A few years ago, if someone mentioned home canning to me I would never have thought that it was something I could do. Especially not something I could do easily. I’ve since realized (thanks to my mom and the huge amounts of summer food that beg to be preserved) that canning processes are simple, straight-forward, and as easy as following instructions for any other recipe in the kitchen.
To date, my canning experience has included pickles, salsa, tomatoes, and peaches. I’d probably can a whole lot more if I didn’t have a great big freezer for lots of summer foods. But things like tomatoes and cucumbers will always be best preserved by canning. I try to make big batches when possible because once you’re already going through the canning process, it doesn’t take a whole lot of extra time to double a recipe or simply make a few extra jars.
Before I walk through my basic steps of the canning process and my personal #1 resource, I should mention that attending or throwing a canning party is also a great way to learn how to can a particular food. I attended a salsa canning party this year and even though I’d canned once before, it was a great refresher and gave an opportunity to hear everyone’s tips.
At a canning party, a great way to make canning easy is to use pre-seasoned mixes. For example, at the salsa party, we used a Ball seasoning mix instead of focusing our time on cutting up garlic, onions, peppers, etc. so that we could really learn the canning process (while still using fresh tomatoes as our base). Once you feel more comfortable, it’s great to venture out into using all fresh foods, but if you want to do especially easy canning, a seasoning mix may be the trick.
Now, even though canning is straight-forward and simple, it does require some preparation and planning. It can take quite a bit of quality, fresh produce and I prefer to use fruit or vegetables from either a farmer’s market, farm/farm stand, or your own garden. This should ensure that you are using the most fresh, nutritious, and local food possible. You also need to have plenty of canning jars (which I sterilize by running through the dishwasher), new lids, and rings. My favorite part about canning is that I can choose the food that goes into my jars and also completely avoid the dangerous BPA found in many store-bought canned products.
My personal preference for canning is Ball jars with the wide mouth lids. They are so easy to get your hands in to fill with food or to wash out by hand later. I buy the pint, quart, and half pint jars of these and I love that the same lids and rings work for all. I wash the new lids and rings by hand in warm, soapy water, and they are ready to go.
The basic steps I follow for any recipe for canning are as follows: prepare jars, prepare food, simmer lids, and prepare waterbath canner. I have a huge pot and canning rack that I bought used at an auction for about $10 (so worth it!!), but if you don’t have one you can always buy a simple rack like this one from Ball that fits with standard size stockpots you probably already have.
Basically, once food is prepared according to a recipe, it is ladled into jars, sealed with a simmered lid and then band, and then processed in the boiling waterbath for as long as required. Once this is finished I remove the hot canning rack with tongs and then let my cans sit on the kitchen counter on and under towels for at least 24 hours to allow seals to be finished.
I also follow my #1 book resource- Ball Blue Book of Preserving religiously. Canning is something that must be done correctly in order to maintain food safety as it sits on the shelf. In addition to following recipes closely and verifying my seals (pressing down and not having the lid pop back up), I also do a quick, small taste test of each can I open before adding it into a meal or recipe to consume. If something tastes “off” or funny at all, I play it safe and do not use that particular can.
When I canned the peaches above last week, I had all four burners on my stove going and the most work of all was just preparing the peaches (peeling, cutting, scraping out the rough center, and packing into jars). I let the peaches set in boiling water for 60 seconds to loosen the peel, had a light syrup cooking on the stove (but not boiling!), had my lids simmering, and my hot waterbath boiling. So while it’s a simple process, it can make for a busy day in the kitchen. I try to start with a very clean kitchen and countertops, with all the tools that I will need laid out so that they are within easy reach.
Now, I like home canning for my personal use and am not an expert, but hopefully this post has at least shown you that canning does not have to seem intimidating or impossible for you. A great instruction book, the right tools, and some fresh, delicious produce can make for wonderfully preserved products to enjoy all winter long!