Tips & Tricks

How to check your canning jars for a good seal

IMG_3944 copy

After a long day of canning, you may think that you are off the hook the minute you take those jars out of the water canner. Oh, how wrong you are! One of the most important things about canning won’t happen until those jars are nice and cool. What is it?

You need to check the seal!

If your lids haven’t formed a good seal with the rim of the jar, your food will not be properly preserved. This means that pathogenic bacteria and fungus can form easily and make the food unfit for consumption. While keeping unsafe food in your own cupboard is bad enough, swapping or gifting unsafe food is even worse, as the person receiving the food may not recognize signs of improperly preserved food. While mold will be visible, some bacterial growth in the food may not be, and if someone consumes the food they may become very ill. Plus, opening a jar full of moldy jam is really nasty.

Thankfully, illness, shame, and sadness can be easily avoided with a handful of simple steps. Rejoice!

Here are a few tips to help ensure that you almost always get a good seal.

  • Always use new canning lids. It is unsafe to reuse canning lids for water bath processed foods.
  • Do not use really old canning lids, even if they are unused. While the box of canning stuff you found in the cellar of your rental house or the unwanted canning stuff from Grandma may be really exciting, treat yourself to new lids. The adhesive compounds on old lids – even if they are unused – tend to break down over time and may not seal properly. To be safest, use canning lids that are no more than 1-2 years old.
  • Check the rim of your jars. If there are chips or cracks, do not use for canning.
  • Thoroughly wipe the rims of your jars after filling. Use a damp, clean cloth and wipe up any of the contents that may have spilled on to the rim. I like to use a canning funnel to fill the jars to make it less messy – there’s less to wipe up!
  • Process for the designated amount of time in your recipe. Remember to account for changes in elevation if you are canning above 1,000 feet.
  • Remove your jars from the water canner gently after processing, keeping them as level as possible. Do not tip to pour off water that may have collected on the lid – it will evaporate. Place the jars on a double thickness of towel on a level surface. Keep away from drafts and let sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours.

Then…

You may hear a “ping!” sound as the jars cool – this sound means that the jar has sealed properly. But listening for this sound alone is not a reliable method for checking the seal. Plus, the “ping!” is an easy sound to miss and some well-sealed jars never “ping!” at all.

Once the jars have cooled…

  • Press down on the center of the lid. Does the lid move up and down or does it feel solid and concave? If it feels solid and concave, you have a good seal. If the center of the lid moves up and down, your jar has not sealed and the food is not safely preserved.
  • Tap on the lid. If it makes a tinny, ringing sound your jar is sealed. If it sounds like a dull thud, the seal is poor or non existent and the food is not safely preserved.
  • Here’s the big one: unscrew the canning jar ring. Then pick up the jar holding on to nothing but the lid. If you succeed, your seal is awesome. If not, well, you guessed it – bad seal.

If your seal passed the test, you have successfully preserved your foods!

Nice work. Remove the band and wipedown the rims and sides of the jars to remove any residues from canning. Replace the band if you’d like by screwing it on and leaving a bit of give, or leave band-less so you can use the band for other canning projects. Then label the jar with the contents and the date, store in a cool, dark place and consume within one year for best freshness.

If your seal did not pass the test, you have a few options.

  • You can eat the contents immediately
  • You can refrigerate the jar and eat soon. Within 1 – 4 weeks, depending on the food.
  • You can reprocess the jar. Unfortunately, you can’t just screw on a new lid and band, and drop in a pot of boiling water. Rather, you need to start over from the very beginning. Clean the jar(s) and band(s) thoroughly and use a new canning lid(s). Heat the jar (sterilization not needed if processing over 10 minutes). Then heat the contents back to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Then fill the jar as directed in the recipe and process for the designated amount of time.

Easy, right? That said, don’t feel bad about your canning abilities if you have a jar (or two) that doesn’t seal. It happens to the best of us sometimes! Just be thankful that you caught it and didn’t stash it in your pantry unsealed. And besides, it gives you an excuse to dig into some of your tasty foods now rather than later.

Food safety is fun, right? Happy canning!

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

*Heads up! This post may contain some affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a single cent more, but I'll get a small commission that helps keep the content flowing. P.S. I only recommend products I use in my own daily life!

Gluten-Free Birthday Party Ideas: making "potions" at a Harry Potter party

Gluten-Free Birthday Party Ideas: making "potions" at a Harry Potter party

a happy child with his "potion"

A few weekends ago, I traveled to Northern Iowa to participate in a cob oven-building workshop. My friends were hosting the workshop at their home and I took advantage of the opportunity to stay the weekend with them and their three kids. One of the highlights of the weekend was participating in their 9-year-old son's Harry Potter-themed birthday party. 

The minute I arrived, my friend told me I was going to be the Potions Master and lead the kids in an activity to make their own smoothies (a.k.a. "potions") from fresh fruits. Awesome! We prepared the fruits before the party and displayed them in trays and bowls. To label each magic ingredient, I drew out the names of each on paper with a water insoluble pen, tore it around the edges, and lightly singed each torn edge to make it look old. We grownups came up with some fun ideas for the "magic" equivalents of common ingredients: 

After the kids finished a rousing game of quidditch, it was time for potions. Each child was given a goblet and instructed to fill it up with their choice of fruit and juice. I put the ingredients the Vitamix with a handful of ice, asking them (in a terrible British accent) to tell me what their magical "potion" will do, then flipped the switch. As it blended, I waved my wand (oh yeah, I had a wand) and made crazy sounds for dramatic effect. Then I poured their "potion" it right back in their goblet. A quick rinse of the blender container, and I was ready for the next one!

dragon hearts and eyes of giant newt

How to Make Sauerkraut in Gallon-Size Plastic Bags: A Follow-Up

How to Make Sauerkraut in Gallon-Size Plastic Bags: A Follow-Up

IMG_0092

Back in October, I posted an entry called How to Make Sauerkraut - or - Four Women have a Cabbage-Laden Sausagefest.  I described one method for making sauerkraut, as demonstrated in photos of a party that three friends and I had where we shredded 50 pounds of cabbage and ate lots of sausages. After letting the cabbage ferment away for about 6 weeks, we got together back in December to sample our krauts, pack them into jars, and eat more sausages (and locally-made haggis). I wanted to let you know how it all turned out!

As you may recall from that post (found HERE), we fermented in gallon-size plastic bags, and made 9 different flavors.

  • plain with one with Canning Salt (3 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • plain with RealSalt (3 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • juniper berries (1 Tbsp berries, 3 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • seaweed extravaganza (a half cup each of crushed nori, laver, dulse, and wakame, 3 1/2 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • caraway (1 Tbsp caraway sees, 3 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes (1-2 garlic cloves, 1 onion, 1/2-1 Tbsp red pepper flakes, 3 1/2 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • dill seeds (1 Tbsp dill seeds, 3 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage)
  • "Kim's Mix" - fennel and coriander (1 Tbsp fennel seeds, 1 Tbsp coriander seeds, 3 Tbsp salt, 5 lbs cabbage) - I sliced by thumb open while making this one, so I got to pick the spices. We joked that blood was one of the key secret ingredients.  Although I didn't actually bleed in the kraut, I did get to keep the batch.
  • "Terre Vivant" - a mix of juniper, clove, bay leaf, sage, and cumin, inspired by a recipe in the marvelous  book Preserving Food Without Canning or Freezing. I don't recall the exact measurements, nor did we write them down! But it was around 2 Tbsp total spices, 3 Tbsp salt, and 5 lbs cabbage.

IMG_0091Homemade haggis and sausages from the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, MNSampling three varieties of our kraut with dinner: seaweed, garlic and onion, and Terre Vivant

 

a crazy quilt made of flour and stuffed in a jar

IMG_0540

A while back I started putting the remaining little bits of all my flours into a jar. Leftover freshly ground oat flour or buckwheat flour, the tablespoon or two of flour at the bottom of the bag, whatever I found in my pantry when I moved - I just mixed it all together. Then I added some xanthan gum and a bit of baking powder to make it like those multi-purpose flour blends you buy in packages.   It's like a crazy quilt made of flour and stuffed in a jar, showcasing pretty much every easily-accessible flour and starch on the market.

I believe my mysterious flour mixture contains bits of all of the following...

  • freshly ground buckwheat flour
  • regular dark buckwheat flour
  • amaranth flour
  • quinoa flour
  • white rice flour
  • brown rice flour
  • freshly ground brown rice flour
  • freshly ground sweet rice flour
  • chickpea flour
  • coconut flour
  • sorghum flour
  • millet flour 
  • teff flour
  • freshly ground oat flour
  • tapioca starch
  • arrowroot starch
  • a bit of xanthan gum

Talk about mulit-grain, right?  Ridiculous.

I have absolutely no idea what the proportion is on any of it. But I used it to make a loaf of bread a couple weeks ago, and it behaved beautifully! I made a pumpkinseed oatmeal bread with this mix as the main flour, and it was lovely, light, and had a wonderful crumb. See?  So good!

Oatmeal Pumpkinseed Bread
Oatmeal PumpkinSeed Bread...you can't go wrong!

But sadly, I have no way of recreating this flour mix, other than relying on the randomness of pantry cleaning, and I have no way of sharing any kind of recipe with you.  Tragic!  I still have half the jar left, and am excited to try using it for something like cookies or muffins. 

Have any of you made similarly crazy quilt flour mixes? How have they worked for you?

Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill

Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill

Any of us with food allergies and intolerances already have a lot of work to do in the kitchen. But when you are also battling with any type of chronic illness, the challenge becomes even more intense. Combining a limited diet with feeling sick all the time makes it hard to get the motivation and energy to cook. I mean really, when you don’t feel well the last thing you want to do is cook, right?  

I have been fortunate that my Lyme symptoms have never made me totally unable to cook for myself. I have always been able to grocery shop and prepare my own meals.  And while I've always been able to do it, a few years ago when I was very sick it was completely exhausting. I was so brain foggy and fatigued that preparing a meal took forever, and left me feeling trained. I lived alone and was working a full time job, and it was a serious struggle.

During those times, I figured out some tips and tricks that helped me along the way - things that I still do today even though I'm feeling better. The trick is learning how to make the most of your time in the kitchen and get the most out of your meals.  Making big batches, eating whole foods, and getting help from friends are just a few ideas. Here are some of my favorite things I learned, and I hope they help you too.

Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill 

Make big batches and freeze the leftovers. When you’re having a good day or when you have help from a friend, make big batches.  It is more work on the front end, but ultimately, it leaves you with less work.  You can eat off your big batch all week or freeze the leftovers for later.  Basics like cooked rice, quinoa, millet, or any kind of cooked beans can last for 5-7 days in the fridge if tightly sealed, and they can freeze very well for months.  Prepared foods like soups, lasagna (with brown rice lasagna noodles!), casseroles,  burgers and meatballs, and homemade breads and muffins freeze amazingly well. I use a FoodSaver to vacuum package all my foods for the freezer.  Then when I am super busy or having a bad day and can’t deal with being in the kitchen, I can just reach in the freezer and get something wholesome!

Get friendly with quick to prepare whole foods.

  • Split mung beans and lentils cook quick very quickly and don’t require pre-soaking.

  • Whole grains like quinoa, millet, and buckwheat cook in under 20 minutes. Make big pots of a couple different grains at the start of the week and eat off them all week in salads, soups, or just plain.

  • Winter squash are nutritious and so easy to bake, and you can eat off them for days.

  • Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or microwave, and stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.

  • Most vegetables can be eaten raw if you don’t want to deal with cooking them. Make a meal of bean dip, raw vegetables, and miso soup.

Steam vegetables. Steamed vegetables take only minutes to prepare, are easy to digest, and can be eaten any time of day with any kind of other foods. You can steam vegetables on the stovetop with a steaming basket in a pot, or you can purchase electric vegetable steamer appliances if you don’t trust yourself (and your Lyme brain) with open flame.  My rice cooker even has a vegetable steaming tray that I sometimes use if I don’t feel like using the stovetop.

Make salads and get comfortable with eating raw.  The easiest food in the book.  Bag of pre-washed baby greens, some kind of protein (beans, meat, fish, nuts), and a handful of other vegetables, or a scoop of quinoa or millet.  Add some salad dressing or a little oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or  sprinkle of vitamin C crystals, and you’re done!  Under 5 minutes.  If your body tolerates raw vegetables well, learn to love eating raw veggies with your meals – less prep work, and good for you too!

Eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Don't skimp on the calories and fat. Make sure you eat enough during the day, eating eveyr few hours to keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism going. Assuming that your body can digest fats well,  you should eat lots of healthy fats throughout the day.  Not only will it help the your brains nerve coatings, it will help your body tissues, and give you a sense of satisfaction.  Cook with coconut oil or ghee, and add olive oil, flax oil, pumpkin seed oil, and help oil to salads or over baked sweet potatoes.  Eat plenty of avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut milk, and high quality olives.  If you can, make bone broth, which is a good source of natural fat and nourishing gelatins. While you are healing, it is imperative that you keep your body well nourished, and eating quality fat can really help.