Introduction to Home Canning and Preserving

Tis the season!  We’re starting to get emails rolling in about canning and preserving, so I thought I’d share this post again with a little intro information.  What I’ve been happy to learn is that canning doens’t have to be a huge, messy, day-long event.  You can start small!  Now is a great time to take advantage of either home-grown goodies, or seasonal produce that’s available for great prices.  Preserve the summer and enjoy it all year long!

When I was a little girl, my family would often load up in our old Suburban and make the 12-14 hour trek from Seattle to Utah to visit relatives.  My parents bought a Suburban for the sole purpose of placing us four children in positions where no one had to sit directly next to anyone else.  They were smart.  We always rolled into my grandparent’s home late at night and I remember so vividly the feel of the warm summer air that was so different from the cool Northwest nights I was used to.  My Grandpa Jack was an avid gardener so smells of blossoms and fresh cut grass and fruit from the surrounding trees always filled the air.  In fact, I partially credit my him for my love of horticulture- something I went on to study in college and earn a degree in.  He taught me a lot about the earth; about seeds and flowers and fruits.  He knew how to grow them, take care of them, and preserve them.

My Grandfather & I at my graduation from BYU

It was always well past our bed time when we would arrive there, but the first thing we would do is run down to the basement and open the storage room where there were shelves stock full of glass jars.  They were filled with everything from apricots to chilli sauce, to shredded beef to choke cherry syrup from the tree in the back yard.  But our very favorite were the raspberries.  We’d open up a jar and stick spoons in to eat the sweet little berries in the bright pink syrup, or if we were lucky, we’d pour it over vanilla ice cream.  At just about every meal in their home, there was a jar of something on the table.  My sweet grandpa passed away just a few months ago and as I pulled out my own collection of canning jars this week, I couldn’t help but smile and think of him.

My parents never canned anything when I was growing up, so it’s not something I learned how to do until recently.  In fact, I had the impression that being over the age of 65 was a requirement for owning canning supplies since grandparents were the only people I ever saw canning.  It wasn’t until I moved here to Idaho several years ago that I realized you didn’t actually have to be a grandmother to can!  Suddenly I was getting emails from friends seeing if I wanted have a canning day, or split a bushel of something or other with them and I would think, seriously- did she just use the word bushel? Where am I??  A whole new world was opened up to me and I realized how fun preserving your own food can be.  It’s actually becoming quite trendy (again) all across the country and with people of all ages.  It’s an amazing (and actually quite easy!) way to preserve the bounty of the summer and fall months and enjoy them all year long.  It does require an initial investment of supplies, but it’s not overly expensive and they should last you a long, long time.

Last summer when I went out of town for a few days I came home to a kitchen full of grape jelly! My cute husband had picked loads of grapes from the vines in our back yard and turned it into these beautiful little jars of jelly for us.

So really, I’m writing this little intro today for people who were where I was just a few years ago.  You’ve heard of canning, maybe you even know basically how it works, but you’ve just never jumped in to try it.  It can be totally overwhelming and you might not know where to start or what to buy.  Or maybe you know absolutely nothing and you’re wondering why we’re even having this conversation.  This is for all of you!  Here’s a quick run-down on some basics and then I’ll be sharing some of my favorite canning recipes later in the week.  Keep in mind I’m no expert on this topic!  So please feel free to discuss questions or make comments in the comment section of this post.

Methods of Home Canning
There are two main methods used for home canning.  The method you use depends on the food you are canning.  Some foods require a pressure canner, while others can be done in a simple waterbath.

1.  Waterbath Canning: this is the simplest canning method and it’s great for beginners!  The waterbath method involves placing jars of prepared food into simmering water for a specified amount of time.  That’s basically it!  The heating process seals the jars so they are shelf stable.  This method is for high-acid foods like tomatoes, salsa, jellies, jams, fruits, fruit fillings sauces, etc.

2.  Pressure Canning:  Pressure canning requires a presser canner (bet you never would have guessed that, right?)  I won’t be doing anything this week that requires a pressure canner because, well, I don’t own one and I’ve never used one!  Pressure canning is for low-acid foods such as beef, fish, poultry, vegetables, etc.  I know it’s not all that different than waterbath canning, but it’s a world I have yet to enter.

Supplies needed for Waterbath Canning
As I said before, I’m going to be focusing on waterbath canning because it’s just so dang easy! So here’s a run-down of the basics you’ll need.  I’ve linked to all of these products on Amazon, and you can usually find them at local big-box stores as well.  My local Walmart carries a great supply of Ball/Kerr products (the industry standard in canning)and you can usually find things at hardware stores, grocery stores, and other local places as well.  If you plan on canning later in the season, you might want to pick up supplies now.  I’ve learned the hard way that if you wait too long they’re often hard to find in stores.

1.  Mason Jars
Possibly the most important part.  Possibly.  Mason jars come in all different sizes and you can choose what size depending on what you are making.  A new box of mason jars comes with lids and bands for each jar.  You can re-use the jars and the bands over and over, but you need to use new lids each time.  You can purchase lids separately if you need to.

2.  Waterbath Canner or Large Pot (about 21 quarts) with Canning Rack
(orthis mini canning kit is great if you’re just starting out.  It can fit into a standard stock pot that you probably already own and process 3 pint jars at a time)  I bought this pot at Walmart a few years ago and it’s worked great.  The rack makes it easy to load and unload jars and helps them to stay put while the water is simmering.

3. Utensils
These things are very helpful.  You can certainly buy them all separately, or do as I did and just buy  this little kit that’s inexpensive and comes with everything.  You’ll find 4 little tools in it (okay well my picture shows 3, but there’s 4 I promise):

Funnel–  this is used to transfer your prepared food (since with water bath canning you are usually working with liquids/easily pourable things) into the jar.
Jar Tongs– These tongs are specially shaped to lift the hot mason jars out of the water.
Magnet Stick– The little stick with the magnet on it is used to lift your lids out of the boiling water (a step used to prepare the lids for sealing onto the jars).
Head Space Measuring Stick– this little stick is used to remove air bubbles and measure head space (the amount of open space left in a jar after it’s filled with the food).

Things to Know about Canning
When preparing recipes to preserve, it’s generally not a time to improvise.  Recipes are formulated specifically for canning and straying from the instructions could result in food that’s unsafe to consume.  If  you’re an experienced canner, you will know the areas that are okay to play around with, but if you’re a beginner, it’s best to follow the recipe and the canning instructions very carefully.  Likewise, you should not just take any ol’ recipe you enjoy and assume you can can it.  We get many questions asking if the sauces and condiments on our blog can be canned, and our answer is always that you should use recipes that have been specifically tested for safe preservation.

There are lots of resources out there that can help you get started.

The National Center for Home Preservation– Great text-book information.  If I’m ever unsure about something, I check here.

State Extension Service– One of the absolute best resources, especially for in-person assistance, is your local extension service.  Look up the service in your area and they can help answer specific questions.  I’ve made many calls to my local office and they’re always so kind and so helpful.  They also have tons of free materials and classes available.

Pick Your Own– I have really come to love the website.  I don’t think it’s the best looking website, which almost turned me off at first, however I’ve come to find it as a reliable resource with a wealth of information and how-to’s.  In addition to recipes, you can find farms near you where you can pick your own produce to use in your home canning.– this is the Ball/Kerr website.  Tons of information, products, and recipes.  It’s a great place to start if you’re new to canning.

The Blue Book
– When I first started asking around about learning how to can, everyone kept saying, “Well do you have the Blue Book??” “Get the Blue Book!”  Okay, okay.  I got the darn blue book!  The “Blue Book” is sort of the bible of home canning and it’s a great resource.   It includes tutorials, how-to’s, charts for processing times, tons of recipes, and much much more.  It’s an inexpensive paperback and worth having in your library if you’d like to can at home.  Click here to check it out on Amazon.



Ready to try your hand at canning?  Check out these related posts!
Canned Apple Pie Filling
Spicy Peach BBQ Sauce
Refrigerator Pickles (this one doesn’t even require “real” canning- just a fridge!)
Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups (no canning here either, just drying!)


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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. I am learning to can too. I helped my mother in law with spaghetti/pizza sauce a few weeks ago, and it was a lot of fun. I will eventually be able to do my own, but for now I help her and then get to use the stuff!

  2. I borrowed a bunch of mason jars from my mom (yes, she’s over 65 so she, of course, owned a lot of them) and was just going to give them back to her this week. Looks like now she’s not getting them back! Can’t wait to see what you’re going to show us on Wednesday and Friday. Kate definitely needs the week off, so I’m glad you’ve got things covered here!

  3. Funny that you should talk about canning today–I just started canning myself this summer! {I love your blog} I didn’t do it growing up either, so it’s new to me too. I also started pressure cooking this year and don’t be intimidated, it isn’t hard. My husband brought back a small pressure pot from Curitiba so he could cook like the Brazilians after the mission (he came home 9 years ago and to my knowledge he has never used it-LOL!). I pulled it out of the back corner of the cupboard when I was in a pinch for dinner one night and googled some instructions in English for myself–it was so easy I kept using it. Then I got the big canning pressure cooker last month and let me tell you, nothing better for a quick meal than jars of cooked chicken breasts sitting on your shelf! So excited to see what you’ve been canning!!

  4. Seriously, I think it’s scary how we think alike. . . I have wanted to venture into canning for a while and recently decided to seriously consider it. I have wanted to do a garden for a few years but knew I wanted to be able to can what we couldn’t eat and since I didn’t know how to can, I couldn’t garden either. Weird logic I know. Since babe #3 is coming in a month or so, I think i am going to soak up all your wisdom, pin all your recipes and just get excited for next year’s garden bounty! Thanks guys! Your the best!

  5. WEIRD!! I JUST got done canning Carrot Cake Jam this morning. It is so yummy!! I’ve been canning for about 4 years. Started with apple butter. Now, I make salsa with all the ingredients grown in my own garden every year. I also make Jalapeno pepper jelly for gifts at Christmas. And since my grandmother died, I’ve been using her recipe to make dill pickles.

    1. I should also add, after reading about your grandparents, that whenever I can it makes my house smell like my Grandma’s. It brings back such great memories of time spent with her in her kitchen and her garden.

  6. I love to can. We have learned with water bath to use a camp stove outside. It doesn’t heat up the house and leaves the water mess that can occur outside. We collect jars and jars of things. Canning is a very rewarding experience, and I know what is in my jars. We are just getting in to pressure steam canning.

    1. Where did you find a camp stove big enough for the water bath canner? We’ve tried to do that but can’t ever find anything bigger than a medium saucepan.

  7. Another method I that I love to use is the steam canner instead of the waterbath. It is way faster, uses much less water, and does the same job. I have canned since I was a small child and I love the look of everything on my shelf!

  8. I’ve always wanted to can, but it’s always seemed to tricky, and kind of like something you have to be old to know how to do—like you said. 🙂 Thanks for making it seem so do-able!

  9. My mom just started canning using her pressure cooker! So far, she’s done roma tomatoes from her garden, chicken, beef, and a soup. I would LOVE to do some jellies/jams!

  10. I love canning! I’ve canned strawberry jam, strawberry lemon marmalade, strawberry lemonade concentrate, raspberry jam, raspberry lemonade concentrate, blueberries, blueberry syrup, peaches, applesauce, chocolate raspberry sundae topping, asparagus spears, carrot slices, carrot dices, brown sugar glazed carrots, and taco meat! My ultimate goal is to have a huge pantry full of canned goodies that serves as our primary food source… and then I can just get food in bulk ever year and can more! Later this month, I’m going to can 48 pounds of peaches and 40 pounds of beef. I’m going to turn the beef into taco meat! You know what? I bet you have a few recipes on Our Best Bites that can be canned already! 😀

    1. Oops, almost forgot apple pie fillings and peach pie fillings. Those were some of my favorites. 🙂

      1. Whoops, I have peaches on the brain. I’ve never made peach pie filling (but I should!) I meant to say RASPBERRY pie filling. lol

  11. My mom used to can when we were little, but it died out over the years. My younger sister and I started it again a few years ago when we were debating what to do with all the apples off mom and dad’s apple trees. We pretty much taught ourselves how to do the water bath canning that year when we canned TONS of apple juice, homemade apples sauce and apple butter. Yum!

  12. I love canning. My favorites lately have been peaches, jams and jellies, and salsa.

    After the allotted boiling time is up, I turn off the heat, leave the lid on, and let it sit for 5 minutes. ( I set the timer again so I don’t forget) That ensures a good seal and has saved me a lot of my foods I am trying to preserve.

  13. When my husband’s grandma passed away we inherited her steam bath canner. It’s even easier than using a water bath. It uses less water so it takes less time to boil and you don’t have to lift the rack in and out of the water. We love it. Our favorite things to can are blueberry jam and applesauce. We used to love doing tomatoes or salsa, but we moved to a new house 5 years ago and have never been able to have a successful garden here. We have an enormous groundhog that eats whatever the deer don’t get to first. We keep trying new ways to keep them out of our garden, but we haven’t figured out a magic solution yet. We’ve only had about 4 tomatoes this year and I’m sure the pesky groundhog has had at least 40. Grr!

    By the way, if you are new at canning, it’s worth checking your library for the Blue Book before you buy it. You might find that one look-through is enough to help you make sense of the info you find online. Also, if you are doing jams/jellies you can get good recipes inside the packet of pectin you will need for making the jam.

    1. I have/had the same problem with groundhogs. At first it was groundhogs, deer, and rabbits, but liquid fence kept the deer and rabbits away. I heard about placing cat litter around the garden. I was hesitant at first, but when I had to empty the litter box that my five cats share, I thought “why not?” It was really gross throwing cat poop around the garden. But it’s been 4 weeks and not one groundhog has been back!

      1. Hi Jennifer,
        You don’t want cat or dog feces in your garden soil. They like humans can have parasites in the stool. Just a heads up so you don’t have additional issues with your garden.
        Good Luck, I have ground squirrels that think I grow tomatoes for their use.

    2. I just stared squarefoot gardening this year. I would think that a raised garden beds with chicken wire under it would keep the groundhogs out.

      1. We have all our garden space in boxes with chicken wire fences around them at least 24 inches high. The groundhog just pulls the fence down a little with his front paws and hops over. It is seriously depressing to watch! I think next year we will try one of those cages in the sq. ft. garden book that covers the whole garden. My grandpa used to use a BB gun. I’m considering that one, too. 😉

        1. Last year I had a young groundhog actually CLIMB the netting I was using for the pole beans, just so it could strip the leaves from the plants!
          BB guns work well too, as long as your neighbors don’t live too close! 😉

  14. I am SO excited to see this post! I, unlike you, am an unexperienced waterbath canner, yet I do meats and beans in my pressure canner. (I am going to attempt canning peaches this week though- wish me luck!) Did you know you can use a pressure canner as a waterbath canner by simply removing the sealining ring? I didn’t until just recently! Who knew- a 2-in-1 canner. Fantastic! Does anyone out there have any awesome peach canning recipes the’d love to share? Please send them my way! Oh, and is another great website for information, recipes, and tips.

    1. I use my pressure canner as a water bath. I just leave the lid off and make sure to use a basket.

    2. I found a great peach jalapeno jam recipe on tasty kitchen! I actually ahve to make more because all the jars I made two weeks ago are gone!

    3. I was reading blogs from last August saw yours that said you were going to try canning peaches. I’ve canned a lot of jam in the past years but never the whole fruits. Did you do it and what was the outcome. I’ve got a lot of fresh whole peaches and would love to can them whole in water bath. I hope you will write back and let me know a few tricks for this years canning. thanks Linda

  15. I just finished purchasing all of my canning supplies and can’t wait to get started! I’ve got a bag full of mason jars used by my grandma and mom before me. 😉

  16. I was raised on canning but I never actually tried it myself until recently. I wasn’t motivated by the trendiness of it. My motivation came from the realization that soon tomatillos will be out of season and I won’t have anymore homemade salsa verde until next year. I am frantically trying to put up enough to get me through until next summer!

  17. I just tried my hand at home canning for the first time last week. I canned apple pie filling and was so surprised at how easy it was. I can’t wait to can even more!

  18. I was always my mom’s canning helper as a little girl. Even now, at 25 when I hear about the family canning at home I get jealous of whoever gets to help mom at home. This week I’m helping the kids I nanny can blackberry jam for the first time! We’ll see how it goes!

  19. How did you know that I’ve been wanting to learn to can for quite some time??? Seriously, thanks for this post! Can’t wait to read more.

  20. I started canning in college. I couldn’t figure out why my parents never canned because both of their parents like your grandparents canned everything. Found out that my dad didn’t want my mom canning because it was a sign of being poor. One of my favorite things to can is pomegranate jelly (thanks to a patient neighbor when I moved to St. George, UT). Also I think it is really cool to can different jams and jellies that are native to where you live. Here in Southern Alabama they can Mayhaw jelly. There is a great story behind the berries/bushes. I have yet to make it… maybe next May when they are ready again.

    1. OH I LOVE MAYHAW! An old family friend lives in Joaquin, Texas and he makes it. Thanks for the memory of a great jelly!

  21. We were raised on canned veggies and jams. My grandma’s canned all summer as it became available in their gardens. Growing up it wasn’t always our favorite thing to do, as kids shucking bushel after bushel of corn did not make for great summer fun. Little did I know then that memories were being created that as adults my siblings,cousins and I would cherish. I smile to myself when I realize that very few of my friends have ever seen a bushel or a peck of anything, let
    alone used the words in a conversation. Thanks for the post, hopefully it will help take some of the fear out of water bath canning at least. If you are still a little intimidated check online for canning classes in or near you, I found 2, both inexpensive considering they were all inclusive.

  22. My job cas a little girl was to rub the skins off the peaches after my mom put them in boiling water to loosen the skins. I was totally grossed out when I was a kid squishing the skins between my fingers! Now my children get the same opportunity! The reward of eating delicious home canned peaches with toast in the morning is worth all the “pain”!

  23. My husband did raspberry freezer jam last night! We also got the chokecherries off the trees before the birds ate them all! We just juiced them to make syrup or jam later.
    I LOVE this time of the year!

  24. I have been a canner for decades, since I was a teenager and asked my parents to let me can a box of peaches. Actually, pressure canning is not that much harder than boiling water bath canning. Some of the easiest canning I do is boneless, skinless chicken breasts; very easy, just time consuming. I have always been a stay-at-home mother, and my financial contribution to the home included growing a large garden and canning the surplus for the winter–it is how I fed my family. And homecanned often tastes so much better than anything you can buy.

  25. Great post! I have a passion for canning, I am still just learning but am eager for the day my cupboards and food storage will be full of those amazing and colorful jars of goodness! I love your blog it is a great source of recipes and inspiration for me. Cheers!

  26. I got into canning 3 years ago when I moved to the Seattle area. I couldn’t believe all the fresh produce available at reasonable prices! I actually prefer to use a Steamer instead of the water bath. I started with the easy stuff, peaches and pears. Since then I have purchased a pressure canner and have done fish, chicken, and hamburger.

    1. It’s not recommended to use a steamer to can anymore – there is no way to guarantee the food in the jars reaches the right temperature.

      1. Not true. There are plenty of studies that have proven this is false, and I am purely a steam canner girl! As long as the pop on the lid seals, that is all that is necessary. If you are canning a food that needs to reach a certain temperature, you generally would be using a pressure canner.

  27. This is wonderful! Thanks for the info. I keep telling my husband, “If only I knew how to can!” But it all seems so overwhelming to me, I wouldn’t know where to start. You make everything look easy, but this I think I could actually do! Thanks!