Got a Big Harvest? Can It!

So, you planted a garden, lucked out when your property included fruit trees, stumbled upon a produce sale you just couldn’t pass up, or joined a CSA. Good for you! Now what? What will you do with all that bounty?

Your choices are a) quickly consume your harvest before it spoils b) give it away or c) preserve it to enjoy in the future.


One of the best ways to preserve—the method of food preservation that is making a big comeback—is known as “canning.”

Canning is not difficult, but it is a procedure that should be followed precisely.

You begin by sterilizing canning jars in boiling water. Then, once you’ve filled them with hot jam or other prepared recipe, you boil them again.

Proper canning, or “heat-processing” hermetically seals the jar, meaning that no air or tiny organisms can get in. It also kills any undesirables that may be present, like bacteria, yeast, or mold. In addition, it destroys naturally occurring enzymes that cause food to spoil.

All you need are a few pieces of equipment, a little time and beautifully ripe produce. Your investment now will pay off in spades come winter when you’ll be able to enjoy summer all over again.

Beginners should start with fruit, jams, pickles and tomatoes because these items are highly acidic and do not require a pressure canner.

MORE: Join a CSA for Your Health and Your Wealth

Canning How-To

1. Wash equipment. Wash your new jars, lids and screw rings in hot, soapy water. Rinse well and drain.

2. Sterilize the jars, lids and rings. In an ordinary big cooking pot filled with water, place jars and lids (keep them separate; you’ll attach lids and rings to the jars later) in the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Allow to boil for 10 minutes. Keep jars hot by turning heat down to simmer until ready to fill.

3. Make the recipe. Use one of the recipes below, or another recipe of your choice, that has been created specifically for canning. Again, if you are a beginning canner, start with a nice jam recipe or fruit in syrup.

4. Carefully remove jars from pot. Empty the hot water from each jar back into the pot so you won’t have to heat new water later.

5. Place jars on a wooden cutting board or towel. Placing jars on a cold countertop could cause thermal shock, which could crack the jars. Place a funnel in the mouth of jar; carefully ladle in the food item you have just prepared.

6. Allow headspace. The empty space between the top of the food and the top of the jar is called headspace. The amount of space depends on what you’re canning. Your recipe should indicate the amount of headspace required by that particular item.

7. Release air bubbles. Air bubbles can prevent jars from sealing and may affect the color of canned goods. Get rid of bubbles by sliding a nonmetal spatula or something like a plastic chopstick between the food and the inside of the jar. Make sure the item you use has been sterilized. You don’t want to introduce bacteria once you’ve been so careful to sterilize everything.

8. Clean up jars. Wipe jar rim and threads (the grooves the lid screws onto) with a damp cloth. Food left on jar rim or threads might prevent the jar from sealing once the lid and ring are applied.

9. Apply lids and rings. With tongs, transfer one jar lid from the hot water to the top of each jar, making sure it is centered perfectly on top of the jar. Apply a screw ring to each jar and twist until it is just finger-tight. Do not over-tighten. The ring is to hold the lid in the correct position so that the seal can take place as the contents of the jar cool.

10. Process. Now, you are ready to process the jars. Place them back into the large pot of hot water. Once all the jars that will fit are in the pot, add enough water to cover the jars by at least one inch. Cover the pot and bring the water to a rapid boil over high heat. Boil jars for the required “processing time” indicated in your recipe of choice. For proper canning, water must boil rapidly during the entire processing time.

11. Turn off heat. Remove lid from the large pot. Let jars cool in water for five minutes. Remove jars from the pot, being careful not to tilt the jars. Place them on a towel. Allow to cool in place for 24 hours.

12. Test for proper seal. To test each jar to make sure it is properly sealed, look at the lid from the side. It should be concave, slightly curved like the inside of a bowl. Next, press on the lid with your finger. If the lid springs back, the jar is not sealed. Immediately reprocess that jar or refrigerate it to be consumed within the next few days. The contents are perfectly edible and delicious, but, since it did not seal properly you would not want to put it on the shelf to be eaten six months from now.

13. Label and store. Make and apply labels for your jars that indicate the name of the contents and the date canned. Store in a cool, dark, non-humid place for up to one year.

Basic Equipment

Canning jars. These are specially made, tempered jars with lids designed for canning. The jars can be reused for many years. (Your canning jars may become one of your most prized possessions!) Canning jars come in various sizes and are usually sold in boxes of 12. Each jar includes a two-piece lid.

Look for canning jars online, in supermarkets, hardware stores and discount department stores like Wal-Mart and Target.

Hint: Canning jars come in two basic styles—regular mouth and wide mouth, which indicates the size of the jar opening. I recommend you go with wide-mouth as the larger opening makes it so much easier to fill and clean the jars.

Large water bath canner with lid. A water bath canner must be deep enough to completely immerse the jars with 1 to 2 inches of water covering the top of the lids. Canners have a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot.

You can improvise by using any large stockpot with a wire cooling rack placed in the bottom. This is the water bath canner I own and you wouldn’t believe how many other ways I use, other than for canning. I love the thing!

Jar lifter. A jar lifter is a very handy tool for removing freshly processed jars from the boiling water. It looks like wide tongs.

Wide mouth canning funnel. A canning funnel makes filling your jars simple in a way that is safe and tidy.

A non-metallic spatula.You want to avoid anything metallic from coming in contact with your prepared food item so use a non-metallic spatula, a long plastic knife or chopstick to run through the filled jars to release trapped air bubbles.

Linens. A clean dish cloth to wipe the rims before placing the lids on the jars and a heavy dish towel or absorbent mat to sit the hot jars on after they’re been removed from the canner. I use this drying mat and stacks of my beloved  bar mops.

Blushing Peach Jam

  • 2 cups peeled, pitted and crushed peaches
  • 2 cups red raspberries, crushed
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) lemon juice
  • 7 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 bottle liquid pectin
  • Few drops almond extract

RELATED: Peaches—Tips, Tricks and Recipes, Too

To the peaches add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Let stand while preparing raspberries. Add remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice to the raspberries.

Combine peaches and raspberries with sugar in a heavy pot. Mix well and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and add pectin. Stir, skim and discard foam from the surface; add almond extract.

Pour into hot jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process in boiling bath for 10 minutes. Yield: 4 half-pint jars of jam.

Caramel Apple Jam

  • 6 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith or Gala apples
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 1 package liquid pectin
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mix apples, water and butter in a heavy pot. Cook over low heat, stirring, until apples are soft but not mushy.

Stir in pectin. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly.

Add sugars, cinnamon and nutmeg. Return to rolling boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Remove from heat; skim and discard foam.

Pour into hot jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Yield: 7 half-pint jars of jam.


Pick-Your-Own Farms Near Me. This is a useful website that may help you find local pick-your-own orchards and farms in your local area.

Free USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. Complete instructions for how to can peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, and vegetables like peppers, beans, okra and corn. You’ll need a pressure canner to process low-acid vegetables at 240 F. Caution: Home canning meat, poultry, fish or other low-acid proteins is very tricky. Please research well before attempting to do this. Please.

Free Fact Sheets are available at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia website, along with other super helpful information.

Book. Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, by Judi Kingry (Robert Rose, 2006). This book includes comprehensive directions on safe canning and preserving methods plus lists of required equipment and utensils.

Specific instructions for first-timers and handy tips for the experienced make the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving a valuable addition to any kitchen library. Includes 400 innovative and enticing recipes. This is an invaluable resource to keep handy as you go through the home canning steps. It’s like a patient teacher right there next to you, guiding you step-by-step.

Free Recipes. The Simply Canning website offers hundreds of recipes created specifically for home canning, plus lots of instruction, helps, tips and tricks.

Home Canning Kit. The Granite Ware 0718-1 Enamel-on-Steel Canning Kit includes a 21-quart canner, canner lid, 7-jar rack, 9-inch colander, lid wrench, funnel, tongs, jar lifter, 5-piece tool set and magnetic lid lifter—everything needed to begin canning (except the jars)online. Look for similar kits at stores like Wal-Mart and Target.

PREVIOUSLY: Redecorating on a Dime


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