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Using Vintage Canning Recipes Safely

Using Vintage Canning Recipes -

Family History Through Food:

I have always loved shopping estate sales because it is a treasure hunt and you never know what you will find. But I also walk away from most of them feeling a little sad. Many times there are what I consider “family heirlooms” sitting forlornly in a pile with a $3 price tag attached.

Perhaps there are no heirs for these family treasures to be passed on to. Most times however, I think the surviving family members just don’t see the value in the pieces their relative held so dear.

I like to think that some of those treasures (such as family garden photos, hand written recipe books, or even a well worn china cup) will find new life in my home and will be valued again.

Recently, I discovered a stack of hand written canning recipes tucked inside a box I was purchasing at an estate sale. The family didn’t want them and said they were going to throw out the recipes with box.

I actually knew the woman who wrote these recipes. She had been a neighbor who kept mostly to herself.

But now, I feel as if I know her all over again because I see she had an affinity for tomato marmalade and canned pears.

Using Old Canning Recipes -

Safety of Old Recipes:

When I teach canning classes, I always warn students against making their grandmother’s canning recipes because the standards for safety have changed dramatically.

In some cases, what used to be common practices are now considered unsafe. So I always advise to have old family recipes checked by your county extension service and/or a Master Food Preserver for safety before attempting them.

Don’t throw those treasured recipes out. Just adjust them to modern practices.

Sometimes the fix is as simple as adjusting the acid or lengthening the processing time. With that quick fix, the recipe can live on. But it’s not wise to make a recipe without checking it out first.

Luckily, I went through the Master Preserver training and I know how to adjust recipes for safety. But if you have not been through training, what areas of the recipe should be checked?

Making Vintage Canning Recipes -

What The Experts Are Looking For:

So, let’s say you have a treasured family recipe and you take it to an expert for evaluation. What exactly are they looking for?

A canning expert will:

1) First look at the ingredients (not the technique called out in the recipe) to determine if this recipe is a low acid (and should be pressure canned) or high acid (and can be water bath canned).

2) Verify that the proper acidity is achieved for the canning process. (Does it have enough added vinegar or lemon juice, etc.)

3) Read through the overall technique and make sure that it follows current USDA guidelines for food safety (temperatures, canning methods, etc).

3) Verify that the processing time is long enough and/or at a high enough pressure based on today’s USDA standards.

4) Usually tell you how to fix the recipe or offer you other approved recipes to use instead if the family recipe is not recommended at all.

Tomato Marmalade:

One of the recipes in my estate sale stash was for Tomato Marmalade and only needed minor adjustments to be safe. It lists an interesting blend of tomatoes, sliced lemons and candied ginger. I plan on making it soon when my tomatoes ripen.

I feel that by making this recipe, I will also be celebrating the memory of a gardening neighbor who enjoyed homegrown tomatoes as much as I do. I’m sure she would have been happy to know that her recipe lives on.

Do you ever make family heirloom canning recipes??

Tell me in the comments below.


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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.