Safe Preserving: Canning Mixtures

beef stewWhen our gardens are overflowing with many types of vegetables, it’s tempting to think of canning these vegetables together as mixtures. Take care, there are certain precautions to take when canning vegetable or vegetable/meat mixtures.

There are a few tested recipes that are a great place to start when planning to can vegetable mixtures. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a recipe for mixed vegetables: carrots, corn, green and lima beans, tomatoes and zucchini that may be canned in pint or quart jars. There is also a tested recipe for meat and vegetable soup.  Caution noted at the meat/vegetable soup instructions: Fill jars halfway (only) with solid mixture. Add remaining liquid, leaving 1-inch headspace. Make only those changes allowed in these 2 tested recipes.

If you are thinking of canning other mixtures, combine only those items that have tested canning instructions. Consult the canning times for each vegetable (or meat item) separately, then choose the longest processing time as the time for the mixture. If canning times don’t exist, such as for celery or wild mushrooms, then we don’t recommend including that item in the mixture.  You can quickly saute mushrooms or celery to add to a mixture as you prepare the dish for the table. Also be aware of any restrictions on jar sizes in individual recipes as you choose the processing time.

Do not add flour, rice, potatoes, pasta or other ingredient that will thicken a mixture prior to canning. Thickening a mixture will interfere with heat transfer and a very unsafe product may result.  If you wish, thicken a canned mixture as you heat it prior to serving.

And remember, you’ll have much higher quality product if you can mixtures with similar processing times.  Consider the canning time for a mixture of carrots (30 minutes); corn (85 minutes); green peas (40 minutes); onions (40 minutes) and potatoes (40 minutes) in quart jars. This mixture must be canned 85 minutes, by which time some of the vegetables will be severely over-processed. Leaving out the corn will drop the processing time to 40 minutes, with higher quality results. Adding meat to the mixture (beef or chicken) will lengthen the processing time by 5 minutes, to 90 minutes for quart-size jars.

There are times when canning a mixture just don’t make sense because the individual vegetables have very different harvest times.  Harvesting peas in June and holding them (refrigerated) until August when corn and potatoes are harvested will result in a poor quality mixture as the peas turn starchy and lose nutrients during storage.

Instead of canning mixtures, I prefer to can individual vegetables (in pint-size jars). This allows me to harvest vegetables as their peak and avoid over-processing. When it’s time to make a meal, I combine a variety of pint jars to create the basis for a casserole, soup, or stew. The dish is very flavorful because I can use canning liquid, rather than water, to create the base for my soup or stew, and I have maximum flexibility in meeting dietary preferences of my family and friends. Safe preserving, Barb