Storing home canned food: metal rings off or on?

Home canning requires jars, lids, and rings (metal screw bands).  You place the food in the jar, position the metal lid on with the gasket side down, screw on the ring, and then process your jars.  After you remove the jars from the canner, some of the lids will already have formed a vacuum seal and others will make a popping sound as the vacuum forms a few minutes later as they cool down.  You then leave them alone for 12-24 hours, at which point they are ready to store.

So the burning question is: do you store the jars with the rings off or on or does it even matter?  My mother stored them both ways, as I often have, too.  I always thought this was because most people end up with more jars and lids than rings (jars initially come with lids and rings if you buy them new; after that you just buy replacement lids, unless you buy the jars used, in which case they will usually come with no lids or rings).

However, I’ve read on several sites that you should always store home canned goods with the rings off.  For example, Jennifer at Self-Reliant School advises:

Remove the rings. If the rings stay on and the lid fails (becomes unsealed) while the ring is on, the lid may reseal itself. However, bacteria has already invaded the jar and the food should not be eaten; with the ring left on there is no way you will know about the resealing. If the rings are off the lid has no pressure to reseal itself so if the lid seal fails then you’ll know and you can throw that jar out.

I thought about that for awhile, and I wondered if a lid could really re-form a vacuum seal just from the pressure of a ring.  I looked on the websites of the major manufacturers, but I couldn’t find any specific recommendations about this.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation says to store jars with the rings off:

If lids are tightly vacuum sealed on cooled jars, remove screw bands, wash the lid and jar to remove food residue; then rinse and dry jars. Label and date the jars and store them in a clean, cool, dark, dry place. For best quality, store between 50 and 70 °F. Can no more food than you will use within a year.

Do not taste food from a jar with an unsealed lid or food that shows signs of spoilage. You can more easily detect some types of spoilage in jars stored without screw bands.

So according to the government experts, you should store them with the rings off, but only because it is easier to detect a failed seal, not because a failed lid can reseal itself.  But I still wasn’t sure about that, so I decided to contact the Ball-Kerr company directly to see what they had to say.  Here is their reply to me:

Hi Sunshine,

Thank you for contacting us- hopefully we can help set the record straight regarding our suggested methods of storing your jars.

Although many of our consumers do choose to store their jars with the bands on, we don’t recommend doing so for two reasons. The first relates to the mechanism of the two-piece lid. The two-piece lid, initially marketed by the Kerr brand in 1915, is recommended for use due to the ease of determining seal quality. When spoilage occurs, gas builds up in the jar- the resulting pressure will cause the lid to come unsealed or pop.

Since the lid seals via an integrated gasket on the rim of the jar and the band grips the jar from a position below the rim, leaving the band on can indeed hold the lid to the jar when it shouldn’t be and make it appear sealed although spoilage has occurred. Earlier one-piece lids sealed on the bead or the shoulder of the jar –below the threads and rim- and thus couldn’t indicate a comprimised seal.

The second reason we don’t recommend storing your jars with the bands on is that it can, in some cases, impact the lifespan of your bands. Moisture that may be caught between the band and jar can cause the bands to corrode prematurely.

We hope this information helps! Please let us know if you need clarification.

Sincerely,

The Consumer Affairs Team

So there you have it: store your jars with the rings off so that if the lid seal fails, you’ll know it right away.  But if you store them with the rings on, when you take the ring off, just check that the lid is still vacuum-sealed onto the jar; if it is, then the seal has not failed because it cannot reform once it fails (but still check the contents of any jar with a visual inspection and a sniff whenever you open a new one).

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My now-ringless jars in the basement pantry

Making horehound cough drops.

I didn’t plan to grow any horehound in my herb garden, but the nice lady at the Dexter Mill offered me a leggy horehound plant for a dollar, along with a bunch of free vegetable plants that were in bad need of a good home.  I remember eating horehound candy sticks as a child but you don’t see those around much anymore.  I don’t remember thinking they were too tasty, which is probably why you don’t see them now.

But it turns out that horehound makes very nice cough drops, and today I made my first batch of them.

According to the University of Michigan hospital website:

Horehound contains a number of constituents, including alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes (e.g., marrubiin), and trace amount of volatile oils. The major active constituent in horehound is marrubiin, which is thought to be responsible for the expectorant (promotion of coughing up of mucus) action of the herb. In addition, marrubiin contributes to the bitter taste of horehound, an action that increases the flow of saliva and gastric juice, thereby stimulating the appetite. These actions likely explain the long-standing use of horehound as a cough suppressant and expectorant as well as a bitter digestive tonic.

Put 1 ½ cups of fresh, rinsed horehound leaves in a small nonreactive saucepan and add water. Bring to a hard boil and then turn off heat, allowing the leaves to steep for 20 minutes. Pour through a strainer to remove leaves, then return liquid to pan.  I was amazed at how strong the vapors were; my lungs felt like I was breathing Vick’s Vapo-Rub.

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Add 2 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons honey and return to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

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Boil to the hard-crack stage (300-310 degrees F), using a candy thermometer if you have one.  If you don’t have one, use the cold water method: once the sugar syrup is forming strands when you drip it off your spoon, add a drop to a cup of cold water and then crunch it with your teeth.  If it’s still sticky instead of crunchy, it’s not ready (for more on the temperatures associated with different stages for making candy, see The Science of Cooking website).

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Pour the syrup into a buttered pan.

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If you have candy molds like these, you can use them instead.

I also read about a trick I want to try next time in which you put a thick layer of powdered sugar into a pie plate, tamp it down with your hands, and then use the bottom of a food coloring bottle to make indentations, forming a powder sugar mold.

After I poured my sugar syrup into the buttered pan, I let it cool a little and then quickly formed it into cough drop shaped balls by hand.  Careful – the mixture is still pretty hot.  You have to work quickly because once it cools a bit more, the candy hardens and you can’t shape it.  You could also just leave it in the pan and cut or break it like you do with peanut brittle, but it won’t be in a pleasing lozenge shape then.

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Finally, dust cough drops with fine granulated sugar if you have it; I didn’t have any, so I used powdered sugar.  I stored my cough drops in a glass jar.

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Horehound Cough Drops Recipe:

  • 1 ½ cup fresh horehound leaves, rinsed and drained in a colander
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • powdered sugar, to coat
  1. Put horehound leaves in a small nonreactive saucepan and add water. Bring to a hard boil and then turn off heat, allowing the leaves to steep for 20 minutes. Pour through a strainer to remove leaves and return liquid to pan.
  2. Add sugar and honey and return to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
  3. Boil to the hard-crack stage (300-310 degrees F) using a candy thermometer if you have one.  If you don’t have one, use the cold water method: once the sugar syrup is forming strands when you drip it off your spoon, add a drop to a cup of cold water and then crunch it with your teeth.  If it’s still sticky instead of crunchy, it’s not ready.
  4. Pour the syrup into a buttered pan or candy molds.
  5. Dust cough drops with fine granulated or powdered sugar and store in a glass jar.

 

Making rose hip jam.

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Yesterday’s experiment with making rose hip jam for the first time went very well.  Tasting it today, my husband said it tastes like apricot candy.

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My rosa rugosa shortly after it bloomed and the petals fell.

Rose hips from rosa rugosa, which was originally a cultivated species that has jumped out of gardens and now grows wild, contain more vitamin C than oranges.  The hip forms in the center of the blossom as the petals begin to fall and ripens to a pretty bright red over the course of the summer.  The inside is filled to bursting with seeds, and de-seeding them for the jam takes quite a bit of time, which is probably why you don’t often find this jam sold commercially.

Rose Hip Freezer Jam

  • 1 cup trimmed and seeded rose hips
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered fruit pectin
  • another 3/4 cup water
  1. Put the prepared rose hips, water, and lemon juice in a blender; blend until smooth. Small bits of rose hips skin are okay.
  2. Gradually add the sugar while blender is running. Blend until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Stir the pectin into 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil hard for about 1 minute. Slowly pour into the rose hip mixture; blend for about 30 seconds.
  4. Pour jam into glass jars and place in refrigerator overnight to gel.

I started by picking a basketful of rose hips off the shrub in my garden.

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Hmm…why isn’t my basket getting any fuller?  Could it be that there are little thieves afoot?

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Do puppies like rose hips?

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Apparently they do.

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Cutting off the blossom end, pulling the stems, and removing the seeds from enough rose hips to yield one cup took a little over an hour.  It’s a time-intensive job, but the results were worth it.

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I tossed the seeds into our meadow in hopes that more rosa rugosa bushes will grow wild.image

I pureed the prepared rose hips with water and lemon juice in the blender, and then slowly added the sugar.image

Then I boiled the fruit pectin for one minute with more water.imageimage

I blended the fruit pectin water into the rose hip/sugar puree for 30 seconds on high speed.

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Finally, I poured the mixture into jam jars and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

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I always save the glass jars from store-bought jam; actually I save nearly all glass jars.  Glass has become rare as a packaging material, but I prefer it over plastic, which sometimes leaves an odd taste in food and which may be leaching chemicals into the food.  I use old glass jars for storing things I make or harvest but don’t can.

This morning the jam had set.  The consistency is almost like pudding.

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I’ve got a fresh batch of bread dough started in the bread machine; it’s supposed to be very hot today (nearly 90 degrees, which is hot by Michigan standards), so instead of cooking anything for lunch, we’ll just have fresh bread, rose hip jam, and iced mint tea made with mint leaves from the garden.

Canning mock lemon pie filling made with zucchini.

If you think you’re tired of hearing about my zucchini, just imagine how tired I am of dealing with it. 🙂  But I press on!  Waste not, want not and all that.

I really did grow other things besides zucchini, and soon I will tell you about how I’m preserving those.  But for now…

I found this recipe for Zucchini “lemon” pie filling at the site for Self-Reliance Magazine: Basic Skills for Living Well.  Since I’m trying to use and preserve as much of my over-abundance of garden zucchini as possible, I decided to give it a try.

Ingredients:

12-15 lbs. giant zucchinis, peeled and grated
58 oz. bottled lemon juice
lemon peel, grated, from 2 lemons
6 cups sugar

Directions: Mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Fill sterilized jars with mixture, topping with remaining juice to leave ½ inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath, for 25 minutes.
To use filling for lemon meringue pie: Mix ½ cup sugar with 2 Tbsp. of cornstarch. Stir into “lemon” filling. Heat, just till thickened. Pour into baked pie crust, top with meringue and bake (400 degrees, 8-10 minutes) till meringue is slightly browned.

A few tips from me: I used the shredder side of the grater to make finer bits of zucchini.  I also used a lemon zester for the lemon peel.

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After you cook it for twenty minutes, it looks a lot like lemon curd,  We don’t eat lemon meringue pie all that often, but I will easily use these up making lemon bars.  I have school-aged children, which means I often need to provide baked goods for some event or other in which they’re involved.  I had thirteen pounds of zucchini, which yielded six quarts of “lemon” pie filling.

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I also made some zucchini bread to freeze today, leaving one loaf out for us to eat.  I usually use my mother’s recipe, which is moist and not too sweet, but I didn’t have applesauce, which the recipe calls for.  Instead, I tried Mom’s Zucchini Bread from All Recipes, and my husband preferred it.  I thought it was a bit too sweet but had a very nice texture and cinnamon-y taste.  Zucchini bread freezes well.

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I really think I am going to cut down the zucchini vines after tomorrow, though, and toss them on the compost pile.  Enough is enough already! 🙂

Sunday afternoon I’m planning to make rose hip jam, and if it goes well, I’ll share the details with you.

Using and preserving the harvest: frozen lemon zucchini bars.

My mother made sheets and sheets of lemon zucchini bars every summer because they freeze well and actually taste even BETTER frozen.  She got this recipe from our next door neighbor, a lady named Bev who had seven children and also made enormous quantities of these to feed her brood.  Like with the mock apple pie filling, these taste like apple, not zucchini.

My eldest daughter recalls being around four years old and eating one of these at my mother’s house, unaware that the filling was zucchini.  My mother asked her how she liked it and when she said, “It’s yummy!”, my mom told her what was really in it.  Then my daughter refused to eat any more of it.  🙂  Kids are silly that way.  But she likes them now, so my advice is just don’t tell your kids what’s in them.  Let them assume whatever they want about the filling!

Ingredients:

  • 8 or 9 medium zucchinis, peeled, cut in half, seeded, and sliced
  • 1 1/3 c lemon juice
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 cup crushed mix (see below)

Crushed Mix

  • 6 c flour
  • 3 c sugar
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 2 1/2 c butter
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon

Directions

  • Mix all dry ingredients for crushed mix, then cut in butter with a pastry cutter or fork until mixture is crumbly:

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  • Pat 1/2 the mixture into an ungreased 11X16 pan or large cookie sheet with sides.  Bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes, just until set looking.

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  • Mix all filling ingredients and bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes, stirring frequently.  Pour zucchini mixture onto baked crust and spread to the edges, leaving a small edge of crust.  Sprinkle remaining crushed mix over filling.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until top just begins to brown a bit.

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  • After the pan cools completely, cut into bars with a sharp knife.

I layer the bars between sheets of wax paper in a large Tupperware container and store it in our basement freezer.  You can also store some in the refrigerator for immediate consumption.  They taste best chilled in my opinion.

 

Using and Preserving the Harvest, plus Chocolate Zucchini Cake at the lake.

I’ve decided to work on a little series here called Using and Preserving the Harvest, documenting my triumphs and failures with freezing, canning, and cooking the things I’m harvesting from my garden.  I hope some of this will be useful to readers who are also interested in gardening and food preservation.

Here is what I’ve been up to this weekend (recipes for each will be posted over the next couple days):

  • making and freezing pesto image
  • making and freezing lemon-zucchini barsimage
  • canning sweet pickles image

 

Also, in my quest to Leave No Zucchini Unused, I decided to make a zucchini cake.  I had agreed to take a bunch of teenagers out to Independence Lake for the day on Friday, so I made Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and it ended up being a good choice for a picnic.

Ingredients:

cake

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-Purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional but tasty
  • 3 cups shredded zucchini (about one 10″ zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

icing

  • 1 cup chocolate chips

I found the recipe on the King Arthur Flour recipe page, so I’m not going to repost the recipe directions here since you can read them there.   However, I made three changes which I recommend you follow: first, I grated the zucchini and let it sit in a colander for an hour to drain so the cake wouldn’t be too wet; second, I baked it for 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes; third, I sprinkled the chocolate chips over the top and put it back in the oven for five minutes but I did not spread the soft chips.  I liked the way they looked whole better:

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I chilled it in the refrigerator overnight, covered with tinfoil.  All day at the lake it sat out on the picnic table while people grazed from it, but because it is a very moist cake due to the zucchini, it didn’t get dried-out and stale-tasting with air exposure, making it a perfect picnic cake.

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The tinfoil blew away in the wind shortly after we arrived but the cake stayed moist and yummy.

For some reason, aforementioned teenagers felt the need to take selfies with a slice of the cake:

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The puppies tried for a good ten minutes to get at the piece left on the table but alas were thwarted by their tethers:

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I’ll post the directions for the pesto, pickles, and bars later; right now, I’ve got green peppers and cabbage to pick and deal with. 🙂  Happy gardening!