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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Basic Waterbath Canning Process
(We’ll cover this in more detail in the recipe posts, but here’s a run-down for beginners)
1. Prepare jars by washing in hot soapy water- or sanitize in the dishwasher. Place lids in boiling water.
2. Make your recipe
3. Use a funnel to fill your jars.
4. Place lids on jars, and then bands.
5. Use rack to place your jars into pot of boiling water. Boil for the necessary amount of time.
6. Remove jars and let sit at room temperature until cool. When you press on the top of the lid and it doesn’t “pop” then you know it’s sealed. Jars can usually be stored for up to a year.
7. Have a gorgeous stack of home made goodness.
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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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I love canning. I used to do it with my Nana growing up…but she passed away before I learned the real science behind it. I waited a long time but finally 4 years ago bought a book and supplies and havent looked back. I have made just this year… apple jelly, grape jelly, strawberry jam, strawberries and cream jam, pineapple jam, apple pie jam, tomatillo salsa, raspberry jam, black-ras-blue-strawberry jam, plum jam, apple butter, and applesauce. I am a stay at home mom…and canning has became a serious hobby..lol. Plus I do a little mental happy dance everytime I hear one of my jars pop and my family say mmm…
I too have just started to can. After years of asking to help my mom and sisters make things, only to have them make them for me and give them to me later, I went ahead and purchased some of my own things. The last two weeks have been interesting. I made apricot jelly, which is just awesome and have juiced apricots as well in a steam juicer. I am looking forward to using the juicer again for grape juice and can’t wait for apples so I can make applsauce. My sister tells me a victorio food strainer, she uses one by back to basics, is invaluable for making applesauce and salsa. I will soon find out about that and can’t wait to try it! I hadn’t realized that canning was trendy, though, I am just trying to make our food as perservitive free.
We also use our Victorio Strainer to make the best tomato sauce. You can put the tomatoes through with the skins on, it will separate the skins and seeds and you get the goodness to cook down on the stove until tomato sauce. Then can it. Wonderful.
Thank you for this post! I’m glad I’m not the only ’20-something’ canning! We just did peaches, strawberry jam, raspberry jam, and soon, I’ll be doing apple pie and pumpkin pie filling. Mmmmm…..
Hi Sara..Can I ask you a silly question..I haven’t looked into it and I thought wow you brought up a topic I was dying to know LOL!! So, can ANY Kerr jars go into the oven? I see so many out there in the food blogging world being used for different things but I don’t want to buy any from Amazon just to give them away but my grocery store has a few of them for sale all the time…Thank you so much!!!!
I do want to try the fruit canning looks like fun 🙂
glass canning jars are like glass baking dishes. they can all go in the oven. just make sure that that are canning jars, not mayo or jam jars form the store.
I have been reading your blog and loving it never knowing you were a fellow Idahoan!!! Love the ideas and the tutorials!!
How funny. I just spent the weekend making and canning peach pie filling. I bought way too many peaches at Costco and they were starting to get to ripe for out of hand eating so I just made pie filling and canned it. Now we will have delicious homemade peach pies all winter long! Thank you for showing people that canning can be fun and easy. By the way I am not a grandma either. I have two little ones who love the “fruits” of my labor!
I just started canning a few years ago as well. I have canned peaches, pears, applesauce, and chicken. But I think one of the things my kids love is pear sauce. Its like applesauce but with pears. Its delicious!
I am so excited to begin canning. As a little girl my mom would can every summer. She was never able to teach me how to can but now thanks to you I will be able to!
What is a good price for jars? I do not live close to Walmart, and they don’t really carry the selection like they do in Utah and Idaho. However, I have seen them there occasionally.
My other idea is Amazon, but I just wanted to make sure it was a fair price.
Thanks for the post!!!
Just a little hint, run by your local goodwill and/or some garage sales. Sometimes you can find jars for 10 cents each! and Just a note! if you are using an old jar, go out and buy new rings (you dont want any rust from the old ones).
Monica it really depends on the size of the jars you’re buying, but generally Amazon does have good prices for them.
Perfect timing, my friends (male and female) and I were just talking about canning last night.
Last month, I bought some wonderful cherries from the farmer’s market. I decided to can them…super easy and delicious. They’re cooked before hand and then put into the jars. No additional cooking needed.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I have ALWAYS wanted to learn how to can, but have been way too intimidated until now. Thanks for making me see that it’s not as complicated as I thought…I can’t wait to try it!
I can lots of stuff. Spaghetti sauce, bbq sauce, green beans, corn, jams, apple butter, salsa, chicken broth, and so on! They make great gifts and it is so nice to open a jar up and know I made it!
I have been canning for about 10 years or more…well since I had a house and garden of my own! I love canning jelly, pickles of all kinds,salsa,spagetti sauce (which my kids actually like better), green beans, applesauce and tomatoes.I got my love for canning and gardening from my parents, who canned everything from sauerkraut to ketchup.
Pressure canning is pretty easy…you should try it!
My husband and I had a wonderful time together canning for the first time during our summer vacation. We were able to make it a family affair as we all helped in the picking of the wild raspberries that grow in the north woods of Wisconsin. We plan on canning some salsas this holiday season to go with our tamales that we make as Christmas gifts.
My grandpa was the canning king he even built an at home machine that did 30 quarts at a time. Anyways I only can with my mother in law now but she has it down pat. IN the summer she using a big hot plate over the camp stove to cook outside so it doesn’t heat up her kitchen. We can salsa, chow (which is a pickle relish), peaches, apricots, apple pie filling, chicken, beef, spaghetti sauce, and so much more. As for the jams we do those in just a few minutes doing freezer jam instead of canning using a product you actually get in Boise 🙂 Ultra Gel…. so much easier and healthier than pectin.
Saturday evening, as we were driving home, my 17 year old daughter saw someone standing on the corner selling strawberries. She thought the guy was pretty cute and insisted we pull over and purchase some. I told her that that was a lot of strawberries to purchase all at once for just the two of us so I told her we must use them to can some strawberry jam. She quickly agreed and we bought them.
We brought them home and I started pulling out of the the tools and equipment we would need….the waterbath pot, special funnel and jar tongs as well as a large box of rings and lids. She gasped as she realized what these things that had made their way to the bottom of the drawer were. “This is so fun!” she exclaimed as we were underway. “I’m going to give this cute little jar to a friend…she will LOVE it”!
I can kick myself in the pants for not teaching her sooner. I guess it really boiled down to WHO was SELLING the strawberries to get the interest started with her. Maybe we can find a cute guy standing on the corner selling hangers to get her to keep her clothes in the closet??? 😉
ROFL… if the hanger thing works please be sure to let me know… I have a cute teenage son that needs to learn that lesson, too!
I’ve been wanting to can now for years, but have always been afraid of messing up or getting people sick. :-/ I love apple butter and making apple pie fillings and lemon curd etc. I have the big ole pot now I need to get everything else. Thanks for the nudge into canning!
My mother in law is an avid canner, and I’ve been learning from her. So far I’ve done chicken, lots of different jams, applesauce, cherries, salsa, spaghetti sauce … I’m sure there is more. The pomegranate jelly sounds good! We’ve got a pomegranate tree that should be ripe pretty soon … maybe I’ll suggest a new flavor of jelly! 🙂
Thanks for the info! I just might have to try canning one day, my mom did it all the time so I thought it was an old person thing too. I guess it’s not though! You really should try using a pressure cooker, not for canning but for cooking meats. The meats turn out SOOO tender! The best part is you can take chicken (or any other type of meat) that is completely frozen and have it cooked, seasoned and tender in less than an hour. It’s really easy!
For years all I’d ever done was peaches and some raspberry-peach jam. Then I finally made juice out of my grandma’s concord grapes. Then I tried tomatoes. Then last year I finally tried my favorite, which I’d always heard were hard so I’d never tried before – PEARS!!! They’re not hard, just take longer. My kids go through those like they’re candy!! To me, it’s pretty much an all-day process and help is always nice, whether my mom, my kids, or even sometimes my hubby. Canning days with friends sound like a great idea!!!
The raspberry-peach jam I make is awesome. My husband’s absolute favorite and it doesn’t use any pectin. Instead, you use raspberry Jell-O!!! It’s awesome!!
I”m going to try that! I’ve got the jello freezer jam recipe already- got any other tips?
i love pears too. My favorite tip with pears is to use a melon baller to scoop out the innards. it os easy and it looks great!
Maybe this is a stupid question, but why would you can meats as opposed to freezing them? Is it fear of losing electricity, freezer space or something else? I would just never think to can chicken breasts or taco meat like some are mentioning, I would just freeze it. Although I guess I would think the same about veggies and fruits too…
It’s not a stupid question and you guessed right. It’s more economical to can meat as well as the loosing electricity issue and storage space. If you move, it would be hard to deal with all of that frozen food as well.
In a natural disaster, when you loose electricity, which EVERYONE should PLAN on (it will happen to 97% of all Americans at least once in their lives), you will probably loose all of the food in your freezer as it will defrost and spoil in 24-48 hours. Who can eat all of what you have in your freezer in such a short time?
If you can correctly, that meat on your shelf can set there for many years.
My hubby is a butcher and once he brought me home two cases of corned beef. Unfortunately I had no freezer room left 🙂 I had to can it or give it away so I learned to can it. I just can’t stand to lose out on a good deal just because my freezer is full of all my garden goodies.
also, it allows for really quick dinner prep! open the cans, dump it all in, stir, bake, whatever and you are done.
I have yet to experience something as exciting as checking the lids of my jam or jellies and finding out that they don’t “pop” back anymore. The first time I ever canned and checked the lid, I literally did a jig. I was so proud of myself.
I’ve mostly done jams & jellies from what ever fruit I can get for free (apples-which end up becoming applesauce & apple jelly, chokecherries-pretty close to my favorite, strawberry-rhubarb jam-my absolute favorite). I’m hoping to get a pressure cooker this year so that I am able to can the plethora of pie (sugar) pumpkins that are growing in my garden this year. Nothing like pumpkin pancakes with apple cider syrup in the winter!!!
how do you can your pumpkin? My friend said she has yet to find a good wat to do that, so I need to know!!
You must do pumpkin in chunks. According to the extension office, you can’t put puree pumpkin in jars and can.
Last year we carved the outside skin off and cut the raw sugar pumpkins into chunks. Filled the jars, then added hot water and pressured canned according to my canning book ( 1 hour 45 min for quarts yes it really takes that long to do pumpkin). When I use it now, I pour into a strainer to drain liquid off, then it very easily mashes with a fork into a nice puree ready to use.
We also froze a lot of small 1 cup servings of pumpkin puree in food saver bags.
thanks! i’ve done the freezer type, but not the pressure canning. my goal is to try pressure canning this fall!
That’s a great question Kira- unfortunately I have no idea!
I want to can a BUNCH of your tomatillo sauce to last me through the winter (I have some stockpiled in the freezer but I don’t think it will be enough). Do you think it is acid enough to work? What if I add a little lime to up the acid? Any thoughts would be great 🙂
Call your local state university Extension Service. A live person on the phone can answer your questions faster than Googling for the answer. And you’ll be sure to get an accurate answer.
Kira – you want to be careful canning things that have not specifically been formulated for canning. If you live in the states, every state has an “extension office.” Here in Boise, they let you take your recipes in to be tested and then they can let you know if it can be canned. What you’re trying to avoid is botulism. Hope this helps!
another option is to put the stuff in freezer containers and freeze it (like freezer jam).
This is a great post with loads of helpful tips. It brought back so many memories of my childhood too! Over here in Scotland we can go to local farms and pick our own berries. I loved the sugary sweet smell in our house on a warm summers night as my mum made jam! Thanks so much for bringing back the memories!
I too grew up with a mom who kept a garden and canned or froze most of our veggies and fruits. Now I have her equipment and jars. We don’t have space for a garden, and around here nobody sells produce by the bushel (as in, cheaper) but I love applesauce made with winesap apples, and there is an orchard nearby that grows them. We do some jams and preserves every year, mostly for the fun of it, and because it tastes so good!
My husband and I started canning last year. This year we moved into a place that has an apple tree out front so here we come canned apple pie filling. Hope it turns out! You sure can cut down on Christmas gift spending with just decorating a jar with some material and giving that as a gift to friends.
Does canning method work for pickling, too? Do I need a pressure thingy for that? I want to can pickled sweet and sour red cabbage because I just can’t find our family’s Danish version here. I can make it from scratch, but it doesn’t freeze well. Thought I’d give canning a try, eventually. This post has motivated me.
Plus, one of my favorite treats at the Farmer’s Market is Strawberry Rhubarb jam… home-made. I want those skills!
You can make pickels with out the pressure canner or a water bath…..I know lots of people say to process piclkes but I find they go soggy. My mother in law told me to use very hot jars and a boiling brine. Keep the jars covered with a towel intill they are cool and have popped. I have used this for cucumbers, beans, sour cabbage, zuccinni, and carrots. Works great! Good Luck!
Carrie, check out recipes for “refrigerator pickles”, you might find those work great for you!
I use awater bathe. Pickles are easy because you can put the cucumbers in raw, put in spces and top with the hot brine, can them and you are done. they pickle themselves in the jars over a month or longer…there is also a product called pickel crisp that you can add to the jar and it keep the pickles from going soggy. and If you like sliced jalepenos on nachos or whatever, you can pickle those too!
For pickles we you a steam canner. process for only 15 min. Keeps them nice and crispy still.
Carrie, I’d check out the Ball book or visit with your extension agent about canning cabbage to be sure, but I agree with the other users here that you could probably use just a boiling brine. Super easy!
Last summer I learned to can, but it was really trial by fire for me. I bought 50 lbs of peaches at 33 cents/lb, which is awesome, and proceeded to teach myself how to waterbath can (with lots of phone calls to my mom). Turns out the canning wasn’t the problem- my peaches were bad! I threw out three or more peaches for each one that was ok looking inside! There were strange brown spots and lines inside most of the peaches. Eventually I grew so frustrated that I took pictures of the inside of my fruit and took it back to the store to complain. They agreed it was a really odd batch of peaches and offered to replace ALL 50 POUNDS for free. So I took home two more boxes of peaches and canned some more. By the end I was a pro, and (thankfully) had awesome fruit to work with. It would have been a totally different experience if I had such nice fruit to begin with!
Oh, and we do choke-cherry jelly with my mother-in-law as well! I was surprised to see you mention it, since it’s so rare, but if we’re in Wyoming at the right time of year, we pick the entire choke cherry bush at the family cabin and bottle the juice to take home, and then make small batches of jelly out of each quart of juice whenever we need it.