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Canned foods can be enjoyed by those with health concerns

Proper preparation required

Special recipes are available for canned goods prepared for health-conscious consumers.chrisa@spokesman.com (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)
Special recipes are available for canned goods prepared for health-conscious consumers.chrisa@spokesman.com (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)

Canning at home is still possible even if health problems have forced diet changes or cutting calories is a goal. Just don’t slash the sugar in great-grandma’s jam recipe and expect it to work.

“I think the most important thing that you need to understand if you have a special dietary consideration is that the traditional recipes have been developed using specific amounts of pectin and sugar in specific proportions with a certain amount of crushed fruit and lemon juice,” says Karen Brees, who has been preserving foods at home for more than 40 years.

Brees is also an Idaho State University Extension master food preserver and the author of the recently released “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Preserving Food.”

“If you just try to reduce the amount of sugar, that doesn’t work, so you’re going to end up with a product that doesn’t set,” she says.

Jams that don’t gel make a fine syrup for waffles, pancakes, ice cream or dessert, but cooks who know a few guidelines and have the right recipe should be able to avoid such problems.

“They are softer set. They are not going to be as firm as the recipes that use sugar, but it’s a satisfactory set,” Brees says.

Jams and jellies with less sugar

The easiest way to make no- and low-sugar jams is to buy pectin specially formulated to work without sugar. There are recipes on the insert inside the box for jams, jellies and freezer jams.

The pectins work with fruit juice, artificial sweeteners, honey or a reduced amount of sugar. The manufacturers of most pectins recommend Splenda for spreads that will be processed in a boiling water bath, as does the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Saccharine or aspartame should be added just before serving. Bitterness and off-flavors can develop when saccharin is used in canning. Brees likes recipes developed by the maker of the artificial sweetener Equal and recommends looking on that Web site for recipes.

For those who don’t like artificial sweeteners, look for recipes that use little or no added sugar, such as long-cooking jams or butters.

Canning fruits with juice and reduced- sugar syrup

Although sugar is a required ingredient for preserves, it is not essential for canning fruits. The sugar in those recipes is designed to maintain the color, texture and flavor of the fruits.

Lower-sugar syrups can be used to hot pack fruits. Fruit juice or water also can be used. Try unsweetened apple or white grape juice. Or, extract juice from the fruit that’s being canned.

“To extract juice from the fruit, crush thoroughly ripe fruit, add a small amount of water, and bring to a boil over low heat. Strain through a clean cloth, then pour over fruit in jars,” according to a guide from the Utah State University Extension.

“Fruit might also be packed with the addition of unsweetened juice from another fruit for an interesting contrast in flavor. Pears canned in unsweetened pineapple juice and peaches canned in unsweetened orange juice are two examples.”

Cherry juice is also a nice contrast for many fruits, says Brees.

For those who are trying to cut sugar consumption, she recommends starting with a 20 percent sugar syrup and then reducing it until canners find the right formula for their family. She uses 1 ¼ cups of sugar to 5 ½ cups water. A chart in Brees’ book, as well as other comprehensive canning guides, gives the ratios for other syrup concentrations.

Lower-sodium vegetables, meats and fish

For those on a sodium-restricted diet, salt is not an essential ingredient when canning vegetables, meats, poultry and fish.

“Salt is not a preservative, it is a flavor enhancer,” Brees says.

One of the benefits of putting up your own foods is that you can choose how much to add.

“We’ve gotten used to the taste of the salt rather than the taste of the food,” she says. “We’ve come as a country to expect things to be highly salted. Cutting back on the salt and even omitting it, you start to taste what foods really taste like, and that’s a good thing.”

A new guide from Judith Moses of the Washington State University Colville Reservation-Ferry County Extension makes these suggestions:

“In place of salt, you might like to add a few teaspoons of lemon or orange juice to vegetables like carrots, asparagus and beets. Add a tiny amount of dried herbs such as oregano, basil or nutmeg to green vegetables. Try adding a little garlic powder, chipotle powder, or liquid smoke to fish and meats.”

Remember that vegetables, meats and fish are low-acid foods that must be preserved with a pressure canner.

Low-sodium pickling

Many pickling recipes however, do require specific amounts of salt in order to be safe. Many fresh pack or quick pickles can be made without salt, but the flavor and texture will be different.

Fermented pickles and sauerkraut (which are made in a crock or jar that sits for several weeks) cannot be made without salt. The salt controls growth of the bacteria that produce acid which make the fermented products safe to eat. Low and no-salt versions of these pickles cannot be made.

Here are some recipes to help you get started:

Berry-Cherry Jam

From www.freshpreserving.com

2 cups crushed strawberries, about 2 (1-pound) containers

1 cup finely chopped sweet cherries (about 1.5 pounds)

1 cup crushed blackberries (about 0.6 pound, or half of a 6-ounce container)

1 cup unsweetened white grape juice or water

1 (1.75-ounce) package no sugar needed fruit pectin

6 (8-ounce) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

Combine strawberries, cherries, blackberries and juice in a 6- to 8-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.

Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check for seal after 24 hours. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Yield: About 6 (8-ounce) half pints

Apricot Freezer Jam

This low or no-sugar recipe from the makers of Ball pectin can be adapted for many fruits and keeps in the freezer for up to a year.

1 (1.75-ounce) package no sugar needed fruit pectin

1 3/4 cups unsweetened white grape or apple juice

3 cups finely chopped apricots (about 28 medium)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Up to 3 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups Splenda granular, 3/4 to 1 cup honey, or desired amount of other artificial sweeteners (optional)

4 to 5 (8-ounce) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and band

Gradually add pectin into white grape or apple juice until dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Immediately add prepared apricots to hot pectin mixture. Stir vigorously for 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice and sugar, Splenda granular, other artificial sweetener or honey.

Ladle freezer jam into clean freezer jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Apply caps and let jam stand in refrigerator until set, but no longer than 24 hours. Serve immediately, refrigerate up to 3 weeks, or freeze up to 1 year.

Yield: About 4 to 5 (8-ounce) half pints

Variations: This recipe can be adapted to make other fruit jams. Substitute 3 cups chopped or crushed fruit of your choice for the apricots.

Cranberry-raspberry juice can be used instead of apple or white grape juice. Omit lemon zest and lemon juice if desired.

Here’s the amount of fruit you’ll need to start with to get 3 cups chopped or crushed, provided by www.fresh preserving.com:

Peaches: About 2 1/4 pounds or 7 medium. Peel and pit fruit. Finely chop.

Blueberries: About 2 pounds or 2 1/2 pints; remove any stems, crush with a potato masher

Cherries, sweet or sour: About 2 1/4 pounds; remove stems and pits, finely chop. Use lemon juice only with sweet cherries.

Raspberries: About 2 pounds or five (6-ounce) containers; crush with a potato masher. Use cranberry-raspberry juice. Omit lemon juice.

Raspberry-Peach: 2 cups finely chopped peaches, about 1 1/2 pounds or 5 medium. 1 cup crushed raspberries (about 1 pound). Omit lemon juice.

Strawberries: About 3 pounds; hull and crush with a potato masher.

Reduced-Sodium Sliced Sweet Pickles

From “So Easy to Preserve,” by the Cooperative Extension of the University of Georgia

4 pounds (3 to 4 inch) pickling cucumbers

For the brining solution:

1 quart distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon canning salt

1 tablespoon mustard seed

1/2 cup sugar

For the canning syrup:

1 2/3 cups distilled white vinegar

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon whole allspice

2 1/4 teaspoons celery seed

Wash cucumbers and cut 1/16-inch off blossom end and discard. Cut cucumbers into 1/4 inch slices.

In a large saucepot, mix the ingredients for the brining solution. Add the cut cucumbers, cover and simmer until the cucumbers change color from bright to dull green (about 5 to 7 minutes).

At the same time, mix canning syrup ingredients in a saucepan. Bring syrup to a boil.

Drain the cucumber slices and pack in jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fill jars to 1/2 inch from top with hot canning syrup. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids.

Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath for elevations up to 1,000 feet. Process 15 minutes for elevations 1,001 to 6,000 feet. Process 20 minutes for elevations above 6,000 feet.

Yield: 4 or 5 pint jars

No-Sugar-Added Pickled Beets

From “So Easy to Preserve,” by the Cooperative Extension of the University of Georgia

7 pounds of 2 to 2 1/2-inch diameter beets

4 to 6 onions (2 to 2 ½-inch diameter), if desired

6 cups white vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons canning salt

2 cups Splenda

3 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

Wash and rinse pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids according to manufacturer’s directions.

Trim off beet tops, leaving 1 inch of stem and roots to prevent bleeding of color. Wash thoroughly. Sort for size. Cover similar sizes together with boiling water and cook until tender (about 25 to 30 minutes). Caution: Drain and discard liquid.

Cool beets. Trim off roots and stems and slip off skins. Slice into 1/4-inch slices. Peel, wash and thinly slice onions.

Combine vinegar, salt, Splenda and fresh water in large Dutch oven. Tie cinnamon sticks and cloves in cheesecloth bag and add to vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil. Add beets and onions. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove spice bag.

With a slotted spoon, fill hot beets and onion slices into clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cover with boiling hot vinegar solution, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids.

Process in a boiling water canner 30 minutes for elevations up to 1,000 feet. Process 35 minutes for elevations of 1,001 to 3,000 feet. Process 40 minutes for elevations of 3,001 to 6,000 feet. Above 6,000 feet, process 45 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Variation : Pickled whole baby beets: Follow the directions above but use beets that are no more than 1- to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pack whole after cooking, trimming and peeling; do not slice.

Yield: About 8 pints

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