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.

Resources
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.

FreshPreserving.com– 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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201 comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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! 😉

  4. 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 freshpreserving.com is another great website for information, recipes, and tips.

    1. 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!

    2. 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

  5. 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. 😉

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

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