Volunteer FAQ Editor Needed

gwannouncementsOctober 4, 2010

We are looking for someone to help create an FAQ for this forum. While compiling information should be a group effort, one person would be charged with pulling it together into useful FAQs. This could mean a new document OR just pointing to helpful posts that are already on the forum. A good example of a helpful FAQ can be found here: Winter Sowing FAQ.

If you have a desire to make this forum even better, have good writing skills and work well with others, please reply to this thread or send us an email --Letters to Garden Web.

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I'd volunteer as I helped with some of the original FAQs when Spike still owned GW.

But given my "do it right, do it safely or don't do it at all" stand on home food preservation I know there are some here who wouldn't care for my red pencil approach to editing.;) So just put me down for any help I can provide - topic suggestions, rough drafts, etc.

A great start would be easy: incorporate some of the great FAQs available on the NCHFP website.

NCHFP Canning FAQs

Dave

PS: I can't tell you how glad I am to see admin's willingness to do this !!!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 4:00PM
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dgkritch(Z8 OR)

PS: I can't tell you how glad I am to see admin's willingness to do this !!!

I'll second that one, Dave!
I sure wish I could commit, but time will not allow me to do this successfully.

I'd be OK with a "red pencil" Dave. I'm not sure how much editing is necessary. Really, just organizing topics that are truly "frequent".

Deanna

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 7:39PM
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Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

Yeh, so what is wrong with a red pencil, Dave ?
But, then you know my views on things.....
I say go for it, Dave !! If you are willing to do it, why not ?

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 11:07PM
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tracydr(9b)

I would suggest that Annies salsa and habanero jelly get made into FAQs so that current recipes can always be found.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 12:09AM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

It sounds like a great idea and I'd second the suggestion to include an FAQ for frequently requested recipes.

Annie's salsa, definitely. The habanero gold is Bob Rouleau's, originally offered in the Bernardin book.

Carol

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 12:47AM
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lisapat(8a)

I'll do it, if you'll have me, and only if Dave's response up there was a definite no.

I've only been canning for two years, but I've been writing for over thirty, and I feel that the FAQ should be mainly a compilation of others' voices anyway.

~ Lisa

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 3:11AM
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tracydr(9b)

The big batch version of habanero gold that it seems is always being searched for.
Maybe FAQs on canning tomatoes, apple pie jam and peaches.
The stuff that seems to come up aver and over because there are too many versions and threads to search.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 12:16PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

No it isn't a definite no lisapat, just a statement of fact that if I do it it will be safe, basic info, short and to the point. It would also be based on the info available from NCHFP, the recognized legit source, all of which is written by a food scientist and all of which is public domain info and well written.

It would not be "is this safe" FAQs as we are not food scientists nor "can I do this modifications" for the same reason, nor recipes. I feel it should also include links to the appropriate online info sources.

I don't think the FAQs here should turn into a posting of recipes. This is a food preservation forum, not a cooking forum. Possible exception: Annie's Salsa (with Annie's permission of course). Copyright infringement gets to be a problem with many of the other recipes and with the exception of Annie's Salsa all the rest are readily available from multiple sources, not to mention via search.

Would love to have a FAQ that says "Stay Away from these recipe sites" but I know we couldn't get away with that. ;)

So an early list of what I would like to see in the way of FAQs:

1) Online sources of safe canning info (a list of links).

2) What foods may NOT be safely canned at home and why? What canning methods should NOT be used?

3) Do my jars of canned food have to be processed? Should I use a BWB or pressure canner?

4) How do I use a pressure canner?

5) What is head space and why is it important?

6) What causes siphoning and boil-over so liquid is lost from the jars? (#5 and #6 could be combined)

7) What are the signs of canned food that is unsafe to eat?

8) What is the role of canning salt and sugar in food preservation?

9) Why can't I safely can my own recipes?

  1. Annie's Salsa - hopefully after the wedding is done Annie would be willing to write this one.

Just a starter list. ;)

Dave

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 12:52PM
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lisapat(8a)

Are you thinking about keeping the questions this general? I frequently see questions along the lines of

"why are my peaches/tomatoes floating?"
"my fruit is above the level of liquid in the jars, is it safe to eat?"
"some of my lids didn't seal, what should I do?"

Do you see specific questions like this fit to put in the FAQ? A lot of them could be answered in a few words plus a link to the NCHFP site.

I'm trying to get a feel for the level of detail you have in mind.

~ Lisa

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 3:07PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yes, I would although I don't really consider them "general", more like basic and important. Which is the nature of a FAQ - a frequently asked question that requires a detailed explanation to correctly answer. Check out the ones at NCHFP and on the Tomato and Vegetable gardening forum as examples.

Questions like you listed, and I agree there are many of them, require very short, few word answers like "it's normal and due to air in the fruit", "yes but they might discolor", and "reprocess the jars within 24 hours or put in the fridge". So they don't really meet what I would consider the criteria for a FAQ. However, if space allowed and many felt simple questions like that should be included then by all means they should.

Server space is limited for FAQs so they need to be relatively few in number and yet cover as much info as possible in that one place without overwhelming the reader. But they shouldn't be a simple question with just a one or two sentence answer no matter how often that simple question may be posted. That's my opinion anyway. ;)

And you also need to keep in mind that experience (and frequent discussions here bear this out) has proven 2 things about FAQs:

1) most people don't read them unless directed to them specifically, they just post their question anyway, and

2) many resent, strongly resent, being referred to a FAQ. They want a personal answer. So if directing them to a FAQ, it needs to be worth their time to read. And hopefully it will provide info they may not even know they want or need at the same time.

Hope this clarifies.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 3:42PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Here are the rough drafts of a couple of FAQs I wrote up based on some search results of common questions. Please feel free to comment or suggest modifications. :)

#1
What if my lids do not seal? What if my lids "pop" before I process the jars?

Canned foods can be reprocessed within 24 hours. Remove the lid, check the rim of the jar for nicks or trapped food particles, replace with a new lid (lids should not be reused as the sealing compound becomes indented and can prevent a safe seal), and process for the full original processing time. Beyond 24 hours, refrigerate the jar and
use within a few days.

Sometimes the canning lid may appear to seal before the jars are even processed. This is a response to the hot liquid in the jar but it is a weak vacuum seal and not considered safe for shelf storage. Processing is still required and the false seal will release, as it should, and reseal properly during or shortly after the processing is
complete.

_____________

#2

Why is some of the food sitting above the liquid in the jar after I take it out of the canner? What happened to all the liquid and is the food safe to eat?

Liquid is sometimes lost from the jar during processing and has several possible causes It can be prevented with proper attention to detail. If using a pressure canner it is called "siphoning" as liquid is vacuumed out of the jar as the pressure fluctuates. If using a BWB it is called "boil over" or fluid expulsion.

With a pressure canner the causes include excessive heat adjustments during processing which causes fluctuations in the pressure, failure to properly de-pressurize the canner, failure to wait 10 mins. between removing the weight/counterweight and removing the lid, and over-packing the jars with solids.

With a BWB causes include bands not screwed on tightly enough, a poor seal due to jar rim damage, failure to remove all the air from the jar before processing, and jars not adequately covered with water in the BWB.

In both cases, especially starchy foods may also absorb some of the liquid in the jar.

The food is still safe to eat assuming the lids sealed correctly. Some of the food above the liquid may discolor over time and may be discarded after the jar is opened. DO NOT OPEN THE JARS TO REPLACE THE LIQUID.
________________

#3

What food cannot be safely canned at home?

Dairy products like milk or cream, cheese, and butter; eggs; cakes and breads; pureed low acid vegetables or meats; thickeners and grains such as pasta, rice, noodles, flour, and barley; oils and fats. There are a few tested and approved recipe exceptions to the above.

___________

Dave

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 9:16PM
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lisapat(8a)

Looks good. Consistent with the NCHFP FAQ, but even clearer.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 10:59PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Just a suggestion with #1: Canned foods can be reprocessed within 24 hours. Remove the lid, check the rim of the jar for nicks or trapped food particles . . . Perhaps you could clarify that product must be emptied from the jars and jars re-prepped for processing. I can see the possibility that someone would assume they can take an unsealed jar of product that's sat on the counter for some hours and re-process it once the lid and rim issues are resolved.

For #2: Why is some of the food sitting above the liquid in the jar after I take it out of the canner? Perhaps also inadequate headspace and/or overpacking of the product, resulting in expulsion of liquid.

I know this is quite a job. Kudos for tackling it.

Carol

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 12:53AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Good points Carol. Thanks. Rewrote #1 to read:

1) What if my lids do not seal? What if my lids "pop" before I process the jars?

Canned foods can be reprocessed within 24 hours. Remove the lid, empty the contents and reheat to proper temperature, check the rim of the jar for nicks or trapped food particles, wash or replace the jar, replace with a new lid (lids should not be reused as the sealing compound becomes indented and can prevent a safe seal), and process for the full original processing time. Beyond 24 hours, refrigerate the jar and use within a few days.

Sometimes the canning lid may appear to seal before the jars are even processed. This is a response to the hot liquid in the jar but it is a weak vacuum seal and not considered safe for shelf storage. Processing is still required and the false seal will release, as it should, and reseal properly during or shortly after the processing is complete.

On #2 I added inadequate headspace so it now reads:

2) Why is some of the food sitting above the liquid in the jar after I take it out of the canner? What happened to all the liquid and is the food safe to eat?

Liquid is sometimes lost from the jar during processing and has several possible causes It can be prevented with proper attention to detail. If using a pressure canner it is called "siphoning" as liquid is vacuumed out of the jar as the pressure fluctuates. If using a BWB it is called "boil over" or fluid expulsion.

With a pressure canner the causes include excessive heat adjustments during processing which causes fluctuations in the pressure, inadequate headspace left in the jar, failure to properly depressurize the canner, failure to wait 10 minutes between removing the weight/counterweight and removing the lid, and over-packing the jars with solids.

With a BWB causes include bands not screwed on tightly enough, inadequate headspace, a poor seal due to jar rim damage, failure to remove all the air from the jar before processing, and jars not adequately covered with water in the BWB.

In both cases, especially starchy foods may also absorb some of the liquid in the jar.

The food is still safe to eat assuming the lids sealed correctly. Some of the food above the liquid may discolor over time and may be discarded after the jar is opened. DO NOT OPEN THE JARS TO REPLACE THE LIQUID.

So #3 above stands as is for now. Here is #4 and #5 for review:

4) Why does the food in the jar float to the top?

Fruits and vegetables will often float to the top half of the jar after processing because the air they contain makes them lighter than the liquid in the jar. It can be reduced by using hot pack methods rather than raw pack, by packing the food more tightly in the jars, and by releasing all the trapped air in the jar before processing. With time the food will absorb some of the liquid and sink for a more even distribution in the jar.

5) Do I have to peel my tomatoes or is it safe to leave the skins on?

Peeling is recommended, but not required, and is primarily an issue of quality rather than safety. The recommendation to peel is because the peel is the primary source of bacteria and other contaminants. Peels and seeds in canned tomatoes may also cause some bitterness and that can become pronounced during shelf storage. Some also note that the bits of peel, if left in, become hard and unappetizing.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 11:56AM
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lisapat(8a)

I noticed that about #1 too, but then I checked the NCHFP FAQ and it doesn't mention anything about re-heating the contents either, although I always would. Any thoughts on why they would omit that step?

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 2:02PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Any thoughts on why they would omit that step?

I think that, like me, they see it as a "given" since one would never put cold jars and food into a pot of hot water. Or at least they would only try it once. ;) But Carol is correct that many might not realize that.

Suggested modification of #3 above to combine What food cannot be safely canned at home? and What canning methods should NOT be used?

#3 What food cannot be safely canned at home? What canning methods should not be used?

Dairy products like milk or cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter; eggs; cakes and breads; pureed low acid vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin or meats; thickeners and grains such as pasta, rice, noodles, flour, and barley; oils and fats. There are a few tested and approved recipe exceptions to the above.

The following canning techniques used in the past are no longer considered safe practices: oven canning or oven processing, open kettle canning, inverting jars to seal, using paraffin to seal, reusing lids, canning tomato products without acidification, boiling water bath canning of low acid vegetables like corn or green beans, adding aspirin, using jars larger than 1 quart (1 liter) except for high acid juices, adding Epsom Salts to jams, and canning personal/family recipes.

I know I have missed some of the methods to avoid - suggestions?

Dave

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 5:24PM
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pixie_lou

"The following canning techniques used in the past are no longer considered safe practices: oven canning or oven processing, open kettle canning, inverting jars to seal, using paraffin to seal, reusing lids, canning tomato products without acidification, boiling water bath canning of low acid vegetables like corn or green beans, adding aspirin, using jars larger than 1 quart (1 liter) except for high acid juices, adding Epsom Salts to jams, and canning personal/family recipes. "

Just a couple comments -

Maybe define "open kettle method" - I know that I had to google it - or just state that all canning needs to be processed in BWB or PC.

Also - the comment about personal/family recipes - maybe change that to state that you should only use approved canning recipes. And make the statement that you cannot use cooking recipes.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 7:57PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

The NCHFP staff are oriented to food safety, not necessarily the many ways written instructions can be misunderstood.

Teachers spend years learning to allow for the multitudinous quirks of human responses to information. The person transmitting the information may believe things are perfectly clear but from the perspective of the receiver it may be a different matter entirely.

A successful teacher spends a lot of time planning a lesson which allows from the beginning for all the ways it could go wrong and anticipates that in the preparation. It is a huge time-saver if confusion is forestalled.

Not to mention it is a great comfort to students to "get it" the first time around and not feel "dumb." Reduced frustration makes for calm and orderly classrooms (and forums).

Once something is written you have to stand back from what you wrote and think like a rank beginner. What has been assumed by the writer that should have been explicitly stated? What assumptions of the readers might lead them astray?

The problem with an FAQ is that the most successful learning and the greatest retention comes from discussion, not lecture or reading. There will always be a need to respond to questions posted and then further respond to clarify unanticipated gaps or misapprehensions. Then people will learn, understand and apply to their own canning practices.

Carol

    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 4:56PM
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Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

I would also add pumpkin butter. I know you said pureed pumpkin, but so many do not think that includes pumpkin butter.
I like how you added the cakes and breads in jars.
You are doing a wonderful job !

    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 5:38PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Carol I am sure there is a message for me in your most recent post but I'm not sure I understand it correctly. Since I value your opinion on these, could you clarify it for me please? Thanks.

And please take a look at this one too.

6) Is some form of processing, a boiling water bath (BWB) or pressure canning, required?

Many older recipes do not provide processing instructions and failure to process the jars can present a serious health risk. Processing canned foods removes oxygen, destroys enzymes, prevents the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts, and molds, and helps form a high vacuum in the jars. To minimize the risk of food spoilage, all high acid foods should be processed in a water bath canner or pressure canner and all low acid foods in a pressure canner. Recipes that do not provide processing instructions should be used with care.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 5:32PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Dave, I was speaking generally of the challenges of writing any set or instructions or a technical manual, FAQ, etc.

If there's any "message" it's that a certain percentage of new members will not find an FAQ particularly helpful regardless of how well it's written. It's just not how they learn. You also alluded to that fact in an earlier post where you commented that sometimes directing questioners to an FAQ fosters resentment. So even an optimal FAQ is potentially touchy.

#6 sounds very good. If I were inclined to modify I might try to clarify that failing to process (or processing with unreliable/unproven methods like oven canning) leads to a range of problems. At the lowest level of severity there are shelf-life and quality issues like oxidation or mold. These are frustrating, as the result is waste, but any health risks are minimal. At the highest level of severity there are potentially severe consequences, including, if one is speaking of botulism, fatality.

I know how challenging and time-consuming this kind of task can be.

I was thinking the other day that I hope there will be opportunities to amend/edit the FAQ. Standards will change, but beyond that we may discover there are totally unanticipated glitches that require clarification. This is something to run by the Gardweb team.

Carol

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 7:38PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Thanks Carol. That's what I got out of your comments too - careful details and trying to anticipate. By biggest problem is getting them too wordy. I'm normally wordy and need to pare down so I tend to pare too much. ;)

Good suggestions on #6. Will expand.

I hope there will be opportunities to amend/edit the FAQ

Agree strongly. Would also like to hear from them about if some can go up as they are written and approved or if we only have 1 shot - all or nothing FAQ list.

Also still looking for suggestions for additional FAQs.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 7:54PM
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nancedar(z7NC)

If anyone volunteers for this, I would be thrilled - then they could get rid of the "GardenWebExclusive Guide to Canning" that clutters the top of the page and has so little information as to be comical.

Nancy

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 6:51PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Dave, I don't know if you've had the opportunity to check with GardenWeb or not regarding editing but if this FAQ can't be edited, it might be better not to do it at all. My concern is that over time it will become just another of those outdated and inaccurate online sources. There will be people accessing it we never hear from on the Forum who will have no idea that pressure canning wait time (or whatever) has increased or that some new standard has rescinded a common process. Look what happened with canning pumpkin.

A canning FAQ isn't like Sowing or Legumes. It's far less stable.

Carol

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 3:31AM
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kayskats

A few years back, I asked why there wasn't an FAQ for Harest Forum, however ....

Like Carol, I'm wondering about how FAQ answers will be kept current ... you'd have to be able to edit specific questions. Would there be some simple way to link questions to specific answers at UGa or whatever is replacing NCHFP in order to bring up latest info.

Stand alone questions could deal with things like Annie's salsa. However, being able to edit these would also be
necessary.

Also, questions should be carefully organized by subject matter with the ability to edit as needed.

Otherwise, FAQ searches will become rather cumbersome and make finding current info as difficult as finding info using the current search engines.

However it's done, it would be a tremendous and continuing undertaking.

kay

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 7:57AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Excellent points by all! Experience with the FAQ on other forums supports your points well - especially the one about the need for at least some editing ability now and then.

Have been expecting some sort of feedback on this thread before doing any more work. Since all the posts are sent directly to them. But have also asked for specific feedback to be posted here.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 9:53AM
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kayskats

another question I'd ask Dave is what is the liability -- for you or whoever heads this up and also for the folks running these forums.

Let's say, you were doing it and you got sick and didn't post an important update.

This is such a litigunous (sp?) society, I'd check that out firt.
k

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 10:09AM
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2ajsmama

Maybe you have to email GW. They might have a lawyer come up with a disclaimer.

It also might be easier to link to NCHFP website (any other good ones, I know Carol has posted some and Annie has her favorite U ofMI or is it MN?) for canning. But mention things like reheating when reprocessing that they've missed.

There are also a lot of questions about freezing, vacuum sealers, Annie's salsa, etc. that could be answered (or linked to). So if you use links for canning, it might be safer, and would also give server space to answer other non-canning or site-specific questions.

Definitely have to give the editor(s) ability to edit something once it's been posted, just to keep updating.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 11:17AM
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kayskats

actually, I'm sure GW (or whoever owns it -- NBC? .. or Comcast if that deal goes thru)-- has lawyers out the kazoo and have covered their backsides quite adequately. It's the "Volunteer FAQ Editor" I'm concerned about. Would the corporate protection extend to that person(s).. I seriously doubt it.

I don't worry so much about missing or mistaken information posted on the Harvest Forum... 'cause there's always someone who'll jump on any mistakes made. But an FAQ is (or seems) quasi official.

Getting these repetitious question answers handled without wearing out the 'gurus' here on HF is a worthy goal. Just not as easy as it seems as first blush.

kay

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 12:54PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree that the legal issues aren't our concern. They are iVillage's. IMO they are all covered by the Terms of Service and User Guidelines that already exist here and that all agree to abide by when they join. If you have never read them, it's worth the time to do so. ;)

Everything posted immediately becomes the property of iVillage. So while I have no concerns about any personal liability I do think an upfront disclaimer along the lines of "Please consult NCHFP for current guidelines etc". wouldn't hurt.

And the issue of posting links also has some ramifications for Admin here as some links are prohibited - none of the common ones we use on this forum that I know of, but "Sources of Safe Canning Information" FAQ is in the works. ;) Not to mention that half the time when we post links anyway, they get ignored. As with referring someone to a FAQ, some folks just want a personal-to-them answer or they want none at all.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 4:41PM
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greenbean08_gw(PNW)

You may also want to make some mention of changing processing time in high altitude locations. I nearly missed that one last week when canning some peaches.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 12:37AM
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elisa72(9)

Whatever happened to this? Is it in the works?

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 2:52PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Last I heard from Admin, and that was several months back, the mechanics needed was still in the works and they would let us know when available.

I did note that they posted this same request on several other forums as well and there was little if any interest in having it much less doing it. Past experience with it has proven it to be a time consuming job and one subject to much controversy.

Dave

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 3:48PM
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lucille(Houston)

To me, a link to the NCHFP is great, there is so much info there(I've been reading). And a take-no-prisoners attitude toward safety is actually comforting, because if one starts thinking that one can do a tweak here, a tweak there, sometimes that can not turn out so well.

I think I mentioned in another post, that some years ago I was going to can and for various reasons it didn't happen, so I'm here, again, as a beginner. I don't remember a lot of factual info from years ago, but I do specifically remember the feeling I got from this particular forum "We're here, we're experts, and we are willing to help."

So even though the FAQs are important, sometimes a personalized answer can make a real difference, and I appreciated then and appreciate now every time people were willing to do that.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 5:46PM
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annie1992

Sorry, DAve, but 2 days before Amanda's wedding, my youngest daughter Ashley announced her engagement. She's getting married May 21, so that's three weddings in 12 months. Stepmom is having heart surgery on Friday and I have a new boss. Oh, and did I mention an appointment with an orthopedic guy on Thursday for my knee? (grin)

I've been conspicuously absent, and I'm afraid will still be mostly gone for several months to come.

Have tons of fun, though....

Annie

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 3:22PM
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