Exploding Brandied Cherries or the Importance of PH and Heat Processing to home canning & preserving.
This story shows the importance of heat treating your products to ensure shelflife stability. One of only FOUR key considerations in canning and preserving. PH Testing, accurate heat processing, sterile equipment, and meticulously detailed recordkeeping on your processes and ingredients.
The TL;DR version of this backstory is that our Grandmothers knew how to prevent their beautiful brandied cherries from exploding. What they did not do is write down in detail EXACTLY what went into their jars, and leaving the details in food safety to chance is dangerous, in ways home canning never considers.
There are four key considerations home cooks can employ to safely ensure their home products are safe and will survive the test of time.
PH Testing is number one!
In Greg's story, the sugar was expected to preserve the brandied cherries. What was not expected was the water movement caused by a dangerous PH level that allowed the brandies to ferment in their jars. PH testing would have given the cherries a chance.
Ensuring they were heat treated for a sufficient period of time would have allowed the sugar to stabilize the cherries. This did not occur, allowing the cherries to become Christmas bombs. Error in food preservation number two!
The other two factors seem to Greg to be intuitive, but may never be emphasised well by home cooks. Certainly they aren't on any of the recipe cards I have seen.
Thus, the number three most important step in food safety in home canning, which is really the first step; Ensure your equipment is sterile and free of contaminants.
Number four is to meticulously detail your processes and ingredients. The simple matter of switching out something as simple as the type of cherries or using a different sugar syrup can become the difference between Christmas gifts from heaven and a Brandied Cherry Hellscape.
I hope you put your focus on food safety this harvest and have a very happy canning season!
-- Tina Brooks
For excellent food handling and food safety education contact your local Provincial Food Safety regulator. Our friends at FoodSafety.ca have compiled excellent information for food handling by province: https://www.foodsafety.ca/laws-requirements/by-location