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Just like years prior, summer has drawn to an abrupt end. The months of vacation, warm weather, and time spent with family always seem to conclude so quickly. Our lives have gotten so busy that the memories we wish would last forever are gone in a blur. Even though your vacation is over, the delicious flavor of summer doesn’t have to be. Whether you plan to preserve from your own garden, from a friend’s, or from your picks at the farmer’s market, the process isn’t much harder than your everyday cooking.

How does home canning work?

In today’s age of canned and frozen meals, home canning is not as popular as it once was. Oftentimes, and in my case, the desire and know-how is passed down from generation to generation. If you weren’t as blessed as I to have a grandmother and mother allow you to smash and strain the tomatoes, then let this be a crash course as how home preservation works.

Canning at home destroys the microorganisms, molds, harmful bacteria and yeasts, which go undetected by our eyes, that grow on our food. By bringing our canning system, whether it be the pressure canner or boiling-water method, up to certain temperatures, these harmful growths are killed and our harvest can be successfully and confidently “put up” for the months to come.

canning supplies

Pressure Canning vs. Boiling-Water Method

The two most common ways of putting up food are the Pressure Canner Method and Boiling-Water Method. There are two methods because certain foods, based on acidity, require one instead of the other.

Pressure Canning is used for low-acid foods, foods that need to be heated to 240 degrees and held there for a specified time. The pH level in low-acid food is higher than 4.7. These foods include meats (including soups with meats), seafood, and most vegetables with the exception of tomatoes. Green beans, asparagus, carrots all need to be pressure canned.

The Boiling-Water Method is good for tomatoes and most tomat0-based recipes like salsa, ketchup, meatless marinara sauce. Also, fruits canned alone along with jams, jellies, and butters can be safely preserved with the water bath method. Pickles and sauerkraut can be as well.

Tips from a Seasoned Canner

My mother has 25+ years experience under her belt of canning by herself, even more if you count the years she helped her mother and her grandmother. As someone with limited experience, about 2 years of independent canning, I knew she was just the expert to ask.

Don’t be afraid of a pressure canner. These can be scary, you may have heard stories about them blowing up (which is highly, highly unlikely to happen). While she does not stand over the canner the entire time anymore, she does still check it every 5-10 minutes. When it comes to buying a pressure canner, do your research. Her Presto has lasted her over 25 years! Read the instructions thoroughly on your system as well.

Check your pressure canner once a year. Preferably before you start your summer canning, you should check that the rubber seal is still intact. Over time, it can harden or break down. If you think your dial gauge isn’t properly working, your local Cooperative Extension office can test it for you.

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Keep Notes. If you purchase Ball’s Blue Book Guide, keep track of things that did or didn’t work for you. For example one note might read, “large blue bowl heaped=7 quarts”. This could be written on the page for green beans, and next year you would know the amount of produce it took to fill your canner. Make note of recipes you did or didn’t like, varieties of cucumbers that make the best pickles.

Don’t use inferior produce, but don’t be too picky. Does that sound like a contradiction? Well, here’s the idea. If you can get a load of tomatoes or peaches that are bruised for a discount price, use them! Just be sure to cut out all of the contaminated parts. On the other hand, if your green beans came in late because of a drought and they’re tough fresh off the vine, they will likely be tough and have a bad taste even after canning. Companies will recommend that you don’t use produce that is cracked or bruised, but we still do and the final product tastes fine. Again, just be sure to cut out all of the bad parts.

Use dishwasher to sanitize jars. Your jars need to be hot and sanitized when you’re ready to put produce in them. This may take some practice, but after running the jars and lids through a “high heat” or “sanitize” cycle try to be at the point that you’re ready to fill them. Keep the dishwasher door closed and take one jar out at a time to make full use of the heat.

Check your jars and label your lids. Before it’s time to start canning, check your jars because even the tiniest crack on the rim will prevent jars from sealing. Check local thrift stores and flea markets for cheap canning jars, but check them thoroughly before purchasing. While the lid rings can be used several times, lids can only be used once for canning. Mark the lid with the date (most canned goods will last 1-3 years) so you don’t use it for canning again. Use these lids for storing things in the freezer or pantry.

Eliminate mineral buildup. Adding ¼ to ½ cup vinegar to your canner will reduce the amount of mineral buildup on your jars. That way your jars will be sparkling and pretty in your pantry.

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Don’t double jams or jellies. She and I have both tried doing this, and it’s never worked out. I don’t know the science behind it, it’s just never worked for us. small batches are the way to go when it comes to the sweet preserves.

Why does she still can her food when grocery stores sell canned and frozen meals?

“That is how I grew up. Living on a farm with 6 siblings meant a lot of food to prepare for each meal. We canned, froze, and preserved everything we could..stew meat, sausage, and anything else that we butchered that wouldn’t fit in the freezer.”

Heritage Her mother canned, and her grandmother, and her grandmother’s grandmother. It’s part of her family, and thus mine. One hot summer day she was canning and her air conditioner broke. She called her mom right up to thank her for all of the garden work and canning she did for the family. Without skipping a beat, my grandmother replied, “I would think of my mother standing over the wood stove in the heat of summer.” In the day of convenience, working hard for our meals in the same way our family did honors them.

Honest Food By canning your own food, in glass jars you know exactly what you’re getting. There is no threat of BPA in the cans, manufactured salt for preserving, or high fructose corn syrup nor any additives that you simply do not know of.

Taste If for nothing else, the taste of home canned food is unbeatable. My mother still tells the story about the year she didn’t have enough green beans to can and put up for the winter. My siblings and I had grown so used to eating homegrown beans, that we refused to eat the beans from the can. She would doctor them up with salt and butter, anything she could to help the flavor, but our keen noses (or tongues) could always tell when the beans came from the store.

Canning Recipes

Peach Jelly

Diced Tomatoes

Tomato Sauce

Strawberry Jam

 Do you can your harvest? What are some of your favorite recipes?

This is the writings of:

jerriann

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