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The Sustainable Table: How to Can

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SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — “It’s not really brain surgery,” said Laura Hinrichs, a master food preserver with the OSU Extension Service, when describing canning. “If you read carefully and have the equipment, you can do it.”

In her east Springfield home, nestled along an offshoot of the McKenzie River, Hinrichs provides a step-by-step tutorial of the canning process. She starts by pouring a tablespoon of lemon juice into the empty jars, which will soon be filled with tomatoes.

“Low-acid foods — green beans, squash, mostly fruit — have to be done in a pressure canner so that you’re sure that you have killed anything that looks like botulism,” explained Hinrichs. The lemon juice will act as an acid in our canned tomatoes.

Then, she drops the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water.

“We don’t want to cook the tomatoes, but we do want the skins to be loose,” Hinrichs said. Once the skins start splitting, she pulls the tomatoes out of the boiling water and drops them into a bowl of ice water.

“It stops them cooking,” she said.

A few minutes in the ice water, then it’s time to peel the tomatoes. Hinrichs slices off the top of each one, giving a quick tug that pulls off a strip of skin. Every bare tomato lands in one of the empty jars.

Once the jars are full of tomatoes, Hinrichs pours boiling water nearly to the rim. She then wipes the top of the jars completely clean.

“If there’s tomato on those rims, the lids won’t seal,” she said. “Then you have unsealed tomatoes, which is a real pain in the neck.”

Hinrichs puts the lids on each jar, then twists the ring onto the top, getting it secure but not snug. The jars’ next stop is in the “water bath.” It’s a large pot with water heated to 140 degrees. She arranges the jars so they fill the pot, but don’t touch each other. Another key: the water should be about an inch above the top of the jars.

Once the water starts boiling, Hinrichs sets her timer.

“They’re going to be in this kettle for 40 minutes in boiling water and I assure you, it will not only cook the tomato, it will sterilize the jar, so you don’t have to worry about doing that ahead of time,” she said.

While we waited, Hinrichs shared how she got into canning.

“When I retired and came here, I was interested doing more because I was interested in the local food scene, I was interested in having a garden and wanted to be able to have that food available to eat all year long,” she explained.

She enrolled in classes at the OSU Extension Service and eventually earned the title of master food preserver.

“I think making things at home gives you a sense of what you’re eating. You know what’s in that jar or in that frozen package. You avoid additives, you avoid preservatives, you have just food,” said Hinrichs. “To me, that’s really wonderful and important.”

Forty minutes later and the timer let us know our tomatoes were done. Hinrichs pulled each jar out, setting it on a counter.

“The big question is: will they seal?” she said, hovering close to the jars.

Soon enough, we started to hear the pops that sound the end of the canning process.

If you want to learn more about canning, get recipes or enroll for a class at the OSU Extension Service, click here.

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