I learned a lesson with my money tonight. Devin thinks I should ask for it back. I’m too timid, and I’m just writing it off as a charitable donation (though, I don’t really have the money to go around making charitable donations). I also don’t like making donations to misinformation.
Every month Slow Food Maui has some sort of class teaching people about local foods and/or food preparation. This month’s class struck me as something I wanted to know more about, and it was at a time that I could actually get downtown for it. Usually, I’m at home studying. So, I figured I’d be willing to pay twenty dollars to go learn about jamming for an hour and a half.
I already knew a bit about making preserves as I’d made blackberry preserves during the last two harvest seasons. I’d also made lilikoi jelly. On occasion I participate in the #canningchat on Twitter (hence the hashtag). So, I definitely wasn’t a beginner going into this class. Still, I figured I could pick up a few more tips and tricks. Little did I know that I’d have to end up teaching a very important part of the procedure once the teacher had finished.
The instructor was Barbara Mooradian of SoMoor Maui Tropical Jams, Jellies & Moor. You may have seen her products at Whole Foods Market, Mana Foods, Down to Earth, Kula Marketplace, and many other well known shops on the island. Just in case you aren’t sure, here’s what their labels look like:
So, there we were in the skills kitchen at the culinary school (the one I went to by the way), and the instructor is showing us how to make the preserves. (That part was all well and good.) She even sterilized the jars properly. But, I knew something was different from my method when she transferred the hot preserves to a plastic (unsterilized) pitcher and then proceeded to fill the glass jars from that. (I always use a sterilized ladle and funnel to go from the pot to the jars.) Then, she did the unthinkable. She put the lids on the jars and told the class that she didn’t need to put them in a water bath. I questioned her about this. She said that the jars were hot enough that she didn’t need to do it. She said that the heat would seal the jars on its own. (WHOA! WHAT?!)
I knew from my time spent researching jamming, and from just about every food preservation website that this was incorrect. I’d even seen a discussion on this very topic the week before on #canningchat. (The USDA calls for using a water bath to process jams and jellies, every time. According to the discussion on #canningchat, only Master Canners should attempt to skip a water bath. They closely monitor the temperature and pH levels of their products, and still they usually process their jars.She is not a Master Canner, she said so herself.) While the instructor monitored her temperature, she didn’t monitor the pH and therefore she really shouldn’t have skipped the water bath. This is especially true since she was teaching beginning home cooks. She didn’t go into bacteria. She didn’t even touch botulism. She didn’t cover any of the crucial parts of home food preservation. She basically should have just taught them how to make freezer jam.
After the class broke up a bit I asked her if she processes the jams and jellies she sells. For the most part, she doesn’t. There were only a few products that she water baths consistently: chocolate sauces, chutneys, and lilikoi butter. She said that she can’t get them hot enough, or can’t get them into the jars fast enough. So, she does process those. When the time to taste the products came around I skipped anything that wasn’t on her list of processed products. I can tell you, I won’t be buying her products.
One of the lovely ladies who organized the event bought me some chocolate sauce, but I hadn’t asked for it and I hadn’t originally intended to buy anything. Still, giving a gift is a lovely gesture and I am grateful to her for it.
During all of this I tweeted with someone who organizes #canningchat and she was appalled. I can only imagine the shock on her face. Another twitter friend, who lives here on Maui, was also surprised to hear this. She didn’t believe me at first. She must have though I misunderstood. Trust me, there was no misunderstanding. I even addressed it with the instructor again at the end of the class. She just didn’t seem to take it that seriously. She said that the health department has no problem with what she’s doing, so it’s not a problem. Well, the health department isn’t perfect, and the home cooks she taught certainly won’t be either.
I fear for people who are going home to make their first batch of preserves based on such misinformation.
For more information on making jams and jellies safely, check out the USDA pamphlet found here.
Pretty much any university extension center is going to tell you to process (water bath) your jams and jellies, and to pressure can your low-acid foods. Here is an example from Virginia Tech.
Also, check out Canning Across America. They have a twitter account at @canvolution, and organize the #canningchat.
According to the Ball Food Preservation website:
“There are only two methods for heat processing home canned foods that are considered safe: the boiling-water method for high-acid foods and steam-pressure method for low-acid foods. These methods are outlined on this site. See Canning Basics.
There is no substitute for adequate heat treatment for the correct length of time. Although some people may continue to use outdated methods, these practices are not safe and should not be used for any reason. If you have a recipe or instructions using a method not listed here, that information should be replaced with up-to-date recipes and guidelines.”
I also like Pick Your Own. She states, “Some people don’t even boil the jars; they just ladle it hot into hot jars, put the lids and rings on and invert them. No authority I know recommends this, and putting the jars in the boiling water bath REALLY helps to reduce spoilage! To me, it makes little sense to put all the working into making the jam and then not to process the jars to be sure they don’t spoil!”
I completely agree. I wish I weren’t so timid.