Now that we’ve talked about why to can and preserve food, let’s look at the process of how you can. If you haven’t canned food before, the process can be pretty overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are the basics, broken down step by step for you.
What you need to get started:
Canning Jars and Seals – mason-style jars with sealed lids and rings work best and can be found at most grocery stores
Wide-Mouth Funnel – to fill jars with sauces or jams without making a mess and having to constantly wipe down the jars (optional)
Lid Wand – makes removing lids and rings from boiling water easier (optional)
Ladle – to fill jars
Large Pot – for boiling preserves and jams, fruits, tomatoes and pickled vegetables
Pressure Canner – used for canning vegetables and meats for its ability to reach a higher temperature
Tongs of Jar Lifters – rubberized lifters make removing cans from their water bath less slippery, but a good pair of tongs can work just as well
Clean Towels – used to wipe down jars, lids and rims of jars
- Sterilize your jars. Start by washing your lids and jars in hot soapy water. From there, move them to a large pot with boiling water for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove the jars from the water, but leave lids in until you’re ready to use. This will ensure they don’t become contaminated prior to sealing.
- Canning fruits and vegetables immediately after you harvest them gives you the highest nutrient concentration. The longer a fresh piece of produce sits the more vitamins it loses. Fruits and vegetables can be sliced and diced; prepare your jams and preserves using your favorite recipes, and pickle vegetables before placing in the jars. You can also stew tomatoes and precook depending on the variety you’re making.
- Tomatoes often have lemon juice or another citric acid added to them prior to canning to ensure their pH level is above 4.6. Ascorbic acid solutions can also be added to fruits to prevent browning prior to placing in jars. Not all tomatoes need an acid added, but be sure to check for the variety you’re using.
- Iron, aluminum and copper should not be used when preparing your fruits and vegetables to can. So, leave those gorgeous copper pots and pans on the pan rack and the shelves for this one. These metals can cause discoloration of the produce.
- Now it’s time to fill your jars. Be sure not to fill them completely. Produce expands during the boiling process, so leaving adequate space at the top prevents the jar from leaking and making a mess. Usually about a half inch of space is recommended.
- When filling your jar with produce and not liquids like jams, jellies and preserves, pour liquid over the top to submerge the fruit or vegetables. Pickling solution or juice should cover to the top of your produce.
- Make sure there are no air bubbles along the sides of the jar. Run a knife along the side to remove any bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars down with a clean cloth and cap with the flat sealing lids and rims.
- Preheat water in your pot or pressure cooker for processing your jars. For hot food like jams and jellies, water should be preheated to 180º F, and for cold produce like canning whole tomatoes, it should be around 140º F. This prevents cracking of the jars as you introduce hot liquid to them.
- The water in your pot should be an inch or two above the top of the canning jar. A pressure canner should be used according to the manufacturer’s directions to determine the amount of water needed for the type of food you’re making.
- Add the jars using your tongs or jar lifter into the pot or pressure cooker so they are not touching. Add the lid. For hot water canning, bring the water to a slow boil. This is where you start your timer and process. How long you process is determined by the vegetable or fruit you’re canning and the altitude where you live. The same is true of pressure cooking.
- Let your jars cool. Place them on a flat wood or cloth-covered surface to let them cool. They will start to pop while cooling, creating the vacuum seal. Once they have cooled, (usually leave a full 24 hours), press down on the center of your jars to check for proper sealing. Any lids that spring back have not sealed and can be placed in the refrigerator and eaten first.
Now it’s time to store the fruits of your labor until later. Canned food is perfect for those long winter months to break up the winter squash and root vegetable monotony. Do you can food?
Photos by Shaina Olmanson
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