Thursday, 21 March 2013

Yes we can: Canning and bottling in the UK

New technology is often driven by war. The internet originated via the military and so did the revolutionary technique of canning.
'An army marches on its stomach', said Napoleon, who offered 12 thousand francs to whoever could invent a  new method of preserving food for long periods. Rising to this challenge, confectioner and chef Nicolas Appert spent 15 years inventing 'canning' or 'mise en boite'. At first food was preserved in glass jars. Around the same time in Britain, Peter Durand discovered a similar method, but used tin plated cans rather than breakable glass. As food became industrialised via factory processes, all canning evolved into food in tins. Canning is one of the most important inventions in the history of food, it's changed how we live. George Orwell declared: "I think it could plausibly be argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion. The Great War, for instance, could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented."
Tinned food has become synonymous with culinary laziness and poor quality, the stuff of student meals and bachelor dinners (although the quality of French tinned goods such as petits pois and beans is excellent). To open and heat up a tin for supper is considered the equivalent of eating junk food. Most tinned food is safe, although we are warned to avoid dented tins. Recently, food technologist and writer Harold McGee wrote a fascinating article of aging tinned foods
Clearly it's impossible for the home cook to reproduce the tin can at home but the original glass jar technique is both superior in flavour and fairly easy to do. Furthermore this captures the fresh taste of fruit and vegetables, picked straight from the garden or the allotment. 
So Gloria Nicol and I did a workshop whereby we explained how to preserve food; firstly with water bath canning and secondly, with pressure canning. The latter is popular in the United States, and is often referred to as the 'canvolution'.  The difference between the two techniques can be summed up in one word 'acidity'. What they have in common is that both methods preserve via a vaccum and heat treatment. 
Water bath canning, more common here and on the continent, is useful for foods that already have high acidity, such as rhubarb. The equipment needed is easily found, either using the Le Parfait water bath or, a large deep saucepan. 
Pressure canning is more technical, plus the equipment is harder to obtain in the UK. I imported my pressure canner from the States via Amazon. (Note: a pressure canner is similar to a pressure cooker but you must not pressure can in a pressure cooker). Pressure canning preserves low acidity foods, with a PH higher than 4.6. Even modern tomatoes are not considered sufficiently acidic, (the acidity having been bred out of them), one must add lemon juice or citric acid. Here, in this previous blog post, are some pointers for safe canning or 'bottling' as it is called here. I also, to avoid any errors that might lead to botulism, bought the USDA guide to canning. In the United States, with its large rural population, pressure canning is widespread therefore the cost of the jars is cheaper. Some of the jars, the quilted style Mason containers in glass, are very stylish and almost impossible to obtain here. In the UK we can buy Le Parfait, Weck and Kilner jars for pressure canning. 
For water bath canning, 'lightning clip' Le parfait style jars or Kilner are safe and practical. 
Canning is ecological, it preserves without the use of refrigeration and is ideal for gardeners who will have a 'glut' of produce, all at the same time. This way the gardener can use their produce throughout the year. 
Gloria and I made a 'jar meal':
Cocktail in jars: rhubarb cordial with orange vodka and soda water
Salad in a bottle in a box
A canned bean soup served in a jar
Hand pies made from pickled walnuts, broad beans and blue cheese.
Sponge cakes with rhubarb preserves baked in antique French jars

Guests were sent home with lovely goodie bags including a jar lifter, a jar from Le Parfait, half dozen eggs from Gloria's chickens.
Salad in a box




Cocktails in jars
Hand pies
Sponge cakes baked in French antique jam jars
MsMarmite (left) and Gloria Nicol (right)

27 comments:

  1. How lovely, sounds like a great day. I tweeted the link a couple of times.

    I'm just getting started on canning. I've canned apple pie filling a couple of times now, as we had a bumper harvest of 55 kilos last autumn and I'd already made more apple jelly than seemed remotely sensible. The first time I used an enormous aluminium pot but the second time, I used the same Lidl electric water heater you show above. A twitter friend had recommended it to me a while back and my mum picked one up for me recently. So much easier!

    I don't have a pressure canner, and as you say, pressure cookers are iffy as apparently some could be used safely but others not and it's impossible to find out which models.

    I'm not sure I can justify another piece of equipment, there's no space.

    I went to Le Parfait's UK launch event last year and loved their recipe for a baked sponge and apple and caramel pudding in a jar. I'd like to learn more about that kind of recipe...

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  2. Hey Kavey
    Thanks for commenting and retweeting.
    The presto pressure canner is very safe. If you ever want to use mine, feel free or come over here to do some pressure canning!

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  3. When I was a child my grandmother had a huge garden and canned everything! I didn't know anything except tuna came in a can! In my mind's eye I can still see rows and rows of Mason jars filled with her produce, like a rainbow encased in glass. It makes my heart sing to see you are preserving the art of preserving! Thank you.

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  4. Love that image Debs....thanks for commenting

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  5. Hi, I'm new to canning. I've only water bath canned peaches, apple pie mix, beetroot pickles and salsa so far. I invested in a pressure canner last year but need courage to use it for pressure canning. I want to can meat items (chicken, steak, steak mince, chuck steak etc) and an array of vegetables but I called Ravenhead and they have told me that Kilner Jars are not "recommended, or tested" for use in a pressure canner. I'm already a little nervous of using it, so wanted to canvas seasoned canners regarding what jars they use, pros and cons , and experience in this art of preserving that's not practiced much in the UK. Hope to hear from you. Regards Vivien

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  6. Hi, I'm new to canning. I've only water bath canned peaches, apple pie mix, beetroot pickles and salsa so far. I invested in a pressure canner last year but need courage to use it for pressure canning. I want to can meat items (chicken, steak, steak mince, chuck steak etc) and an array of vegetables but I called Ravenhead and they have told me that Kilner Jars are not "recommended, or tested" for use in a pressure canner. I'm already a little nervous of using it, so wanted to canvas seasoned canners regarding what jars they use, pros and cons , and experience in this art of preserving that's not practiced much in the UK. Hope to hear from you. Regards Vivien

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    Replies
    1. Sorry Viv, I must have missed your comment. Kilner jars are fine for using in the pressure canner as are Le Parfait.

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    2. I contacted Kilner directly and they stated that their jars are *not* suitable for use in a pressure canner. I don't know about Le Parfait, but the Ball jars (which are suitable) are now available in the UK from Lakeland and Hobby Craft (and probably others).

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    3. Le Parfait claimed they were safe. Thanks for checking with Kilner.

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  7. Hi, just wanted to know about altitudes for canning in this country, I have read up alot about canning but fair to say it's all American sites nothing about sea levels in the uk have you got any advice for me I live beside the sea in the North East of England much appreciated Bev.

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    Replies
    1. Hi anon
      There's hardly anywhere in Britain that you have to worry about altitude: unless you love at the top of Ben Nevis ....

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  8. Ladies I need your advice! I just purchased a pressure canner from the USA. Being Canadian I am used to canning, but I can't find mason jars here and have purchased kilner (screwtop) ones. They seem thinner to me than the North American jars I am used to, but they may or may not be fine regardless - I just don't know. I haven't pressure canned before (just water canned). All of the kilner jars seem to have a few tiny air bubbles in the glass.

    My question is whether you have experienced any (or a lot) of breakage using the kilner brand jars in the pressure canner. They are so expensive here (!!) that I wanted to ask advice before I use them. I am not sure what else I will do if you say they break a lot in the pressure canner though. Help!

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    Replies
    1. Hello Nettle Patch,
      Yes I guess Kilner jars do seem expensive for North Americans, Ball/Mason Jars are SO much cheaper. Kilner jars are fine to use. As I said in the blog post above: In the UK we can buy Le Parfait, Weck and Kilner jars for pressure canning.

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    2. I have never used Kilner. Only the three American brands (Ball, Golden Harvest, Kerr). However, one time I reused a glass jar not meant for canning and it blew up in my pressure cooker. Fortunately it was a very safe brand and no one was injured, but the pressure cooker did get a dent in it rendering it unusable. However, if these brands are manufactured for canning, even if they are thinner than the American brands, they should be just fine.

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  9. Do you guys know where I can get a can seamer and cans measuring 75mm x 35mm?

    pl_dray@yahoo.co.uk

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    Replies
    1. Hi PL Dray, I got mine over the internet on amazon. Just google pressure canner. You may have to pay postage from the united states.

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    2. The same company that makes All American Pressure canners also manufactures can sealer
      http://www.allamerican-chefsdesign.com/Product-Detail.asp?hProductType=13

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  10. Hi, I'm new to canning. could you tell me if there is anything safe to use as a thickening agent when canning. i know in the us they use clear jel and ultra jel, is there a UK alternative... i have tried to buy them on Amazon but they wont let me ship yo the UK
    thanks x

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    Replies
    1. Hi anon
      Why do you need to thicken your canned goods? I've not heard of this before tbh

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    2. I believe they are referring to thickening agents for jams and jellies. Many recipes simply cook fruit, sugar, and lemon juice until it thickens on its own. However, in the US, powdered fruit pectin and liquid fruit pectin (which is more of a gel) are used to thicken jams and jellies. Pectin is a natural substance found in fruit. The first method relies on cooking out the pectin already in the fruit to thicken it while the second adds an additional amount to do so. I prefer the taste of jams and jellies that use added pectin. If you are unable to have those brands shipped to the UK, search around for "fruit pectin" and use that. If not, there are a number of recipes that use no added pectin you could use.

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    3. I've used Yellow Pectin from souschef.co.uk for jellifying things like pate de fruits....

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    4. Clear jel is used to thicken pie fillings. It is the only thickening agent recommended by the USDA.Pectin is used to "set" jams and jellies and you can find it in both powdered and liquid form. You can successfully get jams and jellies to set without it but that requires lots of sugar, longer cooking times and sometimes the addition of other fruits (like apples) that are naturally high in pectin.

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    5. I can my fruits in a very light sugar syrup and then thicken them for pies/cobblers when I need them. You can also make your own pectin from apple peels or crabapples. Just google "how to make pectin from scratch" and you should get several responses.

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  11. Hi. I am considering investing in a pressure canner. Please could you tell me which yours is, how much it cost and if you use it to can meat as well as fruit and veg. Thank you.

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  12. Hi there- just got back from a trip to visit a friend in the States and have been truly inspired by her canning just about everything! I'm keen to start and wondered if I'd need a pressure canner to safely can kidney beans, butter beans etc. Any advice would be useful, before I spend a fortune on equipment. Thanks in advance.

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  13. Hello there i have a all american high pressure canner,i stil dident use it.
    my question is,have somebody experience with kilner jars in the high pressure canner?
    Im from holland and here its also not posible to find the american jars...but kilner is availeble?
    please help me out.

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