Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Canning is an efficient method of home food preservation. Jars are easy to store and the food, provided it doesn’t freeze, stays good for a long time time. Most foods will be cycled through every three years or so as you preserve each season’s harvest and use up what’s left over from the previous season.
If you’re new to canning and interested in trying it out, here are 5 tips to get you started.
1. Use The Correct Canning Method For What You Are Processing
There are two types of canning methods: water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning is suitable for high sugar and high acid foods. So jams, jellies, pickles, fruit juices, and pure tomatoes should all be processed with a hot water bath.
Anything with a lower acidity or sugar level should be pressure canned. So tomato sauce with peppers or onions added should be pressure canned with the pressure and time for the lowest acidity food. Meat, stock, fish, and broth should all be pressure canned, as well. Pressure canning will cook the food, kill off bacteria, and create a secure seal. Anything containing or based from meat should only be pressure canned and never water bath canned.
2. Check Your Jars, Lids, and Rings
Canning jar sources are varied. You can get them new from the store, or second hand from friends or garage and yard sales. No matter your source, all jars should be thoroughly washed with soap and water and inspected for chips, cracks, and weaknesses before being used.
Weakness in a jar, particularly with pressure canning, can cause the jar to shatter during canning. While a shattered jar will normally not damage any of the other jars, the presence of the shattered glass could introduce food particles under the rim of the other jars and prevent a firm seal.
If you are using metal lids, always start with fresh canning lids that have never been used. Old lids can be used for fridge and short-term storage, but the rubber is weakened in the canning and sealing process. Old lids will not guarantee a safe and secure seal.
If you haven’t eaten all your canned food, you should inventory at least once per year and make sure no seals have broken and that all the jars look fresh. Sometimes mold or bacteria colonies can form even when the seal hasn’t broken. Usually such contamination is quite obvious. For example, white globular floating growths.
Note: Some discoloration is normal, particularly with things like applesauce where the tops of the jar will darken over time. Discoloration is usual with fruits, and sometimes with lighter colored canned beans.
3. Get The Right Sized Jar For Your Purpose and Family Size
How many people are you canning for? How many servings are needed in a jar? Quart canning is easier and more efficient for large batches. But if you are only serving two or three people, a pint jar may be a better idea for some items.
In a family of three, a quart sized jar of canned sliced peaches will have one or two servings left over, which may or may not get used before they go bad. A pint-sized jar gives three slightly smaller servings, with no leftovers and no worrying about whether or not the jar will go bad. Same thing with applesauce, pears, and salsa. You should try to can in sizes that will be used within a week.
Veggies often work best in pint-sized canning as well. Green beans and beats are two common canning vegetables. Pickles and sour kraut can also be canned, depending on how they are prepared.
Such things as tomato sauce, canned whole tomatoes, and other items that you would use in bulk are best canned in quart sizes. Jams and jellies should be canned either in pints or half-pints depending on how swiftly you use them up.
Soups and stocks work best in quart sizes, while fish can be canned in half pints, pints, or the specially designed fish canning jars.
4. Start Small And Easy
It is easy to think that you should start canning all at once. But the summer season is long and getting burned out trying to can the entire first crop of cherries is not sustainable in the long run. If you are used to drying your fruit, just try one batch of whole or sliced canned fruit and see if you like the taste and texture. If you don’t like the texture of canned peaches, you will not eat them even if you can them, so do something with them you will enjoy.
Jams and fruit preserves are often the easiest way to start canning, especially since they can be water bath canned. If and when you want to try pressure canning, try it with something easy first. Green beans broken into one-inch lengths and packed with water in a pint jar are an easy canning day, especially if you have a good crop of green beans.
You can also can dried beans if you want to be able to make quick meals. Pre-soak and rinse the beans, then pack them into pint jars with water and start canning. When you want to use them, simply open a jar and rinse the beans, then use them in whatever recipe you want.
5. Stay Organized And Label
On both the day you can and the day you put your hard-won canned food away, it is important to stay organized. Record how many jars you made and label the jars with the year and the product, even if it’s just a TS for tomato sauce or an SRJ for strawberry rhubarb jam.
When you date label and know how many jars you made, then the next year it will be easy to see what canned foods you ate the most of. This way you’ll know which you need to make more of and which you just need to use up.