Get a head start on the summer food preservation season

Get your equipment ready and learn how to preserve your favorite foods.

Preserved green beans in three jars.

It might seem like you have just planted your garden, but very soon after planting, there will be a summer bounty of all your favorite local produce, ready to be preserved. Before you get busy in the garden and kitchen making your favorite salsa or dill pickles, take advantage of this slower time and get ready for summer canning season.

The first item on your to-do list should be to enjoy last summer’s preserved produce, including frozen and canned items. Check the seals prior to consuming. It is important to use up your home-canned foods within a year of preserving; this is mainly for quality purposes. Enjoy those delicious tomatoes you preserved last year!

Your next plan should be to examine your equipment and make sure it is safe for use this year, starting with your canners. Boiling water canners are used for canning all high-acid foods like fruits, pickles, jellies/jams and acidified tomatoes. This unit needs no maintenance, but make sure you have all the pieces of equipment, including the canner, lid and rack. A pressure canner is the only safe way to can low-acid foods like vegetables, meats, fish and poultry. Check the rubber gasket for flexibility; it should not be brittle or cracked. If you have a dial gauge, it will need to be checked for accuracy. Contact your local Michigan State University Extension office to see where you can get the dial gauge calibrated. Not all offices have a tester, but arrangements can be made to get the gauge tested with another county. Replacement parts can be purchased through the manufacturer as well.

Other key pieces of canning equipment include jars, lids and bands. Examine your jars for any chips or nicks along the rim. Any damage to the glass may cause your jars to either break during processing or cause seal failures. Replace bands that are rusty or distorted from use or storage. Lids are a single use item, and you should only purchase what you will use in a year to ensure a good seal.

A final step in getting ready for food preservation season is to check your canning resources to make sure you are using up-to-date and research-based recipes. In other words, do not just trust any recipe you find, whether it is an old family favorite or one from the internet. The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Michigan Fresh bulletins are available through MSU Extension, both are credible resources for home food preservation. Double check the processing times and methods for the foods you wish to preserve with the resources linked above. Maybe you would like to try to preserve something new this year? If so, read the current recommendations to make sure you have the necessary ingredients, research-based recipes and equipment.

Home food preservation is a wonderful way to preserve produce to enjoy during the cold, winter months. Whether you are an experienced or novice food preserver, you can get a head start on your summer preservation creations by verifying your resources and checking the equipment.

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