Saturday, May 26, 2012

A How-To on Canning, PLUS a Recipe for Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Carrots & Daikon)

Canning is a GREAT way to preserve food; basically, the food is sealed in an airtight container through a boiling-water bath or under pressure canning. This extends the shelf life of food and keeps it from having to be refrigerated or frozen. 

You can preserve TONS of stuff, from jams/jellies to sauces, and yes, pickles! 

Boiling-water bath canning is simple: Once the contents are placed in canning jars and sealed, the jars are lowered into a pot filled with enough boiling water to completely cover the jars. Boil for 10-15 minutes (depending on the recipe), carefully remove the jars from the water, and, as the jars cool, they will vacuum seal. You don't need any special equipment, but I HIGHLY recommend purchasing a canning tool kit - this kit contains everything you need, from a magnetic lid lifter for the canning lids, a jar lifter, a wide-mouth funnel for filling the jars, and a headspace ruler (more on these tools below). 

I use my pressure canner for my boiling-water bath canning, but you can just a use a big, heavy bottomed pot. Just make sure you have enough room for the jars and water to cover them. 

Pressure canning is a bit more difficult; first, you need a pressure canner, which usually has a gauge or weights. The pressure canner will have a tight seal on it; like with pressure COOKING, the pressure increases the boiling point of the contents, making them cook more quickly and effectively sterilizing the food. Pressure-canning is a little more dangerous, as you HAVE to wait for the pressure to drop before opening the canner, and seals CAN let go and cause a huge mess or even injury. Luckily, modern pressure canners are a lot safer than they used to be, and I've never had an accident. 

Honestly, I've done pressure canning a few times, and I HATE IT. I prefer to just stick to what I can can (ugh) with a boiling-water bath. 

So, how do you know when to use a boiling-water bath or pressure canning? The boiling-water method is only safe for foods with a high pH (under 4.6), and works best for pickles, fruits, jams/jellies and tomatoes. Granted, I know tomatoes are technically a fruit and not a vegetable, but they are acidic and can GREAT. Pressure canning raises the boiling point of the food, killing the bacteria that causes botulism (Clostridium botulinum for my Carl Linnaeus nerds), making it the ideal canning method for vegetables and meats. 

For this post, I'll be making do chua, which is a Vietnamese condiment made of carrot and daikon sticks, pickled in a sweet vinegar mixture. Though these ARE vegetables, since I'm adding vinegar and lowering the acidity, a boiling-water bath is sufficient for canning. 

This is the last jar I have, from a batch  I made last year...
Back then, I didn't have a julienne slicer, so I had to cut everything by hand :(
You'll just have to keep reading to see exactly WHAT I do with my do chua :)

Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Daikon & Carrots)
adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (p.312)*

3 cups water
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp grated ginger
2 lbs carrot, julienned
2 lbs daikon radish, julienned

*My canning bible, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, is the shiznittle bam snip-snap-sack. It's honestly the only canning book I'll probably ever use. 

Prepare your jars and canner. I use my pressure canner for both pressure canning (obviously) as well as boiling-water canning. These typically run less than $50 at most stores, though larger & more high-end models can easily cost over $150. 

My canner has a removable rack on the bottom; the jars rest on this rack so that they aren't in contact with the hotter bottom of the pan. This also allows the boiling water to circulate underneath the jars so that they won't crack. 

If you're just using a giant pot to do your boiling-water canning, simply place a metal trivet in the bottom of your pot to serve as a makeshift rack. 

You also need canning jars. Also known as Mason jars, you can reuse jars over and over again, as long as they don't have any cracks, or chips on the rim. However, each time you can, you MUST use a new lid (bands can be reused over and over, though). Luckily, you can buy boxes of JUST the lids, or lids with bands. I like to hit up thrift stores for used canning jars; typically I pay $0.10 for a pint jar, and $0.25 for a quart jar, while jelly jars (8oz/half-pint) are usually only $0.05. It doesn't really matter whether you use regular or wide-mouth jars, as long as you have the correctly sized lids and bands! 

For this recipe, you'll need 5 PINT jars. 

Place your CLEAN jars inside the canner, making sure they don't touch each other. Fill with water, making sure that the water is several inches above the top of the jars. Bring the water to a ROLLING boil. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a simmer; add the LIDS and let them simmer. 

While waiting on the water to boil, prepare your do chua!

Note: If you have a julienne peeler or a mandoline, this will be a LOT easier!

Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and ginger in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. 

Add the carrots and daikon. Cook, stirring for 1 minute, then remove from heat. 

"Japaness" Daikon...

Now, you're ready to can!

Use the jar lifter to carefully remove the jars from the canner. Dump out the water back into the canner, and set the jars down on your counter. I like to place a kitchen towel or a potholder on the counter to absorb any shock from setting it down, plus my counters tend to stay kind of cool (hot glass on a cold counter can cause temperature shock and break your jars. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE). 

Place your funnel inside the jar. Ladle in the carrot/daikon mixture, leaving 1/2" of headspace (this is what the headspace ruler is for - if you fill the jar to the rim, the contents WILL squeeze out while you're canning). 

Using the magnetic lifter, take a lid out of the simmering water. Wipe down the rim of the filled canning jar with a paper towel to ensure a clean seal. Place the lid on top of the jar. 

 Take a canning band and screw it on to the jar. You don't want to over-tighten the bands; they are simply there to hold the lid in place during canning; I like to just screw them on until ALMOST finger-tight. 

Repeat until all of your jars have been filled and lidded. 

Using the jar lifter, carefully lower the jars back into the canner, again making sure that none of the jars touch. You can place a lid on the canner, or leave it open - I like to leave it open so I can keep an eye on the water level; you NEVER want to let the jars become uncovered - they will either seal improperly, or, worse, shatter. 

Let the jars boil for 10 minutes. When you see a recipe that says "Process for 10 minutes", that's basically a canning way to say "Boil for 10 minutes". This 10 minutes STARTS once the water returns to a FULL ROLLING BOIL. 

Once boiled, turn off the heat. Using the jar lifter, carefully lift the jars out of the canner, making sure not to invert them or tilt them - the jars are not yet fully sealed (they will completely seal while cooling). Sometimes the jars will 'clump' together and end up touching while processing; don't worry too much about this. 

Place the hot jars (still not touching!) in a location where they won't be disturbed for at least 6-8 hours. I use a corner of the kitchen counter, and place a kitchen towel down on the surface. 

If you hear weird pinging sounds, that's normal. That's just the lids popping and sealing. 

Once cooled, test your lids. Simply press down in the center of the lid. If the lid pops back up, the seal is bad. If the lid doesn't budge, the seal is good. 

If you DO have a jar that doesn't seal, you can repeat the canning process and re-seal the jar, or simply keep the jar in the fridge and use it first. 

Once you DO break a seal of a canned jar, it needs to be kept refrigerated. 

And that's it! Canning isn't all that hard or difficult at all! Any questions??


  1. Can apple cider vinegar be used to marinade instead? Thinking it should be ok as long as it is a 5% acidity for proper ph levels to be maintained but wanted to see what you thought.
    Victoria M

    1. Victoria, you can absolutely use apple cider vinegar instead of white!

  2. Thanks!! Love drooling over your page :)

    Victoria M