Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving"

Image credit: Target.com
I started canning during the summer of 2013. I want to save money, have the freshest possible food, and minimize the number of artificial ingredients, like most people. I got advice from friends and family, researched the Web, and watched YouTube videos. I thought that was plenty of research and successfully canned tomatoes and salsa. I also made some jams and jellies. So far so good but there was an issue. I live in a Denver suburb and have to make altitude adjustments to processing times. Different online recipes gave different adjustments to the times even for tomatoes. 

There was only one solution-the "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving," first published in 1909. Right there on page 5 are the altitude adjustments. The recipe I had for canning red cabbage called for 4 quarts of red cabbage, not the weight or number of heads. The answer is in the equivalents table on page 117-just use the dry measure conversion of cups to quarts. The table even has the measurements for a bushel and a peck! 

Introduction 

The first chapter warmly invites you with the title “Learning About Canning, just one step beyond cooking.” I was afraid of canning due to the fear of spoiled food or worse. This chapter allayed these fears by an easily understandable and thorough explanation of what causes spoilage and how to avoid it. I have a background in chemistry and microbiology and it even answered my questions! The next section describes the two methods of processing, boiling water and pressure. Finally, the equipment used in canning is explained with plenty of photos. As the saying goes, you need the right tools for the job! Since the book is from Ball, all the products pictured are Ball brand, of course. 

Water Bath Canning 

The next three chapters provide recipes and detailed instructions for canning three kinds of foods suitable for water bath canning. The High Acid Foods chapter is probably going to be the one that I refer to the most. High acid foods include all sorts of fruit and tomatoes. Apple recipes include apple rings, sliced apples, applesauce and baking apples. There are many other types of fruits from berries and oranges to tropical fruit such as papayas, mangoes and pineapples. At the end of the chapter, there is an illustrated two page step by step set of directions for canning tomatoes. 

The techniques shown apply to canning all types of food, not just tomatoes. Jams, jellies and fruit spreads are next-yum! There is a two page primer defines the different types of spreads, use of pectin, and the gelling test. There are twelve pages of recipes for butters, conserves, jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves using every kind of fruit that I can imagine. Red onion marmalade and watermelon rind preserves are a bit beyond my imagination, but should tempt the adventurous palate. There is also a chapter titled Something Extra" with many imaginative recipes such as garlic jelly and blueberry basil vinegar, just to name a few. At the end of the chapter, there is an illustrated two page step by step set of directions for canning soft spreads.: 

Pickled foods and sauces complete the group of water bath canned foods. Too many cucumbers in the garden? No problem, there are so many cucumber, pickle and relish recipes that you’ll probably plant even more next year. Spicy chutneys will keep you warm during the winter. Other winter warmers are chili sauce, red hot sauce and taco sauce. 

Pressure Cooker Canning

Pressure cooker canning preserves low acid such as meats, seafood, soup and vegetables. The microorganisms that spoil these types of food can only be killed processing in a pressure cooker canner which raises water temperature to 240 degrees, 28 degrees above boiling. Either a dial gauge or weighted gauge pressure canner can be used. The chapter refers back to the introduction for diagrams of both types of pressure canners and altitude adjustments. These are great make ahead recipes for any size household with all the basics. Dinner is always ready with recipes for beef stew, chicken soup, and chili among others. 

A wide variety of vegetable recipes helps to provide balance meals. Just pick what you like-asparagus, baked beans, creamed corn, greens, okra or potatoes. The other vegetable recipes are too numerous to mention here. At the end of the chapter, there is an illustrated two page step by step set of directions for canning green beans. To be honest, I’m hesitant about pressure cooker canning. I really shouldn’t be because it’s really no different than using an autoclave, as I did back in the day. 

Special Diets 

The low sugar and low salt recipes utilize both water bath and pressure canning. There are several recipes each for fruit, tomatoes, spreads, pickled food, and fruits and vegetables. I was disappointed with this chapter because I hoped for many more recipes that modified standard recipes to reduce salt and sugar. For example, the three bean salad recipe uses two and a half cups of sugar which seems a bit much for a low sugar recipe. 

The recipes for spreads use classic pectin and three to four cups of sugar which is way too much for my taste. Ball has a product called Ball RealFruit Low or No Sugar Needed Pectin but there are no recipes for this product. Luckily, they have a Web site that will provide a recipe based on the type of fruit, jam or jelly and type of pectin. I've made delicious raspberry jam, cherry preserves and apple jelly using recipes produced from this site. I didn't need to add any sugar to the raspberry jam and only one cup of sugar for six jars of apple jelly from juice using the low/no sugar pectin. I just wish that this was included the Special Diets section. 

Other Preserving Methods 


Vintage Canning Books circa 1947
Freezing and dehydrating techniques and recipes are included in the last two chapters. Freezing is a very easy adjunct or alternative to canning that requires only standard kitchen utensils and a freezer. I particularly like this chapter because the recipes don’t even have to be frozen if you don’t want to. I’ll never buy frozen corn again. The step by step directions for freezing corn at the end of the chapter are just terrific. Also, there are recipes for game such as venison, rabbit and squirrel. These remind me of my mother’s Ball Blue Book and Kerr canning books from 1947 that have canning recipes for game and other meats like head cheese, organ meats, and pickled pigs feet. 

Dehydrating foods is only ten pages long. Although the chapter covers the basics, I would get a book devoted entirely to preserving foods this way before attempting beef jerky, dried fruits, or fruit leather. There must be a better name than fruit leather, which sounds rather unappetizing to me. 

Guides

Finally, there several handy guides at the end of the book. The planning guide cross references fruit and vegetable peak seasons to geographic regions. The equivalents guide is where I found the information for the red cabbage, and a bushel and a peck. The Problem Solver and Glossary are particularly helpful for a newbie like me.

Bottom Line

The "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving" is the grandmomma of all canning books. Don't start canning without it!


Image credit: Allposters.com