British Columbia

Patience, picklers! An expert canner offers tips to build your summer stash

Serene Chu sits down on B.C. Almanac to offer tips on how to improve canning heading into the fall and winter seasons

The province is booming with ripe fruits and veggies — but the clock is ticking

Serena Chu offers some helpful tips to can fresh fruits, veggies and meats. (Serena Chu/The Urban Pocketknife)

The province is bursting with ripe fruits and vegetables right now — everything from juicy peaches to crisp cucumbers to ripe blueberries — and the time is now to "get your can on."

According to Vancouver canning expert and teacher Serena Chu, it looks like the hobby is gaining some steam in British Columbia.

"I think it's getting more popular," Chu told BC Almanac guest host Chris Walker. "It's really interesting because in my classes we have a wide demographic that comes out to learn.

"We have new generations coming in who have never canned before," she said. "But we're also getting veterans who are coming in to hone their skills and sort of learn how to do it with modern techniques and modern styles."

Chu says getting into canning can be pretty easy.

Serena Chu offers canning classes at Save On Meats on West Hastings in Downtown Vancouver. (Serena Chu/The Urban Pocketknife)

"The equipment is fairly simple," said Chu, who shares tips on her blog The Urban Pocketknife. "Most of it is probably in your kitchen."

To get into it, you'll need to learn the basics. Chu offers classes for beginners, and there's also a wealth of online resources to get you started.

But whether you're a green beginner or a crafty veteran, Chu's tips are likely to come in handy.

1. Safety first

Canning is an age-old craft, and tricks have been passed down from generation to generation.

But over the years, national health and safety standards have emerged. The Government of Canada offers a list of guidelines to keep both the production process and the end product as safe as possible.

After all, nobody wants to eat a mouldy canned peach.

2. Hot water vs. pressure canning

It's the long-running canning debate, and Chu says it boils down to personal preference: do you want to pressure can, which you can use to preserve everything from meats to vegetables, or a water bath, which works well to can fruits?

"[With a] pressure canner, you can do everything," said Chu. "So if you're going for a one-stop-shop experience, you would get a pressure canner because even though you can do jams and pickles in a hot water bath, you can also do them in a pressure canner."

You can find the pros and cons of both methods in virtually all corners of the internet.

Many canners choose either a water bath or a pressure method to can their fruits and vegetables. (Serena Chu/The Urban Pocketknife)

3. Patience, picklers!

Temptation might not be one of the cardinal sins, but it can definitely ruin a canners day.

"Everyone thinks they can open it the next day," said Chu, adding that it takes a little longer than that. "For cucumbers and beets that are pickled, the best is [to wait] two months before you can open that first jar."

"For green beans and asparagus it can be a little bit less, maybe just a month, but you do need the brine to penetrate the vegetables, or else you're just going to be eating a bland vegetable in vinegar water."

4. How to keep your pickles crispy

Nothing can be as displeasing to a canner as biting into soft pickle — but it can be easily avoided in a few ways.

Try cutting off an eighth of an inch on the blossom side of the cucumber because there's an enzyme in there that will make the cucumber soft, says Chu.

You can also put a grape leaf in the bottom of your jar, which carries an enzyme that will keep the pickle crispy.

Chu says it's also worthwhile to ask farmers for the freshest pickling cukes.

5. Keeping peaches from going brown

As soon as you peel your peaches, you might feel like there's a race against the clock before they go brown, but it doesn't have to be that way.

"While you're cutting your peaches, into halves or quarters, you can put them in an ice water bath and put some lemon juice in, or even citric acid if you can get a hold of it."

That will keep them from oxidizing and ultimately going brown before you can them.

The canning season can be very fruitful. (Serena Chu/The Urban Pocketknife)

6.​ Keep pressure canner dials calibrated once a year 

The pressure listed by a pressure canner dial might not be correct, and dials may have to be calibrated. This can be dangerous for you, and for your recipe.

"Most of the manufacturers, if you can contact them, you can mail them your gauge every year and they'll calibrate them," said Chu.

7. Increase canning times according to elevation

Canning times need to be adjusted for elevation. Here's a chart for how to change your times accordingly.​

8. Get to know your local farmers market

"I would go shop around at all the Vancouver's farmer markets and get to know your local producers," she said. "They can provide you with blemished fruit that's ready for canning, and you'll also be supporting the local economy."

Please note: Canning food requires different processes, depending on the food, for safety. Fruits and pickles (high acid) can be canned using a boiling water canner, but most vegetables, meat and seafoods (low acid) require a pressure canner to prevent the risk of Botulism which can be deadly.

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Canning out: The Urban Pocketknife's Serena Chu offers tips for B.C. canners