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Canning for the future: This home cook has spent the pandemic perfecting preserving

Plus, recipes and tips if you want to try it at home.

When a hurricane heads into the Gulf of Mexico, Julie Overton-Newland has no need to rush to a grocery store to stock up. She has a cupboard of homemade foods that can feed her family for months, maybe years.

Overton-Newland is one of many home cooks who spent time during the pandemic preparing for the future by canning.

She first became interested in canning more than 20 years ago when she craved more of the canned green beans her ex-husband’s grandmother, Effie Farrington, used to prepare each year.

Jars of apple butter come to a roiling boil at the home of Julie Overton-Newland, 51, Gulfport, Thursday, October 1, 2020. She removes the jars to cool and then labels them for storage. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“We went to visit her in Tennessee twice a year and she had the most delicious green beans," Overton-Newland said. "She would can 12 crates or more and let us take home one crate each trip. I would have to make that last until the next visit.”

About four years ago, Overton-Newland, 51, said she ramped up her canning efforts when she couldn’t keep up with the fresh vegetables and fruits she was enjoying at local grocery stores and farmers markets.

“I visit a lot of U-pick farms,” she said. “I like to go out and pick fresh peaches and stuff and now I have a way to keep them fresh and enjoy them year-round. It’s a hobby for me and a great way to enjoy food.”

Jars of apple butter come to a roiling boil at the home of Julie Overton-Newland, 51, Gulfport, Thursday, October 1, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

These days, she has a professional-grade pressure canner, a large pot for water baths, cases of mason jars of varying sizes and utensils for all types of canning. In her Gulfport home, she cans beans, corn, okra, beets, pears, dilly beans, bread and butter pickles, Bloody Mary mix, brandied cherries, pickled onions and tomatoes. She also makes a variety of jams and fruit butters.

It pays to be one of her friends.

Jars of apple butter are labeled by Julie Overton-Newland, 51, Gulfport, Thursday, October 1, 2020. She cans 30 various vegetables and fruits depending on the season. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“I give them as gifts throughout the year,” said Overton-Newland. “It’s a great way to add a personal touch to recipes and to share my love of food and cooking.” She has gifted baskets with Bloody Mary mix and jars of okra and dilly beans, and she pairs gifts of her jams with biscuit mixes.

She often will look for sales on fresh fruits and vegetables and she is constantly checking farming websites to find out what is in season. She orders green beans by the bushel and works for about six hours snapping the beans into bite-sized pieces by hand.

She pre-washes all of the foods she cans in vinegar. The canning process involves cooking foods at very high temperatures to kill germs and enzymes that can cause the food to spoil. Most of what Overton-Newland cans can be heated in a water bath, but she uses the pressure canner for low-acid foods like vegetables and meat products, which can withstand the higher temperatures and need the heat to kill bacteria, specifically botulism. Fruits, vegetables and sugary preserves, for example, can be safely processed in boiling water baths.

Julie Overton-Newland, 51, cans apple butter in her Gulfport kitchen, Thursday, October 1, 2020. She has been canning for twenty years and started with beans. She now cans 30 various types of vegetables and fruits depending on the season, she said. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Canning times need to be exact to kill bacteria and vary according to altitude. Several charts are available online. Overton-Newland also recommends anyone planning to can or pressure-can foods should consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at nchfp.uga.edu.

Her favorite canning projects are jams and colorful veggies. She loves the peach-bourbon jam she makes regularly and the chioggia beets that look like peppermint candies when you cut them open. When they are canned, the chioggia beats turn light pink, and they don’t stain like red beets.

“They are really pretty and they look great on salads or on a charcuterie platter,” said Overton-Newland.

Last year, she canned some beef stew and is looking forward to canning more meat as her next project. “I can buy so much meat on sale and at really good prices and once it’s canned, I can keep it long-term,” she said. “It also frees up freezer space and you don’t have to worry about freezer burn.”

Some of the canned foods need to sit for several weeks before they are at their best. Overton-Newland has been making brandied cherries all summer to be ready for celebrating and holiday gift-giving in the next couple of months.

“I think with the brandied cherries they basically need to just sit and get drunk,” she said. “I plan to serve them on ice cream and in holiday cocktails.”

Pickled Golden Beets

Chioggia beets when canned. [ Julie Overton-Newland ]

3 to 4 pounds golden beets

1 ½ cups white vinegar

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 teaspoon canning/pickling salt

1 cinnamon stick

8 whole cloves

2 onions, thinly sliced

Chioggia beets look like peppermint candies when sliced. [ Julie Overton-Newland ]

Trim beets so there is just 1 inch of stem and scrub. Bring beets to a boil in a medium saucepan and cover; reduce heat and simmer 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse and cool. Trim off roots and stems and peel beets. Cut beets in half vertically; cut halves into ¼-inch-thick slices until you have about 6 cups.

Sterilize jars in boiling water and prepare lids by washing them in warm, soapy water.

While jars are boiling, stir together vinegar, next four ingredients and 1 ¼ cups water in a stainless steel pot or an 8-quart enameled Dutch oven. Bring mixture to a boil. Add beets and onions; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove and discard spices.

Using a slotted spoon, divide beets and onions evenly among hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Cover beet mixture with remaining hot pickling liquid, leaving ½-inch headspace. Seal and process jars.

Remove jars from water and let stand, undisturbed, at room temperature for 24 hours. To check seals, remove the bands and press down on the center of each lid. If the lid doesn’t move, the jar is sealed. If the lid depresses and pops up again, the jar is not sealed. Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.

Source: Adapted from Southern Living Little Jars, Big Flavors

Peach-Bourbon Jam

4 pounds peaches

7 cups sugar

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup bourbon

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 (3-ounce package) liquid pectin

Sterilize jars in boiling water and prepare lids by washing them in warm, soapy water.

While the jars are boiling, peel peaches with a vegetable peeler, pit and coarsely chop. Measure 4 ½ cups chopped peaches into a 6-quart stainless steel or enameled Dutch oven and mash with a potato masher until evenly crushed. Add in sugar and next three ingredients.

Bring mixture to a rolling boil; boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in pectin. Let foam settle (about 1 minute). Skim off and discard any foam.

Fill, seal and process jars.

Remove jars from water and let stand, undisturbed, at room temperature for 24 hours. To check seals, remove the bands and press down on the center of each lid. If the lid doesn’t move, the jar is sealed. If the lid depresses and pops up again, the jar is not sealed. Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

12 pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced

½ cup apple cider vinegar

3 cups white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

Place apples and vinegar in a large slow cooker and place lid on top. Set on high and cook for 8 hours and then turn to low and cook an additional 10 hours.

After 18 hours, stir in white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, and cook 4 more hours.

Let cool, blend and put into jars.

Next, begin the process to can the apple butter. Sterilize jars in boiling water and prepare lids by washing them in warm, soapy water. Fill hot, boiled jars with the hot apple butter. Leave space (¼ inch to ½ inch) at the top of the jar. Wipe the rim of the jar clean and put lids on jars. Place jars back in the canner (boiling pot), making sure all the jars are covered by at least an inch of water. Cover and bring water to a full, rolling boil and then begin the processing time: At altitudes up to 1,000 feet, boil 10 minutes.

Wait 5 minutes before removing upright jars and cool for 24 hours. To check seals, press down on the center of each lid. If the lid doesn’t move, the jar is sealed. If the lid depresses and pops up again, the jar is not sealed. Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.

Source: Adapted from lovefoodies.com

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