My wife and I started canning last year but some of the recipes have a heavy vinegar flavor. Where can I find advice on safely altering recipes or creating some of our own?
Honest. No one worth his or her food-safety salt would recommend changes in official, tested recipes designed for home canning -- at least not any changes that affect the preservatives inherent in those recipes.
Official home-canning recipes are developed and tested with food safety as the primary consideration. If you change the recipes or make up your own, you're taking a big risk that the food won't be safe by the time you eat it.
If you don't like the recipes you have, you might find (tested, well-researched) recipes more to your liking from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/. When you get there, click the link on the left side of the page that says "Can" and read through the General Information about home canning. Then take a look at the information that focuses on the specific types of products you wish to can -- tomatoes, for instance. Along with more detailed information about home-canning those products, you'll find recipes that, if you follow them diligently, you can be assured will result in a safe, high-quality product.
All of the information is taken from the "Complete Guide to Home Canning" (Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA, Revised 1994) and offers important insight about the canning process. At the Georgia site, you can find options for ordering a printed version of the guide, or a copy of Georgia's "So Easy to Preserve," an $18, 375-page publication that incorporates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommendations along with 185 tested recipes and other information.
While it's a little early in the season to begin canning, it's prime time to check your equipment and supplies. If you use a pressure canner with a dial gauge, the gauge must be tested for accuracy before each canning season. Contact your county office of Ohio State University Extension or a local hardware store for guidance on where to get that tested.
Also, check your jars and decide if you need new ones. Never re-use the flat lids; screw bands that tighten the lids to the jars can be re-used if they aren't bent, dented or rusted.
The center offers other tips for planning ahead for your home canning project this year at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/tips/spring/plan_summer_canning.html.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Lydia Medeiros, professor in the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.