Home canned foods: are they good enough to eat?
I'm a newbie to home canning. Last year I made several jars of jam, which I enjoyed. This year I'd like to try canning vegetables from the garden. However, I don't eat store bought canned vegetables because they're yucky compared to fresh. Are home canned foods different? Do foodies and chowhounders enjoy eating them? (I did try vacuum freezing cauliflower and beans one year and they were lousy. Help!)
I'm not much of a canner (did some salsas, dilly beans, tomatoes, cretons, and tongue)but I am always intrigued.
I also don't garden.
With that said, I will say that last year we canned 40lbs of fresh tomatoes. I first visited the farmers market and tasted tomatoes from maybe 20 different stands and chose my favorite.
We processed them (its an all day affair) and shelved them. I was more than happy with the results, there was a taste of summer in every jar!
The wife used a few tonight and said we have one last jar left from last year. They were much MUCH better than any canned product (san marzano et al) we've had.
I want to double our amount this year.
I can't say too much about other vegetables, as I don't have experience with them.
If you enjoy boiled vegetables, you'll be happy with home canned. I'm not a boiled veggie person, so I don't enjoy most canned veggies - home or otherwise. I steam everything fresh, or pan-fry, or both (steam then fry), or roast or grill. Veggies for soup or sauces are ok, like kale, for example. But mostly, for pure vegetable sides or dishes, I stay away from boiled.
There are some preserving methods that work ok. I used to par-steam or blanche green beans, then vacuum pack them to freeze. When ready to eat, I would thaw them and finish them in a pan with a little evoo/garlic with little effect from the freezing. We peeled and canned tomatoes for several years - that's useful for sauces, etc.
My depression era in-laws were big into canning vegetables - but they ate bland, boiled food. Times have changed - we have fresh veggies of all sorts year round. It's admirable to be eating out of your own garden with canned goods in January, but wouldn't you really rather have fresh, even if it's from the grocery store?
If you don't like canned or frozen, plan your garden so you have veggies for a longer period, and not so many at once, so you can eat fresh or give away what you can't eat (send to hungry, apartment-dwelling hounds).
I think tomatoes would be great, as mentioned before. I think most cooks use them from time to time. I have tried to think of other veggies that I actually buy in cans, and the list is pretty small! I often have a can of corn in the pantry, to use for a quick chowder, but not worth doing that yourself! Artichoke hearts, way too much work. Fruit might be an idea, though. Canned peaches. mangos or cherries could be nice to have on hand for a dessert. But veggies, probably not. Meanwhile, I think I'll make me some dilly beans!
My grandmother canned fruits and vegetables and I happily use both during the winter for some "heirloom" recipes that use canned products as a starting point. They're not the same with fresh or frozen ones or they just take too long.
BUT, I'd never waste time nor money canning my own when I can buy really good quality canned vegetables for as little as they cost in stores today. Home canned ones are no different and you have to get pretty good before they are of equal quality to commercial ones.
If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, they are well worth the effort to can. I cold pack them and have them ready for recipes all winter. If I have too many of the watery slicer tomatoes, I make bloody mary mix to give as hostess gifts. I don't bother making sauce which requires pressure canning for food safety reasons.
If you have a garden, access to reasonably priced produce, and the time and inclination, it's fun to make relishes, pickles, and special, unusual things like that. Spiced pears or brandied peaches and cherries are great to put up for winter meals.
Always think in terms of "value added" product. If you are paying top prices at farmers' markets for produce, this can be a very expensive undertaking. Make sure that what you are making is a special product. You are not likely to be saving much money unless it comes from your own garden. Make sure to factor in your own time.
If you decide to can vegetables be aware of acid levels. Unless you're pickling or adding an acid like vinegar, most vegetables are low acid and require processing in a pressure cooker to make them safe and shelf stable. You're really better off preserving vegetables by freezing them. Blanch them first, shock in cold water, pat dry, and quick freeze on a cookie sheet with the vegetable in a single layer. Then bag in plastic, label and store in your freezer. Your state agricultural extension agency should have a good website with all kinds of info and instructions on preserving foods.