's just as powerful," she said. "But don't be afraid of it."

While in use, the pressure cooker should not be touched in any way, nor should it be touched until it is completely cooled.


Buying jars from grocery or discount stores can be expensive. Sanborn urges people to check garage sales, auctions and classified ads for jars. Jars should be clean and free of the cracks or chips that can cause the jar to break under pressure. Each one should be checked individually.

Many bacterial food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, staphylococcus, E.Coli or botulism can be caught from improperly canned food. Make sure foods have been properly sealed by testing the lid. If it is slightly bowed in, it has formed a proper seal.

A bulging lid or leaking jar is a sign of spoilage. When you open a jar, look for signs such as spurting liquid or an "off odor," or mold. Dispose of all spoiled canned food in a place where it will not be eaten by children or pets.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at

Commenting has been disabled for this item.