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 1) quickly consume your harvest before it spoils 2) give it away or 3) 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.
Generally, you begin by sterilizing canning jars in boiling water. Then, once you’ve filled them with hot jam or another prepared recipe and applied lids, 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.
For this process known as home canning, you need 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—a process used for low-acid vegetables like green beans using high pressure plus high heat.
How to Can
1. Sterilize the jars, lids, and rings
In a big cooking pot filled with water, place jars and lids in the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Allow boiling for 10 minutes. Keep jars hot by turning heat down to simmer until ready to fill.
2. 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.
3. Carefully remove jars from the pot
Empty the hot water from each jar back into the pot so you won’t have to heat new water later.
4. 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 the funnel in the mouth of the jar; carefully ladle in the food item you have just prepared.
5. Fill jars allowing for 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.
6. 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.
7. Clean up jars
Wipe jar rim and threads (the grooves the lid screws onto) with a clean, damp cloth. Food left on jar rim or threads might prevent the jar from sealing once the lid and ring have been applied.
8. 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.
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 the water for five minutes. Remove jars from the pot, being careful not to tilt the jars. Place them on a towel. Allow to sit undisturbed 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.
These are specially made, tempered jars with lids designed for canning. The jars can be reused for many years, but you will always want to use new lids (super cheap, easy to find).
Canning jars come in various sizes and are usually sold in boxes of 6 or 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.
This set of twelve 8-oz (half-pint) jars with lids and rings is a perfect size for jams, jellies and pickles.
Large covered water bath canner
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 or trivet placed in the bottom.
A jar lifter is a very handy tong-like tool for removing freshly processed jars from the boiling water without tilting them. 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.
Clean dishcloths or small towels to wipe the rims before placing the lids on the jars and a heavy dish towel or absorbent mat to set the hot jars on after they’ve been removed from the canner.
Pick-Your-Own Farms Near Me
This is a useful website that will help you find local pick-your-own orchards and farms in your local area.
National Center for Home Food Preservation
This NCHFP offers free, comprehensive information that covers every aspect of canning and food preservation. You can take self-study courses, and find the answers to just about any question you can imagine.
Free USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
This free guide contains 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.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, by Judi Kingry, is considered by many to be the bible of home canning. 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. It also includes 400 enticing recipes.
Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry, by Liana Krissoff. A hip, modern guide to canning, chock-full of approachable, time-tested, and accurate recipes, as well as intriguing new flavor pairings. In this Updated and Expanded Edition, Krissoff includes 50 new recipes for food preservation in addition to her favorites.
The Simply Canning website is designed so that even a beginner can fill a pantry! The site offers hundreds of recipes created specifically for home canning, plus lots of instruction, helps, tips and tricks.
Home Canning Kit
The Granite Ware Canning Essentials Kit, 8-Piece Set includes a 21-quart canner, lid, 7-jar rack, bubble remover, jar lifter, lid wrench, funnel, tongs, and magnetic lid lifter—everything needed to begin canning (except the jars), at a price much lower than if you acquire each of the essential items separately. Look for similar kits at stores like Wal-Mart and Target.
Fabulous Starter Recipes
Blushing Peach Jam
- Stock pot or canner
- 2 cups peaches peeled, pitted, and crushed
- 2 cups red raspberries crushed
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 7 cups granulated white sugar
- 1 6-oz. liquid fruit pectin
- few drops almond extract
- Sterilze jars and lids in boiling water or dishwasher on hottest "sterlize" setting.
- In the meantime, to the peaches add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Let stand while preparing raspberries.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice to the raspberries.
- Combine peaches and raspberries with sugar in a heavy saucepan. Mix well and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and add pectin. Stir and skim; add a few drops of almond extract.
- Pour into hot jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace.
- Process in boiling bath for 10 minutes. Yield: 4 half-pint jars jam.
Caramel Apple Jam
- Stock pot or canner
- 7 half-pint canning jars with rings and lids
- 6 cups apples, Granny Smith or Gala peeled and diced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tspn butter
- 1 pkg fruit pectin, powder 1.8 oz.
- 3 cups white granulated sugar
- 2 cups dark brown sugar packed tightly
- ½ tspn ground cinnamon
- ¼ tspn ground nutmeg
- Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water or the "sterilize" hottest setting on dishwasher.
- In the meantime, 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 a rolling boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat; skim foam.
- Pour into hot jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Apply lids and rings, loosely.
- Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Yield: 7 half-pint jars.
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