The idea of growing, harvesting, and processing your own food has a certain appeal for many. City dwellers may never have had the opportunity to grow food and can their own jams, jellies, or pickles, and those who grew up in rural settings may have lost touch with this homespun practice over the years.
With people spending more time at home and paying more attention to the origin of their food, it’s only natural that there’s been a resurgence of interest in baking, cooking and – as fall approaches – canning.
Imagine the satisfaction of popping open a jar of beautifully preserved green beans or pears to enjoy on an upcoming winter evening. Think how lovely it would be to pair your very own applesauce with a grilled pork chop, meanwhile remembering when you picked the fruit at a roadside stand or orchard.
Choose Just One Recipe for Your First Try At Canning
Like many new projects, it’s easy to get overly ambitious and take on more than you can handle when starting out. Focusing on one recipe minimizes any chance of cross-contamination between different types of food, and also allows you to focus all of your attention on a safe, clean canning process. You can find easy recipes online to help you choose.
You’re Going to Need Some Supplies
If you enjoy cooking, you may already have some of the things you’ll need for your canning project. The list below is what most canning aficionados suggest for your project.
- Large stockpot (for water bath canning – ideal for canning fruits and pickled vegetables)
- Pressure cooker (recommended for canning non-pickled vegetables and meat)
- Canning jars, lids and rims (aka Mason jars)
- Wide-mouth funnel (for filling jars with less mess)
- Appropriate size ladle to fill your jars
- Tongs or jar lifter (for removing jars from the pot or pressure cooker)
- Lid wand (long rod with a magnet to remove lids after sterilizing in boiling water)
- Clean cloths (for wiping jars)
Follow These Steps for Safe Canning
It’s important to keep your workspace clean and to clean all of your equipment (funnel, ladle, tongs or lifter) with hot soapy water before you begin. Make sure you have plenty of counter or table space, so all equipment and prepped food is within easy reach – and also so you have room to let your jars sit for a day after processing.
1. Prepare your fruits, vegetables, jellies, or jams according to the recipe you’re using right before you’re ready to can. Use glass, plastic, or porcelain bowls to hold produce rather than aluminum or other metals which can cause discoloration. Additions of lemon juice or ascorbic acid ensure that your produce is at the right pH level and won’t become discolored during the canning process, so follow your recipe to the letter.
2. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. After you have washed your canning jars and lids with soap and hot water, submerge them in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Leave jars – and especially lids and rims – in the pot until you’re ready to use them.
3. Carefully fill your jars with whatever you are canning, but don’t fill them all the way. Leave some “headspace” at the top to allow for expansion during processing. Your recipe should tell you exactly how much, but generally speaking, leave 1 inch of space for vegetables, a half-inch for fruits, and a quarter-inch for jellies and jams. Fruits and vegetables must be completely submerged in a liquid like juice, boiling water or pickling solution, depending on what you’re making and what your recipe calls for.
Cover the produce completely and tap the jars to release any air bubbles, then wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth.
Using your lid wand, remove the lids one at a time from the pot of boiled water. Carefully position the lid on top of a jar without touching the sealing solution on the underside of the lid. Finally, screw a rim onto the jar top – not too tight – just until it stops turning on the jar.
4. Refill your stock pot or pressure cooker with fresh water. For water bath canning, use enough water so the jars will be covered by an inch or two during processing. For pressure cooker canning, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the amount of water you’ll need. In either case, preheat the water to 140°F for cold produce, and 180°F for hot, cooked produce to help prevent the jars from cracking during processing.
5. Use tongs or a lifter to place your sealed jars in the water bath or pressure cooker with ample space between the jars. They should not touch. Follow the instructions in your recipe for processing time which – as with baking – can vary depending on the altitude in your area.
6. After processing, remove your jars from the water bath or pressure cooker to cool. You’ll hear a “pop” from each jar as it cools and creates a vacuum seal. To check the seals, press down on the lids. If there’s any “spring” back, the jar did not seal. The produce within is still good, but should be refrigerated immediately and eaten soon.
7. Wipe the completely cooled jars clean. Label with what’s inside and the date of processing. Canned produce holds up best when stored in a dark, dry pantry or cabinet.
Home cooks have been canning for centuries, so there’s no reason not to give it a try yourself. Choose a jam, fruit, vegetable, or pickle recipe that appeals to you, follow the instructions for processing, and enjoy the end result.