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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asked Questions

I thought I'd post a few of the canning questions I've gotten from folks over the last several weeks, posed here or on Facebook or by email or in person. If you have more, leave them in the comments, and I'll post again with answers if I have them, and eventually I'll figure out how to put an FAQ page on this blog thing. So here goes . . .

Where can you find citric acid for canning tomatoes and tomato sauce?

Some health food stores carry it, as do some Indian groceries (where it may be labeled "lemon salt"). It's available online from Amazon, Kalustyans, and Leeners, among many other vendors. If all else fails, you can use lemon juice or Fruit Fresh, which is citric acid stepped on with ascorbic acid and anti-caking agents (see the quantities for lemon juice and Fruit Fresh in the recipes in the book).

Do you have to dry off the flat jar lids after they've been in the hot water and before you put them on the jars?

No. Just slap ’em on.

Can you forgo peeling the tomatoes for sauce and just blend them up, skins and seeds and all?

Sure. Just wash the tomatoes really well first (there are more bacteria on the surface of the tomatoes, obviously, though those will be killed during the long processing time in the canning pot).

Can you can pesto in a boiling water bath?

No. Pesto is not an acid food (it has a high pH), and so it's not safe to can it in a boiling water bath. Freeze it instead!

What are your favorite things to preserve?

Sour cherries, all-purpose tomato sauce, salsa verde, and grapefruit marmalade are some of my favorites. They're extra-fun to make and delicious and useful.

Are your recipes approved by the USDA?

No. As far as I know, the only recipes officially approved by the USDA are the ones published in its handbook and online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The USDA is not in the business of evaluating or testing recipes to be published by private companies; the agency has developed its own recipes, and those are the ones they officially stand behind. That said, all of the canning methods described in my book conform exactly to current USDA standards for processing: I don't advocate the so-called open kettle or inversion method, I ask you to sterilize jars in boiling water rather than in a dishwasher or oven, processing times are totally in line with the USDA's recommendations, and so on. Fruit preserves in my book are significantly lower in sugar than those made by standard recipes, but when fruit (which is high acid) is canned using reliable methods sugar is not necessary for preservation purposes. The canned pickles in my book were tested for pH levels at several stages in the process—before processing and several days or weeks later—and packing and processing times conform to those recommended by the feds (in addition, temperatures were checked during processing using the method required of commercial canners by the FDA). If you still have concerns about a recipe—mine or any other—you can always send it to your local extension agent to ask if it looks okay to him or her. And, as always, use your judgment when opening and using a canned food, whether it has sealed properly or not. If anything doesn't seem right to you, toss it!


margie said...

Thanks for the tips & tricks!

I'm curious - when you are canning at home, for your family, do you do the whole water bath process, or do you just put the lids on and let them pop on their own? (This is obviously just re: high acid jams & the like)

I used to be really strict about water bath canning, but I got kind of lazy at some point in time. I'm still careful about checking the seals before putting cans away and before opening them, but I'm always polling people about their own practices.

Oh, and also? Yum to homemade tomato sauce.

Liana Krissoff said...

Margie: I actually do go through the full water bath process every time I can. A couple reasons: First, the best way to sterilize jars before filling them is to boil them in water for 10 minutes (dishwasher is not reliable, and the oven may be okay but for some reason I'd rather have a burner on than the oven); since I already have the water boiling it's easy enough to just put the jars in after I've filled them. Second, I've only had a couple of seal failures in all these years doing it that way. Whenever I've tried just letting the jars sit, or inverting them my win percentage starts falling.

Jen said...

Liana, I actually recently just added an "About" page to my blog, and it was easier than I thought. When you go to your blogger dashboard, there is a choice to "Edit Posts" or "Edit Pages." There you just add a new page, and write it just like a blog post. That might be a good place to put a FAQ? Or just go orangette style (aka-old school) and make a page like "" and link to it.

Thank you for answering my questions. My birthday is in August and your book is on my wish list! I just attended a Ball Canning luncheon in Cincinnati and I'm excited to start canning this year. Between their recipes and yours I think I will have a good stash for the winter! And food makes great Christmas gifts, right?

Liana Krissoff said...

Jen: Thank you so much for the blogger tips! I've been extremely lax about the whole blogging thing since I set this thing up years ago, and until now I've remained willfully ignorant of the medium's finer points.

A canning luncheon! That sounds so high-class! I want to read more about that.

And yes, little jars of canned goods make the best presents.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Liana--

I'm using your new book and really liking it. However, I am having trouble finding 6% vinegar for the pickled Romano beans. All I can find is 5%, which is what I've always used for my pickling. Will this work okay? It seems like it should, but I don't want to take any chances.
--Clay (Ann Arbor, MI)

Liana Krissoff said...

Clay: Thanks so much for asking. You do need to use a vinegar with the percentage called for in the recipes—or one with a higher percentage acidity than called for: I might have tested some of the pickles with vinegars of other percentages, but the ones in the book are what worked best and, most important, ended up at the right pH to be safe. Are you looking at white WINE vinegar? All the white wine vinegar I've seen is 6% acidity. ("Distilled white vinegar," on the other hand, is almost always 5%, but shouldn't be used in those Romano beans—not only because it might be too weak, but also because its flavor would be too metallic here.) I hope this helps! I'm glad you're enjoying using the book.

Anonymous said...

You're exactly right--I just missed the "wine" in the recipe... Sorry to have wasted your time, but thanks for the (very) quick reply. Now I'm off to do some pickling...
Best regards,

Liana Krissoff said...

Clay: It's no trouble at all. I hope you like those beans as much as I do!

nancy said...

Love your book! I'm having a hard time deciding what to try first.

I have some ripe plums for the Cardamom Plum Jam, but I'm confused how to proceed preparing the plums. Do they just go into the pot whole? There is no mention of slicing, peeling and pitting.

Liana Krissoff said...

Nancy: The plums should be pitted and diced. That line got lost somehow—my apologies!

Marks words said...

Hi Liana-

Your book is amazing, and that is an understatement. My fiance and I are canning 200 jars to use as table settings at our wedding (and as gifts for guests) and have used your recipes for 100% of our project. Don't know what I was thinking when I hatched that idea...

Anyways, I was wondering if you could suggest a recipe for pickled eggs. We've got chickens in the backyard and would love to incorporate their eggs into the wedding. You haven't steered us wrong yet and wanted to see if you had any advice. Thanks!

Liana Krissoff said...

Hi Marks words: Thank you for your comments! I'm glad you're getting some good use out of the canning book! As much as I love pickled eggs, believe it or not I have never made them before. They can't be canned, of course, and they should always be refrigerated—not left out at room temperature on a bar, for example. If you have some way to keep them chilled until serving, I think they'd be great at a wedding, especially if made with your own hens' eggs. I'd suggest reading the NCHFP recommendations carefully (, then check out the pickled eggs ideas on Simply Recipes (—the tarragon ones sound especially good to me, but beet-pickled eggs are so beautiful and classic I'd probably want to do those too. I hope you have a wonderful wedding full of good food and friends.

Marks words said...

Thanks Liana for the advice! I'd assumed since I'd seen them on bars my whole life they didn't need to be refrigerated but turns out that is not the case.

Thanks again. Love the book.