Growing up, I recall eating home canned foods — real food that my grandmother grew and that my mother helped harvest. Food that came from the ground I played in, the fields I ran in, and the land that I may have found a few unfortunate-for-them pets in.
When I became an adult, with my own children and my own garden, I decided that I wanted to learn to preserve my own foods as well. Some foods simply taste better canned and it requires a whole lot less energy than freezing, not to mention there is not risk of becoming freezer burnt.
While I don’t preserve as much as I once did, I do hope to again soon-ish… when our home renovations are over. When learning to can, the women in my family were a wealth of information. I hope that some of what I share here will be of help to you, too.
Types of Canning
This is the type of canning that often intimidates people. Pressure canning is easy (I promise) but it does take a bit of time. Pressure canning is great for a wide variety of foods.
Hot Water Bath Canning
This type of canning is typically used in canning jams and jellies. It’s very easy to do and a special canner is not required.
Please note that many older people (and those who learned from them) are accustomed to using a hot water bath tomatoes, but it is now known that pressure canning is ideal for tomatoes due to the lower acidity of many modern day tomatoes. If you want to water bath safely, you will need to raise the acidity by adding lemon juice or citric acid.
You can find more information about that at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
What You’ll Need
If you plan to pressure cook you will need a pressure canner. I use a Presto and my grandmother loves her Mirro.
If you plan to water bath process your canned goods, you will need a large stockpot with lid – you’ll need a pot at least 2.5-3 inches taller than the jars that you plan to use inside of it.
You’ll also need:
Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving— If you want to preserve it, the Ball Blue Book can tell you how. It looks a bit like a thick magazine and costs around $10-15. It is worth every penny. Please note that this book comes in several editions with various covers. It does not matter which copy you get. They all cover the same basic information that you need.
Jars — Jars come in a variety of styles from half pint to half gallon, wide mouth and regular.
Be sure to only use jars that are specifically meant for canning. If you plan to reuse jars, be sure to inspect them for cracks, nicks and scratches — these can be hazardous if used for canning.
Lids — You will need a new lid every time you prepare a jar. Canning lids cannot be used again to seal food but they are great for other things so I do recommend keeping some around when you are done (assuming they are in good condition).
Rims — You will also need a rim for every jar. Rims can be reused, provided they are free from grime and rust, and are not misshapen.
Jar Lifter — These will be used to lift jars into and from the hot water
Tongs and/or Magnetic Lid Lifter — These will be used to pull lids from their hot water bath
Bubble Popper/Measurer — This simple device is usually plastic – never metal – and can also be the end of a wooden spoon 😉 It helps measure headspace and remove air bubbles from your jar.
Funnel — A wide mouth jar funnel will help you get your food where you want it to go.
You can generally pick up most, or all, of these canning supplies in a kit for $10-25 depending on the brand and what is included in the kit.
Washing & Sterilizing
Before anything else is done, you will want to wash all of your components. I like to use the dishwasher for my jars and rings. Lids can be washed and placed in a small pot of simmering (not boiling) water.
Depending on the method you are using (pressure or bath) you will want to get water boiling in preparation. Use the fill line on your canner. If you are using a pot – fill it about half way.
If you are using a pressure canner you will also want to check that your seals look good and that you can see through the pressure release hole in the top of your lid. If you cannot see light through the pressure hole in your lid, you will need to clean it before proceeding.
Food Preparation & Packing
Depending on the food to be canned, you will need to prep it. Chop, blanch, etc. and then fill your jars. Some items will need boiling water added. I find having a hot kettle ready to be very helpful. Be sure to check your Ball Blue Book for directions on the food you plan to preserve.
Fill your jars, leaving head space at the top of the ar (this will be in the directions for the food you are canning). Next you will removed any air bubbles from the jar by poking around with your bubble popper/measurer – anything non metallic will work. Use a damp, clean, non-linting cloth to wipe the rim and threads of the jar clean and place a clean lid on the jar and secure with a metal ring finger tight – do not over tighten.
Place the jars into your prepared hot water and process as directed in your Ball Blue Book. For a pressure canner, you will use a weight. Processing time begins when the canner is at the proper pressure (your weight will begin to rock vigorously).
Cooling & Storing
Once your jars have finished processing you will want to remove the pot or canner from the heat. Allow your canner to cool, and the weight to fully stop rocking and releasing pressure, before removing the lid. For a pressure canner, you will be able to test by gently touching the weight. It will let you know if there is still pressure inside! Never attempt to remove the lid before the pressure has been fully released.
Once you can open your canner, use your jar lifter to remove the jars from the hot water and place them on a towel on the counter. Your lids should be sealed and in a “down” position at the center of the lid. If they are not, don’t worry. You may hear them “POP” closed over the next hour or two as they cool. If any jars do not seal, you may reprocess with the next batch, or refrigerate and enjoy.
Give your sealed jars a wipe down and, once they are cool they are ready for the pantry!
Most guidelines say that food is good for approximately one year after canning. Most grandmothers will tell you that they are just fine for much, much longer — provided that the jar is still properly sealed. But you didn’t hear that from me!