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How-to tips on food canning, preserving, and freezing

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PRESERVING and pickling, freezing and canning -- these are the usual methods of food conservation, handed down from generation to generation. And not only do they conserve food, they save money, too. They also let you know exactly what goes into your foods. If you think the idea of canning sounds like too much work, consider freezer jams and jellies, which do not need any blanching or boiling -- no cooking at all.

This means you can preserve the country-fresh flavor of fruits virtually intact while saving your own energy as well as part of your food budget.

There are several things about these jellies that are a bit different from others. Because they are not sterilized by boiling, they must be stored in the freezer to prevent spoilage, although freshly made or defrosted jelly will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Also, because the natural pectin is not activated by boiling, it must be added (in liquid or powdered form) after the sugar is added. For best results you may need to stretch the natural acid of the fruit used by adding lemon juice or a citric-acid solution as well as pectin and sugar.

The jellies must be packed in sterilized, freezer-proof jars, with headspace for expansion, and must be sealed with sterilized, tight-fitting lids. Filled and capped, the containers must stand at room temperature until the jelly is set, up to about 24 hours, before going into the freezer.

This kind of jelly cannot be made successfully with canned fruit juices because the natural pectin has been lost by the heat of processing. It can, however, be made with frozen juice, not heat-extracted or sweetened, or from the juice of berries frozen without sugar.

Although home canning and preserving are traditional fall chores, they have become year-round projects depending on what's available in quantity at a good price. There is something immensely satisfying in having your own supply of food for the coming winter.

The first thing to think of when canning your own fruits and vegetables is the right canner for each food. For fruits, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables, use a boiling-water bath canner to process these high-acid foods safely.

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