“So what can I safely preserve to give my friends and family for Christmas?” Jams, jellies and soft spreads prepared according to recipes from credible sources make excellent Christmas gifts; so do pickles, chutneys, and relishes. Seasonal cranberries are a good source of vitamin C and of health-promoting antioxidants. They can be used to make colorful products that spice up your holiday table or can serve as delightful homemade gifts." Try one of these recipes for wonderful canned cranberry gifts.
Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce (Yield: About 6 pints)
Wash cranberries; drain. Combine sugar and water in a large saucepot. Boil 5 minutes. Add cranberries. Continue boiling, without stirring, until skins burst.
Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece lids. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner (20 minutes if 1,000-6,000 ft altitude; 25 minutes if over 6,000 ft). Let cool, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours and check seals.
Source: Clemson Home and Garden Information Center
Cranberry Orange Chutney (Yield: About eight half-pint jars)
Rinse cranberries well. Combine all ingredients in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes or until cranberries are tender. Stir often to prevent scorching. Remove cinnamon sticks and discard.
Fill hot chutney into clean, hot half-pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims; apply two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (15 minutes if 1,000-6,000 ft altitude; 20 minutes if over 6,000 ft). Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check seals.
Use the chutney as a side dish or spooned over turkey, chicken or pork. It also can be basted onto a ham during cooking for added flavor.
Source: National Center for Home Food Preservation
Spicy Cranberry Salsa (Yield: Six pint jars)
(Note: Wear gloves when handling and cutting hot peppers or wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.)
Combine all ingredients, except cranberries, in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat slightly and boil gently for five minutes. Add cranberries, reduce heat slightly and simmer mixture for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
Fill hot mixture into clean, hot pint jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace. Wipe jar rims and apply two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (15 minutes if 1,000-6,000 ft altitude; 20 minutes if over 6,000 ft). Let cool, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours and check seals.
Note: Spicy Cranberry Salsa can be used directly as a dip, stirred into cream cheese just before use to make a very different spread, or used as a side item to accompany any meat.
Source: National Center for Home Food Preservation
On the other hand, you may receive canned foods as gifts from neighbors, friends and family. This raises the question, “How do I make sure that canned gifts that I receive are safe?” Keep some pointers in mind as you look at a canned gift and as you decide how – or even if – to enjoy it. The following tips are for first-line decision making. Afterwards, you still need to know that the person carried out recommended procedures correctly. A recipe alone does not tell you that all steps for were followed in carrying out the processing and those steps can have a great effect on safety, not just the ingredients and food preparation methods.
It is best to make sure the person canning foods at home uses recipes – and procedures -- from sources that can be trusted to know the science behind canning. These are sources that also know what kind of testing should have taken place to develop a canning recommendation in the case of some recipes. Tested or scientifically evaluated processes can be found in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2009 is the latest version) or the University of Georgia's So Easy to Preserve book (the current version is the 5th edition), the National Center for Home Food Preservation web site, the HGIC, or equipment and ingredient manufacturers, for examples.
Because of their acidity, lower risk foods include fruit jams and jellies and whole fruits like peaches, cherries, plums, and cranberries, or cranberry sauce. The high sugar content of fruit jams, jellies and preserves add an extra measure of safety and barriers to spoilage.
Low-acid vegetables and vegetable mixes are higher risk foods. If improperly processed, they could cause botulism. Botulism is a potentially deadly food poisoning. Improperly canned vegetables have caused botulism in just the past few years, as well as historically. If someone gives you a jar of their home canned vegetables, or soup mixes, it is extremely important to know that they followed properly tested canning processes and procedures for preparing the food as well as operating the pressure canner.
There are no properly tested home canning processes for canning pestos, thickened stews or soups, creamed soups, and pumpkin or other vegetable butters.
Mixtures of acid and low-acid ingredients like in tomato-vegetable salsas, other vegetables salsas, and some pickled foods, also are a potential risk for botulism. If the home canner processed them in boiling water, as if they are an acid food, then the ratio or proportion of acid to low-acid ingredients is very important. In addition, the style and thickness of the mixture, size of food pieces, and preparation steps can influence what the process time should be. It is best to used properly tested recipes and to not try to make up a canning process for your own recipe.
Asking your gift-giver questions may not be easy. Here are important things for you to think about: where the recipe and canning instructions came from, when it was canned, and how it was made. If the food looks suspicious, it is better to toss it out than to risk getting sick. Pieces of food should be covered with liquid with no discoloration or drying out at the top of the jar. There should not be unnatural discoloration in the food throughout the jar. Throw out anything with mold growing on it. Before opening the jar, look for signs of spoilage such as cloudy and/or bubbling liquid. Make sure the jar has a vacuum seal when you receive the jar, and again when you open the jar. When you open the jar, make sure there is not spurting of liquid indicating a lot of pressure inside the jar forcing it out. Also notice if there are unusual odors coming from the food in the jar. Please understand that there can be botulism toxin in sealed jars of low-acid foods without any visible signs or off-odors. It is critical to know how those foods were processed and to be confident that the giver follows recommended procedures.
This information is not intended to take the fun out of the holidays or the creative side of gift-giving. But understand that we want people to be safe. More about observing home canned foods for spoilage and about storing them can be found in HGIC 3040 Canning Foods at Home (reference below). Enjoy your holidays and start a conversation with your friends about their home canning.
For additional information see:
Andress, Elizabeth L. National Center for Home Food Preservation, December 2010. Be Safe Eating Your Homemade Gifts. http://nchfp.uga.edu/tips/winter/gifts.html
Sorrow, April R., and Andress, Elizabeth L. National Center for Home Food Preservation, November 2012. New Cranberry Recipes Add Spice to your Holiday Table http://nchfp.uga.edu/tips/winter/holidaycranberries.html
Hoover, Adair. Home and Garden Information Center. December 2013. Holiday Canning for Gifts & Entertaining.
Schmutz, Pamela and Hoyle, Elizabeth. Home and Garden Information Center. June 2010. HGIC 3040. Canning Foods at Home