Hobby or food security?

Fix Your Plate | Tara Reeves

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Growing up, canning and preserving food was a tradition in my family. A quick trip to the “cold room” in my grandparents’ basement could be compared to an archeological dig filled with treasure from days gone by. “Nan, what’s this?! Nan… what is THIS?!” 

Amazed by the sheer number of dusty, often illegibly labeled Mason jars filled with everything from meat to pickles, jams, vegetables and perhaps an experiment or two from a past decade, from an early age, I understood that value of what it meant to “put food away for later.” Now, almost four decades later, I see it as a form of food security that is making a resurgence perhaps, as a hobby picked up after two years of being stuck at home but also as a way to combat swiftly rising food prices.

While humans have relied on food preservation methods such as fermentation, drying and salting foods for thousands of years, “canning” food by means of sealing the food with heat in sterilized jars is a relatively new concept. And, by new, I mean that it has only been around for about 300 years, or so. 

Canning food, not to be confused with “bottling,” is a great way to save money and to enjoy fresh, nutritious food all year round. Done properly, water bath or pressure canned foods can last for two to five years or more, without losing its nutritional value or flavour. 

There are two main methods of canning foods; water bath canning and pressure canning. Without getting too scientific here, when it comes to canning, foods fall into two main categories: high acid foods and low acid foods. Acidic foods are usually used for jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, salsas, and use the water bath canning method where you are processing these foods in boiling water for a specified amount of time. Whereas, low acid foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables must use the pressure canning method where the food is heated under steam pressure, allowing for much higher temperatures and faster cooking times. 

There is some debate about which foods should be canned using the water bath method and when it is absolutely recommended to use a pressure canner. I will not be entering this debate but, I do highly recommend doing proper research before jumping in with both feet. Food poisoning is not something to take lightly, so please ensure that you understand the science and take precaution so that you can safely enjoy the fruits of your labour. Pun always intended!

I mentioned previously that canning should not be confused with bottling, as they are not the same thing. However, bottling food is a great place to start if you are new to canning and preserving. In my industry, we call them “fridge pickles or quick pickles.” The recipe below is a great example of “bottling” and is taken from a book that my grandma had in her recipe book collection. I hope you love it as much as she did!

Bread and Butter Pickles
Recipe by Bea Read, Favorite Recipes Compiled by members of Community of Wilmot W.I. 1985

12 medium cucumbers (sliced, unpeeled)
1 quart onions
1 cup salt
9 cups water
Let stand overnight, drain. Put in bottles and place in oven at 250F for 1/2 hour (uncovered)

Meanwhile bring to a boil:
6 cups vinegar
1 tsp turmeric
6 cups sugar
1 tsp celery seed
Pour over vegetables and seal while hot.

Fix Your PlateTara Reeves
Tara Reeves

Tara Reeves is a classically trained Chef and Holistic Nutritionist. A graduate from the Culinary Institute of Canada, she teaches people who want to transition to a plant-based lifestyle how to plan and prepare flavourful, nutritious, plant-based meals that keep them feeling full & satisfied. Tara is the co-founder and editor of The Black Media Collective—PEI’s first and only Black media outlet—and can also be found spinning records as DJ Jane Blaze.