(Note: We've invited Patricia to follow this discussion so that she may address your food preservation questions!)

The apples are falling off the trees and you still have a bag of tomatoes left from that summer garden. Or, perhaps you’re seeing big bargains on berries at the store and would have a hand in the jam you spread on your toast each morning. What to do? Can it!

Just think of all the pricy gourmet food items that you could make and share with friends: red pepper jam, tomato chipotle salsa, chutney, or apple pie filling. The Agriculture Collaborative of the Mid-Region Council of Governments enjoyed a visit from State Fair Canning Judge and Albuquerque Journal Food columnist Patricia Aaron. Sometimes called the Martha Stewart of New Mexico, Patricia’s advice is wise: “Cooking is an art and canning is a science. Follow the directions, don’t take shortcuts, and you’ll have a safe and delicious product to enjoy all winter long.”

While the focus was canning, Patricia emphasized that there are actually three methods traditionally used for food preservation: drying and smoking (the oldest form), freezing, and canning. However, in order to keep molds and bacteria at bay, it is important to follow current methods for safe preservation. Patricia emphasized that if your canning book is dated older than 1994, you’ll want to consult the guidelines produced by New Mexico State University.

NMSU Articles on Food Preservation

Home Food Preservation (a comprehensive page of links and information that also includes supplies & associated canning products)

Preserving Tomatoes at Home (pdf)

Making Jelly, Jam, and Spread at Home (pdf)

Freezing Fruit Basics (pdf)

Making Homemade Cheese (pdf)

There are two types of canning methods:

Water bath - for high acidic foods like jams and fruits

Pressure canner – for meats and veggies. The pressure canner is necessary to kill the bacteria that causes botulism.

Canning Tips

Here are a number of additional tips that Patricia shared. (For further details on most of these topics, please consult the NMSU Home Food Preservation guidelines):

Higher than 3000 feet is high altitude and minor cooking time adjustments may be necessary (consult the guidelines). Check out the directions on a pressure canner before you purchase it; some do not work at 3000+ feet.

Ace Hardware apparently sells canning supplies locally, but supplies are also available online.

Ensure you leave the appropriate headroom in jars, after filling them (consult the guidelines).

Clean rims with a clean, damp towel before placing the seal lids.

You may reuse canning jars, but must purchase new seal lids.

Preserved food is meant to last one year, from season to season.

Sealing jellied products with paraffin is not safe. Unless jellied products are processed in boiling water bath, they will develop mold.

There are only a few cases of botulism each year. Most often this is caused by preserving green chile incorrectly. A pressure canner is necessary for preserving green chile.

Bubbles in canned items may be a sign of bacteria. Dispose of canned items which are off-colored.

Today’s tomatoes are sweeter than they used to be. Adding lemon juice (bottled) increases the ph and prevents having to use a pressure canner.

While freezing best maintains food nutrients, canned items are still very nutritious. Canning does not change the nutritional value of proteins.

Canner gaskets are best cleaned with soapy water. Do not use oil as it will deteriorate the gasket. If your pressure cooker gauge is new, it can be taken to the local extension to be tested. (Here’s the Bernalillo County Extension Office.)

Do not cool down canner quickly by submerging it in cold water. Rapid temperature change is bad for the canned items and may warp the canner.

Lots of canning recipes can be found online.


Napoleon Bonaparte was responsible for canning as we know it. He offered a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased, regular supplies of quality food. Limited food availability was among the factors limiting military campaigns to the summer and fall months. In 1809, a French confectioner and brewer, Nicolas Appert, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars. More about canning history here.

Other Food Preservation Tips

Dried Herbs: If drying herbs, it’s best to leave them whole to preserve the flavor. Dry for 24-48 hours and put them in the freezer for 48 hrs to pasteurize.

Flavored Vinegars: These can be created in 2 to 3 days and make great gifts!

Infused Spirits: Patricia said there are no known food safety issues with creating and storing flavored / fruited alcohols.

Want to meet other farmers, growers, and supporters of local farms? Visit the MRCOG Agriculture Collaborative meetings sometime. They are free, open to the public, and occur monthly.

Views: 709

Comment by Laura on October 29, 2009 at 11:05am
Wow, what an awesome resource. Thanks! I've always been a little intimidated by canning, but with all of this info, I just might try it now.
Comment by P J Aaron on October 30, 2009 at 7:39am
Thanks for your comment, Laura. Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension is a great resource for quality products canned safely. Food preservation classes are offered in late spring or early summer each year.
Comment by cc on February 20, 2010 at 9:04am
This is a great post - I never knew the history of canning before! Thanks for pointing out this important community resource.


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