Written by Anne S, Guest Writer
In the "old days", canning was just part of the household routine, a useful way to preserve the bounty of the growing season for the cold dark days of winter. Mothers passed down the skills of canning to their daughters in the same way they passed down all the other essential house-keeping skills - by example and instruction.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the practice of canning fell by the wayside as mothers began to rely more and more on the mass-produced canned goods (and shipped-from-far-away "fresh" goods) from the grocery store.
Thankfully, canning is making a comeback, but few of us have the benefit of real-life tutors to walk us through the process. Consequently, the whole idea can seem scary and more than a little bit complicated! Hopefully, I can help you ease your mind and get you started on your own canning career.
Canning is Easier than You Think
Canning is not difficult, at least not in the sense of needing a special skill set. When it gets right down to it, canning is simply a matter of immersing hot jars into boiling water long enough to suck out all the air, thereby sealing the jars. That's it!
Canning is super easy if you begin with basic recipes that involve simple ingredients and minimal steps, like these:
One of my favorite websites, Pick Your Own, has a fabulous and detailed section on canning with step-by-step tutorials complete with pictures. All the information you need to get started is right there on that site.
Canning is Faster Than You Think
Canning doesn't take all day. At least it doesn't have to. There certainly are people who set aside a day (or days) to can produce from their farm or garden, but that's because they have a lot of extra produce to preserve.
Since I don't have a prolific garden (just a couple tomato plants, a jalapeno pepper plant, and a few herbs this year), I don't have a lot to preserve: most of what I preserve comes from what I pick myself at local farms or buy in bulk at the farmers' market. Consequently, for me - and likely, for you - small batch canning is a much more practical way to go.
The honest truth is that one batch of canned jam (or pickles, or peaches, or what-have-you) takes about an hour, start to finish. By start, I mean washing the produce, and by finish, I mean a row of gleaming sealed jars. When people can for an entire day - or longer - they are simply repeating this process over and over.
So here's my advice: start small. One batch at a time, one hour at a time.
Canning is Cheaper Than You Think
Canning doesn't really require a lot of special equipment. You just need a really big pot (I used my stock pot for a while, until I found a canning pot at a thrift store), some canning tongs (which are very inexpensive), good jars, and lids. Even if you bought all the supplies new, a basic canning kit would cost a total of $100 or less. And you can get all your canning supplies for much less than that - even for free - if you know where to look.
Canning is Safer Than You Think
One of my biggest concerns that kept me from canning for the longest time was the issue of safety. I read horror stories and dire cautions online about botulism from home-canned goods. I still have a healthy fear of botulism, but after safely consuming jar after jar of home-canned food, my mind rests a little easier now.
The truth is, all you have to do is follow a few simple safety rules, and you can avoid botulism:
- Always, always make sure your canning water is at a full rolling boil. When you immerse the jars in the water, the boil might die down briefly. Don't start your timer until the water returns to its full boil.
- Follow the timing guidelines for boiling the jars (it's different for each type of food or recipe), and adjust for altitude as necessary.
- Pay careful attention to the headspace (the distance between the surface of the food and the lid of the jar. The general rule is: 1/4 inch for jams and jellies, 1/2 inch for fruits, 1 inch for vegetables.
- Unless you are pickling them, all vegetables must be canned using a pressure canner. Some vegetables, like pumpkin, should never be canned at home at all. All fruits and pickled vegetables can be safely canned in a boiling water bath.
- Always start with hot, sterilized jars and lids.
- Don't re-use metal lids (some people do, but I prefer to play it safe). Tattler's lids are the only kind that can safely be re-used. Don't use metal bands if they are rusted or bent.
- Don't use jars not intended for canning (like jars left over from store-bought products).
- Don't use jars with knicks or cracks.
If you still have concerns about canning and need a little more guidance, The National Center for Home Food Preservation has been an invaluable resource for me. All the instructions, recipes, and suggestions err on the side of caution, so I know if I follow their guides, I'll be safe!