Favorite family recipes can change

Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2002

I'd like to address two of the many interesting food preservation questions we received this week in the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Office. These questions are regarding "old" family favorite recipes. Both of these questions arise each summer about this time.

Q: A friend gave me instructions for canning fish in jars in the oven, is this safe?

A: Oven canning was researched extensively in the 1930s. That research concluded oven canning to be unsafe for three reasons: 1) low temperature in the interior of the jars, 2) large fluctuations in the heat penetration of the jars, and 3) jar breakage was fairly common.

Oven canning recipes surface from time to time and are practiced by some people. However, no new developments refute the research in the 1930s.

Q: I have a recipe for pickles that my grandmother used, how do I know if it is safe to use?

A: Oregon State University Extension Service has a fact sheet entitled, Analyzing Pickle Recipes, that addresses this topic. According to this resource, a pickle recipe may not be safe for two reasons. First, ingredients have changed over the years, so old recipes may not be safe. For example, vinegar used to be sold at 7 percent. This is much stronger than today's 5 percent vinegar. Second, procedures for pickle recipes have changed over the years. It is now recommended that pickle recipes be heat processed. Older recipes do not recommend processing.

Here are some guidelines for analyzing pickle recipes:

Use up-to-date tested recipes from reliable resources such as the "USDA Guide to Home Canning," "So Easy to Preserve" from the University of Georgia, or the "Ball Blue Book."

Make sure the recipe calls for vinegar that is 5 percent acidity.

For fresh or quick pack pickles, make sure the recipe has at least as much vinegar as water.

If lime is used, be sure it is pure lime. Calcium gluconate, calcium lactate, calcium chloride and calcium hydroxide are foodgrade sources of calcium. Do not use slake lime purchased from a lumberyard. Be sure the recipes using lime call for rinsing the pickles thoroughly before the brine is added. Lime can make the pickles alkaline and has a terribly bitter taste.

Recipes for fermented or long-cure pickles must include salt. It is important not to reduce the salt in fermented or brined pickles or use low-sodium salt.

Processing is recommended to prevent spoilage during storage of home-preserved pickles. Quick or fresh pack pickles are processed as soon as they are made or stored in the refrigerator. Fermented or brined pickles will be processed after a 3- to 6-week fermenting time. Do not process them until they have a sour taste.

For answers to your food preservation questions, contact the Cooperative Extension Service office.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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