By: Kayla Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Most of us think of canning as an archaic undertaking reserved for food manufacturing companies, enthusiastic backyard gardeners, and our great Aunt Ida. However, this process that some consider an overzealous time suck, has assumed a life-sustaining role throughout most of civilized human history. Romans made their own fermented cabbage during Alexander the Great’s reign, fishes have been salted
and stored in China since 3500 BC, and Napoleon Bonaparte fed his starving soldiers using methods similar to modern day canning.
Fast forward to today’s climate of social and political unrest, volatile markets, and increasingly untreatable superbugs, all of which have created what some believe is a perfect storm leading us towards doomsday. Some see the end of our world as a catastrophic market crash that will lead to devastating famine, while others believe mankind will contract a contagious virus that renders folks flesh-eating corpses. While the majority of Americans scoff at such ideas, others (and the CDC) feel that having a plan juuuuuust in case, is a pretty good idea. And believe you me, few skills will equal survivability during a zombie apocalypse, like knowing how to safely store foodstuffs (except, say mad precision with a compound bow or Beatrix Kiddos’ samurai sword yielding capability). Nothing says irony like outliving 90% of the world’s population only to die from last winter’s sauerkraut.
When you’re spending most of your time fending off an army of the living dead, it’s best to keep food prep simple. Jelly, pickles, and canned tomatoes are the trifecta for canning beginners. This larder fodder is relatively difficult to screw up and can be made in less time than it takes a brain-biting flesh eater to claw their way through your front door.
However, despite being a long-standing convention, the dangers of faulty canning (and the lurking undead) can be irksome. Improperly canned food can house harmful microorganisms – bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. The good news is, bacteria (and zombies) tend to have difficulty proliferating in acidic conditions without exposure to air. Safe canning practices include adding a source of acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid, to relatively basic produce. Further, remove air from canned goods by running a non-reactive, plastic knife or spatula in between the food and the side of the jar. Any suspect canned goods, peculiar in color, smell, or texture should be thrown out. Symptoms of difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing, blurred vision, slurred speech, or paralysis may indicate a possible botulism intoxication. This is not to be confused with craving live human flesh.
Be it today or five centuries ago, machete brandishing zombie assassin, or dear Aunt Ida, canning is
undeniably a utilitarian skill that shows no sign of going out of fashion. It may be time to invest in that
pressure canner (and maybe a small arsenal to fight the walking dead).
Cuke-lear Apocalypse Pickles
Makes: 4 quarts
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes
2 lbs pickling cucumbers, such as Kirby
¾ cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 ½ tsp peppercorns, whole
1 ½ tsp mustard seeds
1 bunch fresh dill, separated into sprigs
Slice, spear, or leave cucumbers whole, as desired. In a medium sauce pan, heat vinegars, sugar, and salt
over medium heat. Stir solution and remove from heat once sugar and salt dissolve.
Place cucumbers, garlic, dill, peppercorns, and mustard seeds in quart jars. Cover with vinegar solution,
leaving a one inch space at the top of the jar.
Refrigerate pickles for up to three months, or process for 15 minutes in a pressure canner.
Tongue & Cheek Strawberry Jam
Makes: 6 half pints
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
3 lbs fresh strawberries
4 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup bottled lemon juice, plus two seeded lemon wedges
1 pinch salt
Prepare strawberries by rinsing, removing stems, and roughly chopping them. In a large pot, combine all ingredients over medium heat. Stirring frequently and mashing berries with the back of your spoon, bring mixture to boil and continue to cook for 3 additional minutes, until thickened (approximately 20 minutes total). Remove lemon wedges from the jam and skim off foam from the top (if desired).
Transfer jam to clean, sterilized jars, leaving about ½” head space at the top of each jar. Prepared jam can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or can be stored at room temperature for six months if processed for 10 minutes in a pressure canner. Discard any jars that have not sealed within 24 hours.
Aunt Ida’s (Before She was a Zombie) Stewed Tomato Recipe
Makes: 2 quarts
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
5 lbs fresh tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk fennel, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp red pepper
1 tsp Citric acid (or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice)
Fill a large pot with water at least 4” deep and place over high heat. After removing their stems, rinse the tomatoes and cut a large superficial “X” into each’s skin. Once the water is starting to boil, cook each tomato for 1-2 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon, transferring to a second pot of cold water. Peel tomatoes and cut them into quarters.
In a large pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add onion, bell pepper, and fennel. Cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant and starting to become translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add tomatoes salt, red pepper, and citric acid/lemon juice. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have broken down. Transfer stewed tomatoes to clean, sterilized jars. Store tomatoes in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. To can, process in a boiling water canner for 35 – 45 minutes. Discard any jars that did not seal after 24 hours.