Tuesday, April 29, 2014

CHEF TALK What Food Should I Can / Retort at Home


I received, to my pleasant surprise, good positive response from ‘cold country’ people I know in the UK and Holland on my articles about retort in pouches. They apparently liked the idea to retort food products in pouches. Especially the idea of buying items you can find cheap or cheaper, if you like, at the peak of the harvest season and retort those at home.
During the winter season, when you have to dig yourself out of the snow on the driveway practically every day, craving for something not available in the market reaches its peak as well.  I know that feeling. I come from a cold country myself. 
Spring finally arrives. The gloves and duffel jackets retire for a couple of months and the first new produce pops-up. The first straw and what not berries, peaches, rhubarb, WOW, what a feast. What’s for lunch, strawberry sandwich with sugar? My mouth still waters by the thought alone. 
Expensive at first, of course, but after a few weeks when the market overflows and the prices go down is the time to get going and prepare for retort whatever food you love and can lay your hands on.   
Canning is actually quite old. In 1897 a Dr John T Dorrance invented a concentrated soup and got it manufactured in a can. For Americans it was love at first sight. For Dr John also, he never looked back and the Campbell Soup Company was born.
To apply the retort process small scale at home was for long not so easy. The introduction of retort pouches has made the process well possible for many among us.
The retort pouch was invented by and for the army by the United States Army Natick R&D command. They received a patent for the product in 1978. It is obviously much more convenient for soldiers to handle and transport a pouch than a can. Soldiers never forget their weapon but I am not too sure about can openers.

Retort at home in pouches is much easier to handle than cans or bottles. I would say that cans are out of the question, bottles need sterilization and the danger of infested caps is always present. 
Are retort pouches therefore a good choice? Yes they are, easy to handle, easy to store, absolutely food safe and the retort time is significantly shorter than for cans or bottles. Oh, you need some stickers and a non –erasable pen, put that on your next shopping list.        
So what should we pouch retort. Here are some ideas:

1) All types of Berries, peaches, pineapple, figs, kiwis and prunes 
Pasta Sauces:                                                                                                                                 
2) You can make basic pasta sauce with only tomatoes but also complete sauces filled with vegetables and meat if you like. What about sauce with zucchinis, aubergines (eggplant), mushrooms. 
Ready meals:                                                                                                                            
3) Meals with beans are great. Chili’s, chickpeas with bell peppers and mushrooms, meat balls in pasta sauce with aubergine.
Dessert toppings/sauces:                                                                                                             
4) Use all fruits you have and spice them up with (star anise, cinnamon, lemon juice)
5) broccoli, asparagus, mushroom, pumpkin, tomato, spinach 
Sandwich spreads:                                                                                                                              
6) Fish is a great idea for sandwich spreads, sardines and tuna are common so try other types of fish that are seasonal in your area. 
Individual fruits and vegetables:                                                                                    
7) tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, aubergines (eggplant), zucchinis.   
     Before you start some warning should be given!!!
1) Read the manual of the pressure cooker carefully. Information given may vary according to the brand of cooker.
2) Never vacuum HOT produce in a vacuum pouch.
3) Ensure your work station, utensils and other materials are very clean (sterilized) before use.
4) Pouch retort works great for almost all you can think of. Be innovative and surprise the family.

Written by 
Professional Chef Marinus Hoogendoorn


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Home Canning, More Quality Information.

This next post was taken from Backwoods Home Blog. written by Lee 01-18-2010.  We don't like taking information from another blog but when it comes to canning and safety we feel a need to help spread quality information. We are not canning experts and only express our experiences on this blog.  Always refer to USDA or FDA guidelines when processing for your family.  Always reheat before you eat! 


Make your own decision.

Caution: Do not add noodles or other pasta, rice, flour, cream, milk or other thickening agents to home canned soups. If dried beans or peas are used, they must be fully rehydrated first. 
National Center for Home Food Preservation

Not all types of homemade soups can be successfully preserved for long-term storage; we cannot offer you options for canning soups thickened with flours or cornstarches, or containing rice, pasta or cream. 

There is not a research tested recipe for safely canning chicken noodle soup at home. You can can chicken in broth and then add noodles when you open the jar, but it is not recommended to can soups containing noodles, rice and pasta. The problem is that with home pressure canners we can not get the heat penetration into thick soups containing noodles, rice and pasta to ensure a safe product. Food manufacturers are able to do so with high temperature/pressure retort sterilization machines, but we do not have the capability for doing some foods, like chicken noodles soup, safely at home. 

Canning processes are determined for specific foods prepared by specific directions for a particular size of jar. The process time is determined based upon the length of time it takes to adequately heat the coldest spot on the jar. The following factors have an effect on how heat penetrates through the food product:

How the food is prepared - the size of pieces, with or without the peel

The canning liquid consistency

Jar size

That is why it is so important to use a reputable, tested recipe and follow directions exactly. If you add extra sugar or fat, if you do not prepare the food according to the directions, or if you add thickeners like starch, rice or noodles, then the process time tested as being accurate to heat even the coldest spot in the jar may not be safe. 


Again, the choice is yours. 

FWIW, I grew up on a farm where my Mom used the canning methods taught to her by my Grandmother. Everything was water bath canned. On the one hand, we didn't get sick from her canning. On the other hand, I wonder how many times we ate food in which botulism toxin was neutralized because my Mom demanded that every canned food had to be held at a full rolling boil for 10 minutes before consuming it. 

With regards to that, I can't see the point of adding noodles/pasta to a jar and then needing to boil it for the approximate time it takes to cook noodles to add to a finished dish.

I'm sorry, if this comes off like a rant. It's because I remember when a family of 4 died from botulism, not far from us, when I was young. My main concern is with those new to canning, who may not know the risks involved with not following current guidelines. Once they know the guidelines, then, it's their choice as to how much risk they are willing to take with canned foods to feed their families.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

CHEF TALK Canning and Retort in the Culinary World and at Home. PART 2


Canning and retort in the culinary world and at home

In part 1 about retort or canning of food products, I explained the importance of temperatures and cooking times during the canning process. Too low temperatures and too little cooking time result in high heat resistant bacteria to survive and worse, to grow at ambient temperatures.
For many chefs this means that canned foods are most likely overcooked and overcooked food means no more healthy food properties. Most chefs tend to use fresh products, which is a good thing but there is a flip side to the coin.
Combing retort foods with fresh food can well be a good choice in home cooking especially when you are pressed with time and on a tight budget. 
I also highlighted that vitamins are often more heat resistant than bacteria. Specialized canning companies use the products when their vitamin levels are at the highest i.e. within 2 days after harvest. 
University studies show that the nutritional values of some canned foods are comparable or sometimes even higher than fresh produce. Vegetables like green beans and spinach lose up to 75% of their vitamin C after 7 days of harvest. Processing the harvest, packing, transportation and putting the product on the shelf of a supermarket takes up most of that time. 
The use of canned foods can therefore be beneficial to a healthy diet. Tomatoes are a good example of a food sometimes better canned than fresh. The heart healthy antioxidant Lycopene found in tomatoes is greater in canned tomatoes due to the heat from the canning process, than the levels of lycopene found in fresh hothouse tomatoes. The levels appeared to be 3 times higher.
Canning or retort can also be beneficial to your budget. Seasonal fresh produce is not year round on the shelves and if available, the extra cost from transportation makes the price high and for many, out of reach. 

Canned products like tomatoes, beans, some vegetables and fruits can be a helpful aide in home cooking. Self canning is therefore a good idea, definitely when you live in a part of the country where fresh produce is hard to come by or extremely pricey during the winter months.
The peak of harvest is the right and best time to get in to action. Seasonal products are then at their lowest price and easily available. If you have the opportunity to buy from local farmers you can get adventurous, buy cheap in bulk and mobilize the whole family. It will sure be a fun activity with everybody involved. 
Main advantage of self canning is that you decide what goes in the pouch.
The use of cans to retort might not be possible for most of us but the use of pouches for retort is very well possible. You need a retort pressure cooker, an investment that you may want to share with family members or other retort enthusiasts.
Retort pouches are specially designed for this purpose. The seal layer of retort pouches will give necessary leaking protection after you vacuum and seal the pouch. This special protection is needed to resist the high heat the pouches will be exposed to. Cooking times vary per product. So ensure to have the right information before you start.
Individual products or combined products like whole meals are suitable for retort. You can enjoy all the summer vegetables and fruits when the snow falls.
When you have your own produce you will get more creative in the kitchen and enjoy your own creations even more. 

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development   

VacUpack now accepts Bitcoin Payments.