Posts Tagged Canning process
Historical evidence is far too old to be conclusive, but historians and archaeologists agree, roasting was likely the first method employed for cooking, but it would not have taken long for boiling to become an everyday occurrence after this. It is also quite likely that cooking is the result of accidental circumstances, rather than a process that was devised purely from thought.
This being said, when you think about it all discoveries and processes and technology begin with observation, which is purely circumstantial and often accidental. We observe an outcome, the mind compares it with what we know until this day and survival/adaptive instinct immediately seeks a best option. This is how we invent and it is why we cook.
We, as a race, consumed raw foods for hundreds of thousands of years. The first deliberate use of fire is said to have occurred between 1,400,000 BC and 500,000 BC depending on the region being studied and depending on the author of the study. Like cooking, the science of the evolution of a process can be rather approximate and in the grand scheme of things a difference of 900,000 years is just a smidgen.
Researchers theorize that while cooking may have occurred accidentally, it is while using the method deliberately that our ancestors would have observed the benefits of their actions. They would not have known that heat helps release carbohydrates and protein, that it helps break down fiber and that it increases the nutritional value of many foods, but over time they would have noticed that foods that were inedible when raw could be consumed after heat processing. They would also have taken note of a change in digestive activity; an increased ease of digestion most certainly. In fact, some scientists have suggested that cooking, not speech, was the decisive factor that lead us away from our basically animal existence into a more defined human existence.
What accident could have sparked such a revolution? One scenario holds that, very simply, a primitive hunter might have dropped a piece of the day’s catch in the fire and it was left there a few moments until the flame died down, lest one burn his hand. Once retrieved, curiosity took hold and someone tasted the meat and enjoyed the experience. The aroma of the cooking meat might have played a role as well. This discovery would have taken place very soon after man began to use fire purposefully; perhaps only days after this.
As for boiling, some modern tribal cultures still use a method whereby smoldering stones are dropped in a pit that was dug directly into the ground, lined with fat and filled with water. The stones are pushed in place with the assistance of sticks or branches and added as needed to keep a simmer going. Ancient humans may have used a similar method. Boiling in a container requires a material that is shaped and designed to contain boiling water and resist fire, an easier proposition once we began to make tools out of metals, not before.
However, there is evidence that we fabricated containers capable of handling boiling water and fire long before we worked with metals. Pottery comes to mind, but also as early as 13,000 BC leather working techniques permitted the use of specially treated animal stomachs for containing and cooking foods. These were both heat-proof and water-proof and were precursors to pottery and the bronze and iron ages.
Food preservation would have been another natural evolution and this evolution took a parallel path as nomad and merchant cultures expanded their territories and needed to devise means to bring foods that would not spoil along for the journey. In a previous article, we saw how the canning process was devised partly as a result of one explorer, Napoleon Bonaparte, demanding someone come up with a means to make food preserves last throughout his long voyages. This, of course, requires deliberate observation, which in turn relies on deliberate scientific study.
It is difficult to know, also, at one point someone who observed a phenomenon began to ask why. A saying by Bernad Mannes Baruch illustrates this question rather well: “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.”
Modern science takes every phenomenon apart so that we may understand how and why and why not. This is how we know that the canning process is not just happenstance. During the heat processing, the contents in the jars expand. At this point, internal pressure changes. At first, gases vent from the jars. When the atmospheric pressure inside the jar is lower than the pressure outside, the lid is pulled in, or sucked in, forming a vacuum seal. While heating for the proper amount of time kills molds, microorganisms, yeasts and enzymes that could be harmful, the vacuum prevents air from reintroducing many of these. Pretty clever, huh?!
Thousands of years ago, a tired hunter-gatherer came home, tripped and spilled a shank of mammoth over the fire pit.,, and changed everything.
Canning may be one of the most frugal things you can do for your family and your kitchen, but to be truly frugal in the kitchen is not only a matter of using strategies that save time and money, it is also about working smarter.
When we bring home fresh produce from the garden or the farmer’s market, it can be difficult to not feel a sense of eagerness. We imagine all the preserves, recipes and canned treasures we will be eating and want to get right to it. If you are new to canning, diving into a first project without a carefully laid out plan can get overwhelming fast; if you have been canning all your life, there is still a chance you might streamline your method and enjoy it all the more. Here are some basic things to consider for a truly frugal, safe and satisfying canning experience.
1- Even if you learned from your mother or grandmother, take the time to read the entire owner’s manual that came with your water bath canner, steam canner or your pressure canner. Their may be a slight variation in usage and safety rules that did not apply for the equipment they used in their own time.
2- Canning is canning; any method is good, right? Wrong. Make sure you use the correct canning method for the produce you are about to process. High and low acid foods require different canning methods. Make sure you understand which method to select. Better yet, follow a recipe from a good canning or preserving book. Remember, canning is not merely about preserving, it is about destroying micro-organisms in order to preserve.
3- Use fresh produce only. Canning preserves freshness, it does not restore it. This speaks for itself. On to number 4.
4- Avoid the “Glutton Syndrome.” Alright, I just made this up. What I mean is do not let grand plans and the sight of a mouth-watering harvest hinder your focus. Trying to process the entire garden in one day will exhaust you and fatigue leads to mistakes. This can also make canning seem like a chore, not the communion with nourishment that it is. A good trick to keep your project within a reasonable time-frame, so that you remain alert, is to work with only one canning method at a time (right there that singles out what you are going to process) and process no more than two items per day.
5- Have a plan. Before doing anything, read through the entire recipe, twice if you must. Keep it at hand once you begin and read as you go. Position your equipment and ingredients in your work area so that every action flows.
6- Use recipes from reliable sources. Unless they are detailed and leave absolutely no room for guess-work, do not use the scribbled “Best Pickles Ever” recipe from your uncle Denis. Sorry Uncle Denis, but canning requires precision.
Precision and rules do not hinder a process, they make it smoother. Happy and safe canning.