Food for Thought: Do you know where that recipe’s been?

By Nancy Schuster, Frontier Extension Agent

090414-Home-Canning-CollageIt’s home canning season! Just like looking at garden and flower catalogs during winter months, home canners are pulling out Grandma’s special recipes and looking through community cookbooks for canning recipes that sound good. Maybe you like the recipes that came with your canner back in 1950? I have one question for you; do you know where that recipe has been?

Is there any research behind the canning recipe you have selected?  Do you know where Grandma got her special recipes?  How old is that recipe booklet that came with your new canner?

When you call me for home canning recipes and directions, the information I give you is backed up by the United States Department of Agriculture and research done by U.S. universities. Currently much of the research done for USDA home canning recommendations is done by the University of Georgia.

A research based home canning recipe considers the pH of the product to determine if the food is low acid and needs a pressure canner, or is high acid and can use a hot water bath canner. Grandma doesn’t know the pH of her homemade product. That could mean the pickle recipe you are using from Grandma is not high acid, because of the balance of ingredients to vinegar. Your pickles have become a low acid food just like corn; not safe to use a hot water bath canner for processing. On the other hand it might be safe if Grandma was lucky in designing the ingredient proportions. Are you willing to chance it?

A research based home canning recipe considers that water boils at 212 degrees F only at sea level.  That means where you live will influence the temperature and length of time that you will process your food products.  If you live in an area that is 2,000 feet above sea level, water will boil at 208 degrees and that can put your home canned food into a serious situation.  The temperature of 208 degrees is not hot enough to destroy bacteria, mold, and fungus often associated with canned high acid foods.  Foods that are high acid must have a 212-degree temperature for a process time determined in a laboratory.

Low acid foods processing times are affected by elevation. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are the main reason low acid foods must be pressure canned to be safe. Clostridium botulinum is a soil microorganism that produces a deadly toxin or poison. The bacteria can be found in two forms, as vegetative cells and in spores. The vegetative cells are killed in a reasonable length of time at boiling temperatures, the spores can withstand boiling.  When conditions are right, the spores can germinate and produce toxins. Conditions that are favorable to clostridium botulinum are low acidity (vegetables and meat) and absence of air (such as in a sealed canning jar).  Spores can be destroyed by canning the food at a temperature of 240 degrees for a specific length of time.  The proper time has been established through research.

When you look at your storage space and see rows of jars of pickles, tomatoes, green beans, and other produce, you can have the satisfaction of knowing all your hard work and effort has been put into a safe home canned food for your family. All because you know where those research based canning recommendations and recipes have been.

Canning information is available at all three K-State Research & Extension Frontier District Office locations; Garnett, Lyndon, and Ottawa. You can also find information online at: http://www.frontierdistrict.ksu.edu; click on Nutrition and Food Safety; on the right side of the web page select Safe Home Food Preservation.


schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].


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