Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Preserved Foods Judging

I've been judging preserved food competitions for over 20 years. Most take place at county fairs and cover water bath, pressure canned and dehydrated foods.

Competitors are often surprised to learn I don't taste products. Because a sealed jar doesn't ensure a safe product (previously discussed here), I judge the jars on other properties. A lot can be learned just by looking at the jar:

  • Food Maturity: Green beans should be tender and young. Large beans are generally overly mature and tough. Pickles should be made using small pickling cucumbers, which when harvested young, have small seeds.
  • Appropriate headspace: Recipes can call for anywhere from 1 1/4 inch to 1/4 inch headspace.
  • Submerged food: Liquid should cover the food. Exposed food can discolor during storage.
  • Clarity of liquid: Cloudy liquid can be caused by over processing, causing the food to break down (different produce varieties also stand up better to canning).  
  • Discolored food: Light colored fruit, like apples, pears and peaches, can oxidize and brown during preparation and processing.
  • Correct pack: Peaches should be cut in half, cavity side down. Whole fruit, like cherries, should be packed tightly without crushing fruit.
  • Fruit spreads: Jellies should be clear, not cloudy and move slightly. Jams should have a tighter set with bits of fruit distributed throughout the jar.
  • Firm seal: An unsealed jar is automatically disqualified. 

Jars are arranged by class. I prefer to judge in front of
exhibitors (open judging). Questions are encouraged.

The applesauce in the center was placed first. The other two sauces oxidized
(safe to eat, but discolored from browning fruit during
processing). The jar on the left has too much headspace.

Neither of these jars of sweet cherries won first place. The jar on the left
doesn't have enough headspace and the fruit is packed loosely.
The cherries on the right are sitting above the liquid.

These were all nice jars of sour cherries. The center and right jars
both had too little headspace with fruit outside the liquid.

To judge jellies, I pass a light through the jar. The clearer the jelly, the higher
the quality. How do you ensure clear liquid? Refrain from squeezing
the jelly bag as it force bits of pulp into the fruit juice.
Have questions about your entries? Leave a comment below!

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