There’s nothing better than biting into a perfectly ripe peach or dicing just-picked tomatoes for a quick summer salad. Except, perhaps, enjoying that same peach or tomato during the dead of winter. Enter the canning process.
Canning is a wonderful way to preserve summer fruits and vegetables – harvested at their peak of flavor – and make them last through the winter. Once considered the domain of grandmothers, canning has made a comeback. Thanks to the local seasonal eating trend, sales of home canning products have risen 35 percent over the past three years.
What to Can?
Almost all produce can be canned. But, given that the canning process requires heat, there are some things that just don’t lend well to this type of preservation (think leafy greens). Apart from a few exceptions, your options are quite limitless. Pick some of your favorite seasonal foods – particularly ones that taste best when locally grown and harvested. For example, local strawberries and tomatoes will always taste sweeter than their grocery store counterparts. Or use canning as a means to preserve a bumper crop from your garden. Zucchini growing out of control? Make pickles! Prolific plum tree? Time for plum jam!
There are several ways to approach canning. For shelf-stable canning, both the hot water bath and pressure cooking methods heat the food, killing any bacteria, and create a vacuum seal allowing food to be stored in jars at room temperature. Freezer canning, while not traditional “canning” per se, is simply a method of placing food in jars and storing in the freezer, where it will last as long as other frozen food. This is a great way to preserve fresh fruit that you don’t want to cook.
Once you know what you want to can, find a recipe from a credible and current source. It is imperative to follow the recipe exactly. Any modifications or ‘improvising’ to the canning process can alter the acidity and allow bacteria to grow, but don’t let this stop you! The simple process goes like this:
1. Start by sterilizing jars
2. Prepare fruit or vegetables according to a chosen recipe
3. Fill and seal the jars
4. Process in a hot water bath
5. Let the jars cool, at which point the vacuum seal is created
If you’re new to canning, you can invest in a starter kit, such as the Ball Canning Discovery Kit, which includes three 1-pint jars, a polypropylene rack with a handle for lowering the jars into hot water, and a beginner’s guide to canning with recipes. If you don’t want to use a kit, you’ll need the following items:
- Canning jars (mason style) with two-part lids. These can be bought at hardware or grocery stores (often near the sugar)
- A large pot – wide enough to fit your canning rack (see below) and deep enough so water will be able to cover the jars
- Canning rack to raise jars off the bottom of the pot (a cake cooling rack or a layer of extra canning jar rings will work in a pinch)
- Ladle for filling jars and wide-mouth funnel to make filling easy
- Clean towels to dry off jars and wipe away any drips from the jar rims
- Labels (can be simple stickers or decorative)
These items are optional, but quite useful:
- Rubberized canning tongs for easy lifting of jars out of the boiling water (also available at hardware or grocery stores)
- A magnetic lid lifter to make grabbing the flat lids out of boiling water easy
- Processing times table from National Center for Home Food Preservation
- Canning Recipes courtesy of Ball Jars