Guidelines for Beginners
These guidelines are generalized toward all preserving efforts, especially for people who are new to the art. Even if you have been preserving for a while, though, take a peek to jog your memory. Sometimes we get into bad habits or forget some of the basics that are so important to positive results. Touchstones like this will help.
The following are some strategies for successful preserving:
• Learn one method first. Pick out one preserving method that really appeals to you and get a good handle on it before launching into another one. This yields better results than if you split your attention and budget.
• Have a game plan for your projects. Why are you preserving? How much do you need to preserve to keep up with your household or gift-giving demands? How much is feasible based on your schedule? Set dates based on your demands and time constraints.
• Set a reasonable goal with a specific focus. For example, make one or two types of jelly in one weekend. Focus on sauce another weekend.
• Start out small. Small batches of everything tend to work better in preserving. You don’t need to learn everything overnight. Take your time and really gain expertise.
• Start clean and end clean.
• Have a functional sitting/working area. If it’s going to be a long round of peeling or chopping, you’ll really want that chair!
• Keep measurements tight and recipes come out right! Some preserving recipes require very specific components to work correctly.
• Adhere to the processing times provided in recipes. These are necessary to deter microbe growth. If you’re not sure, check that information against the USDA guidelines.
• Know your audience. If you’re preserving for other people, make sure you’re aware of their personal tastes and allergies. When people ask for the same thing twice, those are your winners!
• Write it down! When you adapt a recipe and it works right, document your process and keep it in a safe place for future reference.
Canned goods require a cool, dark, and dry place for storage. The recommended temperature is between 50°F and 70°F. Under these conditions, your canned goods will last about a year. Temperatures greater than 90°F and exposure to direct sunlight dramatically decrease safe storage time.
• Label and date everything. This provides you with a visual gauge for shelf life and distinguishes a red, sweet gooey thingy from a red, hot spicy thingy.
• Keep track of your stock. Keep a running list of what you have in your storage pantry so you can plan meals and future preservation efforts. Remember, you only want to store enough for about a year’s consumption from a safety perspective.
• Have the right tools for the job and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for those tools. Each section in this book will provide you with necessary and fun tools so you can budget accordingly.
• Use the highest quality ingredients your budget will allow. Investing a little more in your components will result in far more pleasing items.
• Create adequate space for your preserving projects. You need enough space for your tools, components, and the resulting products. Get creative. For example, an old wooden crate can transform into perfect shelving for a cellar!
• When in doubt, throw it out! Never take chances with your health. If something seems off, it probably is!
Finally, seek out others in your area or on the Internet who share your passion. Exchange ideas. Talk about those utter failures and amazing successes so everyone benefits. Share recipes and have product parties where everyone gets to taste test and offer feedback! This is a wonderful way to make new friends and improve your skills at the same time.