New canning contraption changes the game …
Dad said that his mother never cried. He could remember only one long-ago exception that brought tears. That was the winter day when the shelves collapsed in the basement of their Midwest farmhouse. All of her packed-to-the-brim canning jars broke into smithereens. The preserved bounty of the summertime harvest was lost.
Grandmother Young must have been devastated. She had a family of nine to feed, and a reputation as one of the best cooks in the county to uphold. (But I also imagine that the labor it took to “put-up” fruit and vegetables from the fields also factored into her sorrow.)
Canning isn’t for sissies.
Large kettles of boiling water aren’t a picnic on a hot day. Traditional water-bath preserving requires large amounts of bubbling liquid for sterilizing jars and covering jars during processing. The kitchen gets steamy and the kettles are heavy, plus they require monitoring on a regular basis.
The Sur La Table catalog featured a full-page display heralding the new Ball FreshTech Automatic Home Canning System, a pricy contraption designed to take the heat and heaviness out of home canning.
I longed to take this $300 counter-top electric canner for a spin. My small home garden produces a good number of cucumbers and tomatoes, too many to consume as they ripen, but not enough to open a roadside stand. I bit the bullet.
I canned peaches (Honey-Spiced Peaches) and tomatoes (Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices), and then preserved pickles (Bread & Butter Pickles). I was happy with the delicious results, and the machine greatly reduced the work load.
Only a little more than 4 cups of water go into the gizmo, and that water is used both to heat the jars and do the canning process (so no heavy water-filled pots to carry). And the only steam that escaped was when the lid opened to remove the sterilized jars. Yes, I still had to boil some water to remove the skins from the tomatoes and peaches, but that was minor compared to the hot mist that usually fogs the kitchen on canning day.
The machine has digital buttons that relate to specific functions; jams, fruits, tomatoes, salsas, pickles and sauces line up mid-screen, with numbers one through 6 below. The recipe book that is included details which ones to push for each recipe. It was easy to use, and because I don’t have a big garden, it was sufficient that I could only can 4 pints jars at a time (or 3 quart jars, or 6 half pint jars). No monitoring was required, so I could do other tasks while the canning took place.
After I used it a couple of uses, I operated the auto canner while cooking dinner, drinking a glass of wine while the machine whistled and hummed.
But getting back to the accompanying recipe book brings up the downside of using the auto canner. Only the recipes in the book and on the Website can be used. Many ambrosial canning classics are included, and according to test-kitchen chef Sarah Page, culinary marketing manager at Jarden Home Brands the manufacturers of Ball canning products, additional recipes are frequently added to the Website ( http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes?field_category_tid%5B%5D=861). I asked her about tweaking recipes with dried spices, chili flakes in the pickles or a bay leaf in the tomatoes, and she gave me the green light. But as for canning low acid vegetables such as green beans, she said that the auto canner isn’t the appropriate tool. For that, she said, it is best to use a pressure canner. The auto canner is designed for high-acid foods.
Here is a recipe for tomatoes packed in their own juices that is designed for using the Ball FreshTech automatic home canning device. I include it here for readers to get an idea of how the machine is utilized. The recipe includes instructions for using either 4 pint jars or 3 quart jars.
Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices
Yield: 4 pints or 3 quarts
6 pounds ripe tomatoes for 4 pints, 9 pounds for 3 quarts
1 teaspoon Ball Citric Acid for 4 pints, 1 1/2 teaspoons for 3 quarts, see cook’s notes
Optional salt, 2 teaspoons for 4 pints, 1 tablespoon for 3 quarts
4 Ball glass preserving jars with new lids and bands for 4 pint jars or 3 quart jars
Cook’s notes: Bottled lemon juice may be used instead of citric acid; use 4 tablespoons bottled lemon juice for 4 pints, or 6 tablespoons for 3 quarts, divided between the jars. Bottled juice is suggested because it has a consistent acidity level.
1. Prepare tomatoes: Working in small batches, immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins start to loosen (the riper the tomato, the less time it requires). Immediately plunge into a bowl of cold water and slip skins off. In the meantime, preheat jars (see Step 2). Remove cores and any bruised or discolored portions. Leave tomatoes whole, halve or quarter.
2. Preheat jars: Remove inner pot from appliance. Remove rack and set aside. Fill inner pot with warm tap water to the fill line. Return inner pot to appliance. Place rack back into inner pot. Place empty jars onto rack in inner pot. Set clean preserving bands and new lids aside in your work space. Close and lock lid. Press “pre-heat” button, then press “start.” The red pre-heating light will illuminate and the appliance will begin preheating jars. Jars are preheated when green “ready” light is flashing. Keep jars in appliance with lid closed and locked until ready to fill with tomatoes.
3. To Preserve Tomatoes: Unlock and open appliance lid. Remove one hot jar (using jar lifter that is included). Close lid, but do not lock, to keep remaining jars hot. Add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint, 1/2 teaspoon per quart. Or add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice per pint, or 2 tablespoons per quart. If using, add 1/2 teaspoon salt per pint, or 1 teaspoon per quart. Pack prepared tomatoes into jar, pressing gently on tomatoes until the natural juice fills the spaces between the tomatoes, leaving 1-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; slide a small non-metallic spatula inside the jar between the food and the jar wall, and then gently press back on the food, towards the opposite side of the jar, allowing air bubbles to escape. Air bubbles inside the jar can impact the seal – repeat 2 or 3 times around the jar. Wipe rim of jar with clean cloth or paper towel. Center a new lid on jar. Twist on band until fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in inner pot. Repeat until all jars are filled and returned to inner pot. Close and lock lid.
4. Press “tomatoes” button, then press “recipe 6” button. Press “start” button. The appliance will start sensing your recipe, indicated by the orange “preserving” light. When the appliance beeps and the green “ready” light is flashing, the tomatoes are done. Press “stop” button and open lid.
5. Remove jars using a jar lifter and place upright on a towel. Allow to cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours. Check lids for seals. Press on the center of the cooled lid. If jar is sealed, the lid will not flex up or down. Or, remove band and gently lift up on lid. You should not be able to lift it off the jar. If for some reason your lid did not seal properly, refrigerate and use within 5 days.
Source: Ball FreshTech Everyday Canning, instruction cookbook that accompanies the Ball FreshTech Home Canning System
Gnocchi alla Marinara – With or Without Sausage
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, coarsely chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped (include leaves if present)
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes or 3 1/2 cups home-canned Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
Optional: 1 tablespoon drained capers
If using: 6 ounces Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage preferred
1 pound prepared gnocchi, or dried gemelli pasta (or penne or fusilli)
Garnish: grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Cook’s notes: Shelf stable potato gnocchi are sold in the unrefrigerated pasta section of Trader Joe’s and some supermarkets.
1. In a large deep skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery; cook, stirring when needed, until vegetables are softened and starting to lightly brown. Add wine and stir to combine; simmer 3 minutes, reducing heat as needed. Add tomatoes and their juices; cut them into small pieces with a spatula or wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper (use less salt if adding capers). Increase heat to high and add parsley; immediately after mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Stir in capers, if using. Sauce can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated; reheat on medium, adding a little water or dry white wine if sauce is too thick.
2. Meanwhile, if using meat, break sausage into chunks (misshapen balls) about the size of a very large grape (if using link sausage, first remove casing). Place in nonstick skillet on medium heat and cook until crisp on the outside and thoroughly cooked, turning as needed, about 9 to 11 minutes. Set aside. When sauce has completed cooking, add sausage.
3. For gnocchi: cook according to package directions; drain. Or for pasta, bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil on high heat. Add gemelli and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain. Toss gnocchi or pasta with sauce. Add sausage if using. Taste and add salt and/or pepper as needed. Garnish with cheese and more parsley.
Here’s all the stuff you get with it.