Spring is over, summer has begun, and the garden is in harvest. In our zone May 1 means it is time to start the canning season. True most of our bounty ends up on the table either through baked goods, jams and jellies, salads, or alone with a pinch of salt, there is generally a planned excess or we have experienced a bumper crop and don’t want to just spoil the pigs out back. And I have learned that man cannot, in fact, live on BLT’s alone.
This is the point in which food preservation and a small knowledge of canning come into play. Canning is perhaps the easiest and most traditional way of storing fruits and veggies from the garden or market for later use in the season and even through the cold months.
There are two forms of canning that both have their ups and down. The first is water bath canning while the second is pressure cooking. Both methods heat the food (without cooking it), kill microorganisms and bacteria, and create a vacuum seal in the jar. The seal will prevent air from coming into contact with the preserved food that could potentially cause spoilage.
I get asked pretty often (especially because of my gender) why we can? What business does a man have canning food? Well, there are many reasons to can and preserve your own food. Below are a few:
- Canning saves money.
- It enforces sustainability.
- Cuts down on packaging waste.
- Supports locally sourced foods.
- No additives, chemicals, or HFCS.
- Canning Jars and Seals. We use use mason-style jars made by Ball that come with bands. We then purchase the seals from the grocery store or in bulk online.
- Wide-Mouth Funnel. Filling jars with sauces or jams couldn’t be easier.
- Lid Wand. There is nothing worse than burning your hand in boiling water while trying to fish out lids and bands.
- Ladle. For filling jars.
- Large Pot. We use an old stainless steel model that we got at an Army/Navy surplus store. The post allows us to boil canned preserves and jams, fruits, tomatoes and pickled vegetables.
- Pressure Canner. If you choose this method you need a pressure canner to seal the lids at higher temperatures in less time than a water bath.
- Tongs or Jar Lifters. Rubberized lifters make removing cans from their water bath a lot more clean and efficient.
We put our jars and lids in the dishwasher on the sterilization setting. If this isn’t an option for you simply wash your lids and jars in hot soapy water. Then move them to a boiling water bath for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove jars from the water bath, but leave the lids in the hot water until you’re ready to use them to ensure they don’t come in contact with anything before you seal your jars.
2. Slice, dice, pickle and pour.
We choose to can our fruits and veggies almost immediately after harvest so as to avoid losing any vitamin or nutrient concentration. The longer a fresh piece of produce sits, the more vitamins it loses. Before placing anything in a jar we prepare fruits and veggies by slicing, dicing, stirring, sugaring, mixing, and pickling (but not all at the same time, mind you).
Tomatoes should have lemon juice or another citric acid added to them prior to canning to ensure their pH level is above 4.6, and ascorbic acid solutions can be added to fruits to prevent browning prior to placing in jars.
3. Fill your jars.
NOTE: Produce expands during the boiling process, so be sure to leave at least an inch of head space to allow for such.
After filling your jar with produce, unless canning jams, jellies and preserves, you’ll be pouring liquid to submerge the fruit or vegetables. Pour the boiling water, pickling solution or juice to cover up to the top of your produce.
Wipe the rims of the jars down with a clean, damp cloth, put on the lid, and screw on the band.
Preheat water in your pot or pressure canner. For hot produce, water should be preheated to 180º F, and for cold produce, it should be around 140º F. This will help prevent the jars from cracking (which they do, trust me) when they are placed in the pot.
Water should be an inch or two above the top of the canning jar when they are placed in the pot for a water boiling process. Use a pressure canner according to the manufacturer’s directions to determine the amount of water needed in the bottom prior to adding the jars. NOTE: pressure canners can be dangerous and can burn you. Please be careful when using one.
Add the jars using your tongs and place them in the pot/canner so they are not touching. Place the lid on. With water bath canning, bring the water to a slow boil and then start your timer to process for the length of time dictated by which vegetable you’re canning. For pressure cooking, you’ll want to check for the length and temperature needed for your region as well.
5. Remove your jars and let them cool.
Place your jars on a flat wood or cloth-covered solid surface to let them cool. Let them sit for twenty-four full hours to completely cool. Within minutes you should hear the lids *POP* indicating a secure seal.
After they have cooled, press down on the center of your jars to ensure they have sealed completely. Any lids that spring back have not sealed and can be placed in the refrigerator and eaten first.
6. Label and store.
Artistically speaking it isn’t all that important. But for health it is important to label and date your cans. You can write directly on the lid with a Sharpie or follow this DIY!
Once you have them labeled and are positive they are sealed securely you will want to store them in a dark(er) place that ranges from 50 to 70 degrees.