Agriculture & Livestock: Preserving foods for the county fair

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Diane Prather

Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt county fairs will be here soon, and since it’s the season to preserve foods for winter, some of you might be thinking about entering canned and/or dried foods in competition. It’s always fun to share tips for canning and drying foods with other exhibitors, and it’s exciting to compete for that blue — even purple — ribbon.

Karen Massey, family and consumer science agent in Northwest Colorado (office in Routt County), has some tips for increasing your chances of getting a blue ribbon.

First of all, no matter whether you’re preserving foods for your family or for fair competition, safety is the primary consideration. If foods aren’t processed properly, harmful bacteria can start growing in them. When these foods are eaten, family members can get sick. That goes for judges, too, who may open jars of jellies, preserves and pickled products and taste them.

So, it’s important to “make it safe.” Massey has some tips for preserving foods safely.

• First of all, follow research-tested recipes exactly for processing methods and processing times. Appropriate altitude adjustments must be made. Local altitudes (above sea level) are: Clark, 7,260 feet; Craig, 6,197 feet; Hayden, 6,348 feet; Steamboat Springs, 6,732 feet; Walden, 8,153 feet; and Yampa, 7,880 feet. Processing times can be found in the “Ball Blue Book of Preserving,” but use a “Ball Blue Book” published after 1994.

• If you are using an old family-favorite recipe for preserving food, call Massey at 879-0825 to find a tested recipe that is comparable. Also call Massey if you have questions about the processing times for jellies.

• Use the pressure canner to can any low acid food including meats, soups and all vegetables except acidified tomatoes and pickled products.

• Acidify tomatoes with bottled lemon juice or citric acid before processing either in a boiling water bath or pressure canner.

• Process high-acid foods in a boiling water bath canner.

• Processes that are unacceptable and unsafe include: open kettle processing, oven canning, inversion sealing, paraffin sealing and meat jerky dried from unsafe meats.

• Always use standard brand name canning jars in good condition.

• Recipes are required for all canned and dried products and must include the recipe source.

In order to be considered an entry, canned and dried foods must have a label. A complete label provides the judge with information as to how you canned or dried the food. The label must include: name and variety of food; method of preparation (canned: type of syrup, style of pack, dried: pretreatment used, if any); method of processing (canned: water bath, pressure manner- indicate weighted or dial gauge, dried: oven or dehydrator); processing time, altitude and pounds of pressure (p.s.i.); source of tested recipe; date canned or dried.

Just how processing methods and times fit into the scoring during judging varies from county to county.

Massey’s tips as to how to get “one up on the competition” are as follows:

• Follow exactly the fair book rules for each category.

• Enter items only in established categories. Don’t bring an entry for which no category exists.

• Do not bring an exhibit that has been previously entered in the same event.

• Make sure jars are clean and dry. Sticky or dusty jars and jars with signs of old labels will be quickly eliminated.

• After washing jars, bring jars to the fair with new screw bands attached. Make sure bands are not wet or rusty.

• Use standard canning jars with two-piece lids in standard sizes.

• Avoid decorative jars, padded lids, or fabric covers.

• Use appropriate headspace called for in your recipe directions.

• Check to make sure there is no foreign matter such as stems, seeds, or skins in the jar.

• Liquid should cover the solids in the jar.

Patty Myers, canning and dried foods superintendent in Moffat County, has a request for that fair’s exhibitors. When filling out information (name, address and phone number) on the entry forms that accompany canned and dried products, make sure that the information is on both top and carbon copies. If you use address labels, put one on each part of the entry form.

For information about processing canned or dried foods, call Karen Massey at 879-0825.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2011.

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