I Think I Can’t
Zoe Rose Riccio
Posted on June 24th, 2013
Home canning is a great way to preserve local seasonal produce and it seems to me that everyone is doing it. I can’t scroll down my facebook page without seeing an instagram photo of the various stages of home canning, from the copious amount of item x about to be cleaned, cooked, and canned to the American made glass jars filled with the culinary rainbow. I think it’s great, and even greater when they share their bounty with the likes of me. I myself am no stranger to the commitment of cleaning, storing, and finding creative ways to enjoy the seasonal vegetative bounty available in New England, so it would seem that I should be canning up a storm. I am not. I am not even canning up a sun shower, in fact I am not canning anything at all. I’d like to be but I have taken one—make that several—too many food microbiology and safety classes to feel confident about home canning.
The conceivable horrors of bacteria creating a deadly colony in my jam just waiting to poison any who try to enjoy it is too much for me. Except, that I know that in order for that to happen the harmful bacteria must be present to begin with, which is unlikely in fresh produce. And that once it is heated to the correct temperature it will be dead, which eliminates the threat—unless it has secreted a toxin. I also know that when it is sealed properly there will be no oxygen which eliminates the threat of aerobic bacteria, leaving only the much more horrific threat of anaerobic bacteria which are even less likely to be present in the first place. Finally, I know that if it is improperly sealed it will be obvious, with the growth of mold or other visible or odoriferous unpleasantness and thus easy to avoid ingesting.
However irrational, my apprehension persists. What is even more confounding is my willingness to enjoy items canned in homes by other people—people who presumably know much less about culinary microbiology. I think I always assume their ‘ignorance is bliss’ situation extends to whatever they have made and whoever ingests it. Also, it’s much easier not to think of all of the perils of canning when presented with the delicious finished product than when faced with the pressure of actively avoiding all of them simultaneously.
I do love the idea of canning so much. Perhaps those pounds of tomatoes from our CSA share wouldn’t seem so copious if I could preserve them. If only I could keep their sun-ripened deliciousness tucked away until the bleakest moment of a barren New England winter! But alas, I am here at that place where my own idiosyncratic nature is keeping me from reaching my full domestic culinary greatness. It’s a problem. But I hear the first step is admitting you have a problem…perhaps this summer I can.