You know you’re serious about preserving homegrown food when you start canning in your kitchen. As summer temperatures peak and the garden explodes, canning supplies take up semipermanent residence on the kitchen counter, and many evenings feature the “ping” of sealing jars.
As I mentioned while describing the pros and cons of canning, it’s a time-consuming process with must-follow rules and specialized tools. That’s part of why I’m such a fan of canning large batches and even multiple batches: If I’m going to spend the time, I want to fill a row of jars. Otherwise, I choose a quick preservation method like refrigerating or freezing. I even stash produce in the fridge or freezer to can later when I have a decent stockpile and more time. Doing so breaks up the canning process, making it seem less of a project.
Even though they take effort, canning projects are worth it, and some of my most delicious preservation recipes are stored stably and safely at room temperature in jars.
What You Can Save
Boiling water-bath canning lets you easily save high-acid foods, such as many fruits. Low-acid foods can also be canned in a water bath if you add enough acid to make them safe to store at room temperature—in other words, if you pickle them. Otherwise, they need to be pressure canned.
Classic sauces, like apple and tomato, take time but quickly fill your shelves when made in large batches. Fruit syrups and cocktail mixers can canned in smaller volumes or simply refrigerated until enjoyed. These are some of the other products I regularly can—and the produce I often use:
- Jams and spreads: apples, apricots, berries, cherries, eggplant, pears, peppers, raspberries, rhubarb
- Chutneys and relishes: cucumbers, green tomatoes, onions, plums, zucchini
- Salsas: cherries, tomatillos, tomatoes
- Pickles: cucumbers, green tomatoes, snap beans
The Tools You Need
Canning requires a few tools to ensure the jars of preserved food seal safely and completely:
- Canning jars: Grab 1/2-pint, pint, and quart jars specifically designed for canning; empty store-bought pasta or mayonnaise jars can’t take the high heat of a boiling water bath.
- Lids and rings: Two-piece rings and lids come in wide-mouth and narrow-mouth sizes to fit standard canning jars. Lids are single use, but lids that are undented and rust free can be reused.
- Canning kettle: Any large stockpot that fits this description can be used for canning: rack, lid, and tall—when full, you must be able to cover the jars by at least 1 inch of water without boiling over. Most kettles designed for canning hold 7 quarts and up to 9 pints.
- Jar lifter: Hot jars are hard to transfer to and from the canning kettle. A jar lifter, which resembles oversized kitchen tongs, let’s you do so safely.
Other tools that can come in handy include a 6- to 8-quart pot, a wide-mouth funnel, a bamboo chopstick, a timer, and a kitchen scale, plus standard kitchen prep tools. If you start canning regularly, you’ll find some optional tools worth the investment.
Smart Processing Tips
Processed foods can last at least a year when properly stored in a cool, dark place. A few smart processing tips will give the most delicious results and make your canning projects run smoothly:
- Choose fresh. The fresher the produce, the better the results. Underripe produce has more pectin, so it will set better into jams and jellies. Freshly harvested produce is also the crispest. Once a fruit or vegetable becomes soft, it won’t become crisp and firm again.
- Choose wisely. Some foods will taste better when canned than others. Expect to lose crispness and nutrients during heat processing.
- Start smart. Gathering everything you need and checking it’s in good condition before you turn on the stove keeps your canning day flowing smoothly. Chipped jars, rusted rings, and a shortage of lids or ingredients can ruin a canning day.
- Work efficiently. Keeping the food and jars hot helps them successfully seal. A canning buddy helps keep the day flowing and fun when processing large batches.
- Stay patient. Let the jars seal, listening for the telltale “ping,” and cool completely at room temperature before removing the rings and cleaning, labeling, and storing. Eagerness after canning can prevent jars from sealing completely.
Twice as Tasty
My canning season is just getting started. I processed strawberries last month, roasting them before turning them into syrup like I do with raspberries. I’m also testing new recipes for a balsamic–garlic scape jam and a white currant chutney. I just harvested my first raspberry crop, so I’ll soon be turning those into syrup. Gooseberries are almost ready and will become a sweet jam. I also picked my first couple of rounds of cherries this week; I’m smoking both sweet and tart ones to can as salsa and infuse with bourbon.
My beets are just forming round roots; they’ll be pickled and canned using recipes in my forthcoming pickling cookbook. Hot on their heels will be snap beans, as well as cucumbers for dilly and bread-and-butter pickles and for relish. I’ll share more on those and other pickles next week.
Update: My live Prepare to Preserve the Harvest presentation is now available online. Watch it here. You can also read the blog series:
- Prepare to Preserve
- Quick Food Preservation (dry storage, freezing, and refrigerating)
- Prepare to Dehydrate
- Prepare to Can
- Prepare to Pickle
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