We’re in prime harvest time, so that means we’ve got to get busy in the kitchen preserving the excess. While freezing and drying certain foods are great ways for beginning food preservers to put up the harvest, canning is a time-honored tradition on many farms. It can be a little intimidating for those who haven’t had the pleasure of doing it alongside grandma or mom, but it’s not as difficult as you might think. If you’re flirting with the idea of giving canning a try this year, here are some things you need to know that will make the process of processing a little less scary.
Use the Right Resources
You’ve heard the horror stories of canning—the exploding jars, the botulism, the lids that won’t seal—and that’s why having a reliable resource at your side is oh-so important. There’s a lot of information on canning out there, but if you want to do it safely, these are the teachers you can trust:
- National Center For Home Food Preservation: They keep up on all the latest studies about canning safety. If you have a question about a recipe or preserving in general, turn to them.
- Master Canners: You’ve heard of Master Gardeners, right? Well, this is the same thing, only for canning. Think of them as your preservation gurus. If you can get in the kitchen with them, you’ll learn a lot.
- The Cooperative Extension: Your local cooperative extension office likely holds canning classes, so if you need some experience before you go at it on your own, sign up. They can also do things like give your canner a check-up to make sure its in safe, working order and answer any questions you have.
- Ball: The masters of canning, Ball recipes are the creme de la creme of canning recipes and can be trusted. Pick up their most recent Blue Book, but avoid using grandma’s because canning rules have changed since then.
Choose the Right Canner
There are two types of canners you can find, and each does a different job.
- Water bath canners are for high-acid foods, like tomatoes, pickles or jams.
- Pressure canners are for everything else. Low-acid foods, like green beans, corn and soup must be processed in a pressure canner to be safe.
Select the Jar Sized for Your Needs
There are a plethora of jars on the market that can be used from anything from canning and dry storage to crafts and cocktail mixers. When selecting a jar size, think about the portions you’ll be using of the particular food you’ll be canning. There’s really no wrong answer, but here are some guidelines in case you’re having a hard time with making a decision:
- Half gallon: canning juice or dry storage
- Quart: whole or portioned fruit, soup, tomato sauce, vegetables for large families
- Pint: smaller portions of fruits and vegetables (for small families), salsa, large quantities of jam
- 1/2 pint: jams and jellies, gift pickles
- 1/4 pint: mustard, chutneys, gift jams
Collect the Tools You’ll Need
As with anything, having the right tools for the job makes canning easier. Before you get started, here are some items you’ll want to pick up:
- Funnel: This helps you get messy foods, like salsa and soup, into your jar without spillage.
- Canning Ladle: Any ladle will do when filling jars, but a canning ladle is especially helpful in getting all the food out of the corner of a sauce pan.
- Jar Lifter: This is used to lift hot jars out of the canner after processing.
- Magnet Wand: Use this to pick up the flat portion of the jar lid easily.