Getting Started with Canning

July 07, 2010 The Provident Princess 1 Comments

The idea of canning always seemed so intimidating. All I knew about it was that people used to do it in the ‘olden days’ when prepared food wasn’t so easily accessible or affordable.

I was always intrigued but too nervous to try to learn how to can because it seemed like a lot of things could go wrong if you didn’t know what you were doing. But then my husband and I moved into a neighborhood where I met someone who majored in Home Economics. Who knew that was even a college major? Finally, I felt I could learn from a master. That summer I tried my hand at pears, peaches, salsa, sugar-free apricot jam and grape juice. Wow! It’s amazing how much better food tastes when you grow and bottle it yourself. I loved that I knew exactly what was in my food. No weird additives or ingredients I can’t pronounce.

Now that I've learned more about the food industry and their questionable practices and 'ingredients' they put in our food, I am even more passionate about preserving and processing as much of my own food as I can.

The canning recipes I share here will use each canning item below. If you want to follow along, here is what you will need to become a master of your own home economics. 

Luckily, there are different degrees of canning. You don’t have to go straight to the pressure canner with no experience. I think it is easier to build up slowly using easy recipes before making the investment for intense canning supplies. In fact, there are certain things you can make where you don’t need anything else besides the jars.

There are many sizes of jars. 4 oz, half pint, pint, quart and gallons. Each are great for different things. Jam, tomatoes, meat, soup, juice. Then after you decide your jar size, there are 2 different size 'mouths' to choose from. Regular or Wide-mouth. That just means how big of an opening the jar has. If you are only going to buy one type, go with wide-mouth.

Personally, I like a variety for different things depending on what I'm canning. One great resource to look for if you don't want to order new ones is older women in your neighborhood who no longer can. I got boxes of jars when I mentioned I was just starting to can and was wondering if anyone had any jars they no longer used. That way you just have to buy new lids. You can also buy new lids and metal rings together if you want yours to look nice and shiny.

I didn’t actually have one of these the first few times I canned. And I can’t tell you how many times I burned myself by picking up the lids from steaming hot water with my bare fingers. These kits come with a magnetic wand that easily picks the lids up along with a jar lifter so you don’t burn yourself picking them out of boiling water, a wide mouth funnel to keep the jar mouths clean, jar wrench and kitchen tongs. I picked my setup from a regular grocery store on sale for about 10 bucks. 

A water-bath canner is used to process high acidic foods, like fruits and pickles, once the jars are filled. Processing is a necessary step to get all the air out of the jars to insure a good seal. Getting the air out of the food also controls bacteria, yeast and mold growth so your food won’t spoil. 

Some people use a steamer instead of a water-bath canner. The WSU Extension office however says research on steam canners has found that food canned in them is not heated to a temperature as high as when the same food is canned in a boiling water bath canner. The lower temperature results in less killing power of the bacteria, under processing and considered a risk of spoilage. Therefore the use of steam canners for home canning is NOT recommended.

This is what I was most afraid of when I started canning. I could just envision the lid shooting up into the air and steam going everywhere because I had used the wrong pressure to can my foods. A pressure canner is what is used to process low-acid foods like vegetables, meat, fish and poultry. It is the only thing that can reach the higher temperatures (240-250°) needed to kill bacteria in low-acid foods. Boiling water in a water-bath or steam canner only reaches 212°. When you use a pressure canner, you have to make sure you get all the air out, use the right pound pressure and the right times for your foods. This is why I am saving it for last. The main thing to look for in a pressure canner is to make sure there is enough space for 1 level of quarts jars or 2 levels of pints stacked on top of each other. This canner is the best and is which one I got. It is definitely an investment but it is also one that will last forever because it has a metal to metal seal. 

OK, that's everything necessary to start canning, now all you need are some recipes. I'll be posting those as the summer goes so check back often!

In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions!

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