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  • Christopher Glassman

Stump the Chef - Canned Dinner?!

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

I've been asked to make a dinner that is from canned ingredients only. Psht, that's easy. You can go to your grocery store and have that for under five bucks.

What's that?

I've got to can it? Huh.

Alright. Sounds like a decent challenge. Here goes!

Canning is still new to me, and like to many, it is scary. You hear horror stories and bad experiences and you kinda wanna say "nah, I'll pass". In reality though it is very simple and effective. So, here are a few things that I will pass on to you to help ease your mind and make this not only doable, but fun to do as well.

Jars must be sanitized before using them or bad bacteria can ruin the food.

First, and most important, you must clean and sanitize EVERYTHING! You are going to preserve food to eat some cases much later. The last thing you want is for some of those bad bacteria or microscopic nasties to get in with your good stuff. So keep it clean! I'm not a huge fan of bleach and chemicals in my food so I recommend boiling water and heat.

Bacteria will not multiply but may start to die somewhere between 140 and 165 degrees. Bacteria will die at temperatures above 212 degrees. So that means time and heat. I like to boil the jars and then set them in the oven until I am ready to use them, then move quickly until it is covered and ready for boiling again. Keep in mind plastic and metal are fine with quick temperature changes, but glass is not. Jars that are cool and then rapidly heat up are at risk of thermal shock ( which means they burst) and then you've got a whole new problem. So warming the jars is safer too.

Second rule for caning is acidity. Botulism is the scariest word in all of canning, and it cannot live in a pH lower than 4.6. So if your foods are always below that you will never have to worry about it. Tomato Juice has a natural pH around 4.1, orange juice around a 3, and vinegar about a 2.5. pH testing kits work well and I recommend the type that is in a spiral tape measure looking container.

Take a small spoonful of your product to be canned and then dip the strip into it and wait for the reading. Do not dip the strip into your pot. If you are over 4.6 you need to pressure-can, not just water bath, this is not optional. I know pressure cookers are kinda scary at first but if you follow the instructions and be patient, you'll be just fine. They have worked in home kitchens all over the world for hundreds of years.

Third rule is patience. Canning not only requires it, but things need to be allowed to cool naturally or spend enough time at high heat to kill off the bacteria. That means there are no shortcuts. Canning can take all day, so be prepared to do that. You can do other things while canning, just use timers and reminders so that things don’t get forgotten.

The last rule for canning is storage. When you put things away, do it right. Label (and date) them and store them where they will not freeze or see extreme heat. Keep in mind that glass jars can’t be crammed on shelves. You must be a little gentle. Cleaning up after breaking canned goods is often very labor intensive, and a pain in the butt.

All right.

Those are the cliff notes on canning. Lets go over what you will need to can foods:

  • Jars

  • lids

  • seals, a large canning pot

  • clean towels (paper towels are useful)

  • a way to handle hot items (I like to use pot holders (clean), canning tongs, more towels heat glove)

  • canning funnels

  • stirring utensils (spoons and ladles)

  • heat

  • and space to work

With that in order, here are three recipes I put together that meet the criteria of a meal made from "only homemade canned" ingredients.

A recipe card for "Easy Tomato Soup" with a slim picture of a bowl of tomato soup on the right side.
Tomato Soup is the cure for what ails ya.

Ground Beef can be added to almost anything. Canned ground beef can be added at almost anytime.

Canned Bread is a thing.


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