Guest Post: UpCountry Living's Experiment with Canning

Hello lovlies.  Today Jenna from UpCountry Living is sharing with us her first dabble into the world of food preservation.  She has taken the September 4(for) green acres challenge and is sharing her  experience.  Her perspective is interesting because I think many of us feel the same and come up with the same resistance.  The excuses as to why we can't or shouldn't do something are just that; excuses.  It's a good read and she notes a valuable lesson she learned at the end.  I hope you enjoy.    

Before September 19, 2012: I’ve never canned in my life.

On September 19, 2012: I’m canned today. I made Sunshine Salsa.

Probably after September 19, 2012: Canning? No problem.

I became interested in canning earlier this spring. My boyfriend and I had decided to plant our first garden in raised beds in our backyard in the late spring and early weeks of summer. I hoped that I’d have more vegetables than I knew what to do with and I was really excited about preserving my own produce.

Sure enough, the garden did well. Some things didn’t, but Mr. UpCountry and I enjoyed a bounty of green beans, carrots, beets and tomatoes. We ate most of the green beans (green beans with every meal!), gave away a lot of the beets and carrots (beyond what we needed) to friends and family and I held onto the tomatoes to experiment with canning for the first time.

And then I held them longer than I should have. I held them until they started getting mushy. I left them on the windowsill above my sink and the sun soaked into them and decay shot from the gate like it was all a race.

Why did I let them rot? Why didn’t I preserve them through canning when they were at their most fresh and ripe?

Because of Resistance. Good ole Resistance usually does a number on me. Thankfully, I’m slowly learning to outsmart it (but only after it’s caused me to procrastinate for a decent amount of time).

I strongly believe in the benefits of eating food grown locally (first) and organically (preferred). I know that the only way for me to eat local tomatoes in January is to can them.

And I have bowls full of them around my kitchen. Ready. Waiting to boil and vacuum themselves into jars. Yearning to feed me in the darkest hours of winter (or so I imagine).

But I failed those first ones. I let them go. My Resistance poked in and held me back in a variety of ways (one of Resistance’s secret weapons = changin’ it up).

First, I didn’t have the money to buy the canning equipment.
How I beat Resistance: Eventually, I saved up the money and found some pretty cheap canning supplies at KMart. My sister loaned me her lobster pot. That leg of Resistance - knocked out.

Then, I didn’t have enough tomatoes to process a batch.
This particular ploy from Resistance worked for a while. If I continued to give away tomatoes to friends and family or convince myself that they were past their prime, I never had enough tomatoes to process and so I didn’t have to concern myself over it. 
After that, I convinced myself that I needed to watch somebody else do it first because I was likely going to screw it up my first time and I’d either explode glass and hot food all over the kitchen or I wouldn’t process it long enough and kill my loved ones with botulism.

I waited until my local Cooperative Extension office offered a canning class. This class was scheduled two weeks beyond when I probably should have started canning. But I waited. Because it would be so much easier to do it my first time if I acquired some wise mentor to walk me through the process. Right? ...Right?

I attended the canning workshop only to discover that there weren’t any live demonstrations of canning. The presenter did an excellent job of explaining the process, but nothing was hands-on.

I decided that my reading and online research would have to do and that I should get right down to canning.

Then a week went by. I couldn’t get myself to do it.

I was so afraid of something bad happening. Or not getting it right the first time.

I wrote in the September 19 square of my daily planner: Can something. Just do it.

When I woke up on that fateful morning, I looked at my planner and knew that it had to be done, regardless of my fear and insecurity. Even though Resistance punched me full on in the face that morning, I steeled myself to the task.

And I did it. Mr. UpCountry graciously provided assistance (thank you, darling!). I looked up recipes in my canning book, Put ‘Em Up, and decided that salsa would work just fine for my pounds of yellow tomatoes.

For an extra dose of confidence, I called the local Cooperative Extension office and double-checked that the recipe I’d found followed USDA food safety standards. According to Mrs. Fishman at the CE office, it did. (That was another sneaky form of Resistance right there: worrying about the validity of my recipe. However, this form is actually commonsensical and wise. Food safety should not be taken lightly.)

Mrs. Fishman walked me through the steps and coached me as I repeated them back to her. She assured me that she’d be in her office for the next couple hours if I needed any further assistance. I am so grateful for her warm and friendly instruction.

Adrenaline Rush. Set the water to boil. 

I followed the recipe and ended up with seven half-pint jars of what I’ve decided to call Sunshine Salsa. Because the ‘Put ‘Em Up!’ recipe specified regular tomatoes and not yellow tomatoes, I figured I could go ahead and name the yellow version. 
Sunshine Salsa. My first canning experience. After I buckled down and did it, I realized that it was a manageable process. I could do it.

My Sunshine Salsa does look a little watery in the jar. This is likely due to my tomatoes being a bit past their prime; they were extremely juicy!

Also, my salsa had to sit in the jar for a few minutes after being cooked and before being processed in the canner because I didn’t start the water boiling in my canner soon enough. Lesson learned! Next time I’ll start my water boiling in the canner first thing.

I don’t believe that letting them rest before processing did any harm to the food. It could have resulted in my glass cracking or breaking, since it had time to cool down a bit before I bathed them in boiling water.

That didn’t happen. All those scary scenarios I pictured in my head didn’t happen.

Instead, I put up seven jars of golden Sunshine Salsa and figuratively patted myself on the back.

Every day I learn, more and more, that the best way to do something is to do it. I may not have created a perfect product, but I still made something. I refuse to criticize myself on this.

It’s all about mannin’ up, puttin’ it up, doin’ it up.

And, likely as not, it’ll eat good with chips.

To read more about Jenna and her experiences jump on over to her blog.