Canning 101

Canning recipes bring back memories of working in my Aunt Genny’s kitchen “putting up” batches of tomato sauce, green beans and pickles. So I’m delighted to see canning making a come back. Whether you buy the ingredients from a farmer’s market or grow your own, it’s hard to beat the sense of accomplishment that comes from preparing your own canned goods.

Home canning may conjure up childhood images of scary pressure cookers and an eternity spent in the kitchen. Well, you can put away your worries because today’s pressure cookers and water-bath canners are safer and easier to use. As far as time goes, we all know that the hours go by faster as we age so a day of canning will fly by.

Just as there are two types of gardeners, there are also two types of canners–those who are rule followers and those who fly by the seat of their pants hoping for the best. Unlike gardening, poor canning practices can make you very sick. So if you are the latter, partner with an experienced canner who can walk you through the process. First timers and people who want to know more about canning can visit the National Center for Food Preservation’s website. This publication is definitely worth a read for both new and seasoned canners alike.

Before you begin, it’s important to understand the preparation methods and have all of the essential tools at hand. Low-acid foods, like vegetables (including some tomatoes) should be preserved using a pressure cooker. Acidic foods–those with a pH of 4.6 or higher–including all fruits, pickled or fermented vegetables, and jams and jellies, can be prepared in either a pressure cooker or a water bath in a heavy stock pot.

Tomato sauce in canning jars

The process for canning varies from one item to the next, and it’s important to properly follow the instructions. Be sure you have reliable recipes to work from.

Basic Steps

Clean the jars and lids. Wash with hot water and soap, rinse well. You can also do this in a dishwasher.

Sterilize the jars and lids. Submerge the jars, right side up, for 10 minutes in boiling water. Jars that will be processed in a pressure cooker or for more than 10 minutes in a hot water bath don’t need to be sterilized.

Keep jars hot until you are ready to fill. You can put them in a pot of simmering water.

Fill jars with hot food, leaving headspace as recommended in your recipe. Headspace allows the food to expand during processing and helps create a vacuum seal.

Wipe down the rim of jar to clean and ensure a good seal.

Tighten the screw bands just enough to secure. Don’t over tighten.

Process in either a pressure cooker or hot water bath depending on your recipe.

Carefully remove jars from canner and cool. Listen for the lids to pop, indicating a good seal.

You can remove the screw bands once the jars are cool. The lids should be secure on the top of the jar.

Store jars in a dark pantry that stays between 50 and 70 degrees F.

While canning can take some time, if you have the right tools it’s not a difficult process. If this is you first try at canning borrow the equipment, but I’m guessing that after one try you’ll catch the canning bug and want to invest in your own.

Canning Equipment

  • Pressure cooker for low acid foods
  • Heavy, large stock pot for acidic foods
  • Jars with self-sealing lids
  • Screw bands
  • Canning basket or Jar lifter (To handle hot jars after processing.)
  • Oven mitts for protecting your hands