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Tips for canning season

By Barbara Quinn • Sep 13, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Ninety year-old Betty McGinnis and her husband raised six children on a ranch in eastern Montana. Trips to town for groceries — especially when the weather was harsh — were rare. Instead, this family relied on the food they raised on their land … true locavores before the term became popular.

Betty’s son, Dean, has fond memories of planting in the spring and the smell of the wet dirt. “In summer, we’d water and watch the vegetables and fruit grow. When they were ripe, we’d eat them right off the trees and bushes and help Mom pick the rest for canning.

“It was like an assembly line. All us kids had a job but really, she did all the work. Nothing was thrown away; all the scraps were fed to our pigs or chickens.”

What was the payoff? “In the winter when the wind blew and the temperature was 25 below zero (Montana, remember) we’d sit down to Sunday dinner of our own ranch-raised chickens, mashed potatoes, gravy, and my mom’s canned corn. For dessert we’d have cold fresh milk from our cows with canned Flathead cherries (from the Flathead Lake area of Montana). And sometimes we’d have a little fresh cream we got from the cow that morning.”

Are canned foods as nutritious as fresh? When done right, the canning process can lock in nutrients when a food is at its peak of freshness, says registered dietitian nutritionist Roberta Duyff. And due to the lack of oxygen during the storage period, canned fruits and vegetables remain relatively stable for up to two years.

Some heat sensitive nutrients such as vitamin C, can be destroyed during the canning process. Mixing canned foods with fresh varieties is always a good idea.

As romantic as it may sound, preserving your own food is still hard work. And it must be done right. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Home canning is an excellent way to preserve garden produce and share it with family and friends, but it can be risky or even deadly if not done correctly and safely.”

The real threat is botulism — a bacteria from the soil that can produce deadly toxins if food is canned improperly. The CDC offers these basic tips to help us safely capture nutrients from home grown produce:

* Use tried and true canning techniques. Reliable step by step instructions can be found at The National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html or local county extension services.

* Use the right equipment for the kind of food your are canning. Low-acid produce — pretty much all vegetables except tomatoes — require the use of a pressure cooker to protect against botulism. (Low acid is defined by the US Food and Drug Administration as any food with a pH value higher than 4.6.) Higher acid foods like tomatoes, most fruit and berries can be safely preserved with boiling water canners, says the CDC.

“My mother always had plenty of food for us to eat,” Dean continues. “And we ate what was on the table … .everything. I credit my excellent health to my mother. She worked hard to feed us well with healthy food. And today, all six of her children are healthy with no serious health issues.”

A tribute to locally grown and preserved. I like that.


(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to [email protected])


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