This is first in a series of posts regarding the revival of some of the domestic arts our grand-cesters learned at their mother’s knee. Since our mothers knees were usually under a desk at work, or enjoying opening canned food from a store, most of us didn’t grow up learning how to can. If you did, then great! You probably know more about it than I do. I only learned last year summer. But it’s so easy to get started, I wanted to share my experiences with you. Along with the post are links where you can check out or purchase supplies for your canning endeavor.
I always liked the idea of canning. I imagined jars of fruits and vegetables lining my pantry shelves, looking shiny and delicious. But for the most part, it stayed there, in my imagination.
For one thing, I once read a magazine article (remember magazines? Before computers and blogs?) that spoke about a big family can-fest. They harvested baskets full of tomatoes, got the whole big extended family together and spent a day canning. Some would be washers, some corers and choppers or peelers or cookers or canners or labelers. I dont remember those details. What I do remember is that a large family worked together and they canned hundreds of cans of sauces so each family could have plenty.
And thats how I imagined it was. Large, time-consuming and complicated.
Then I met my friend Rita. Canning queen extraordinaire. Rita was very enthusiastic about canning and encouraged me to try it. She would even take her canning equipment on vacations so when she saw fruits fresh from a road side stand, she could buy it, then, when she got to her friend’s house or her sisters, she could can them. Even if it made just a few jars of jam. Or even just 1!
This concept boggled my mind. You mean you can just can a little bit? You mean, it’s not that complicated? Not that expensive?
You can ‘put up’ extra tomatoes or fruit from your garden or you can buy some produce in season from your local farmers market. You can freeze tomatoes or fruit until you have enough to do a bigger batch or even buy frozen fruits to can. Then, when you feel like it and when it’s not so hot out, you can start canning them. (All the steam from the canning pot does warm things up.) It’s not like in the old days when you had to strike while the iron was hot. You had to can right when the produce was ready because there was no freezer to store them in. That was the whole reason they were canning. To preserve their harvest before the days of electricity. Even long after actually. During WWll, families were encouraged to not only have their Victory gardens, but to put up their harvests to eat during the winter months and save the stores canned foods for the soldiers overseas.
So if you have any mental reservations about canning, I can assure you that if I can can, anyone can!
The thing is,canning is neither expensive nor difficult.You need some basic equipment to get you started. And even that is not very costly. Lets see.
You need a large pot for processing. This can be a large stock pot of your own, but usually is a large kettle, black and speckled and used specifically for canning. It often comes with an insert so you can lift several jars at once.The canning pot is for jams, jellies and other high acid foods. For low acid foods such as meats and some vegetables, you would need a pressure cooker. I will talk about those another time. To process the jars of jam or whatever you are making, means to put the sealed jars in the kettle full of boiling water and let it boil for a set amount of time. This kills the possible bacteria in the food. Many jams process for about 10-15 minutes. The spaghetti sauce I made this simmer took 25 minutes. The recipe will tell you.
These black canning pots are around $20
You can get a starter kit that has a lifter to pick up hot jars out of boiling water, which is very important and you really can’t improvise. You will need a wide mouth funnel to make sure the jam goes into the jar and not slopping out of it and down the outside of the jar. It is handy to have a magnetic stick to pick up the little metal lids out of the hot water they sit it just before canning. Another gadget that comes with starter kits is a plastic stick that both helps get air bubbles out and has a measurement at one end so you can easily see how much space you are leaving at the top of the jar. (foods in the jar often expand when being processed, so you need to leave space). Other kits might have a jar wrench to open sticky jars with.
A whole kit can start around $12.
Then you need the jars. They come in all kinds of sizes, itty bitty ones of a 1/2 cup, 1 cup (called “half pints”), 2 cup ones called “pints”, quart size and some middle sizes. You can reuse jars, if they are not chipped or cracked. You can reuse the rings that tighten on the jars. BUT, you cannot reuse the actual lids. The parts that have the wax ring on one sides. Those are tossed when used, or marked so you know not to reuse them. For under $3 you can buy a box of a dozen lids for your jars. That is the only replacement costs. That and more jars. I have jars stacked in odd n end places in the garage, ready when I am for new food and new lids. A case of a dozen jars costs about $8 on up, depending on the size of the jars, the brand, the store, etc. I can get them at my local grocery store, Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware, and so on.
You might need pectin, which comes in liquid or powder and is the magic voodoo that makes your jams and jellies set up or thicken. I will have another post teaching about pectin. But many recipes do not need it. From strawberry jams to your sauces like apple, spaghetti and barbecue.
This past summer I saved up tomatoes from my garden, bagging and freezing them until I had a significant amount, and made tomato sauce, 1 big jar (can’t think of why I did that instead of a couple smaller ones.) I also made spaghetti sauce and salsa.
Out of some organic peaches someone gave me came peach jam, peach jalapeno jam and peach barbecue sauce.
Some apples ended up being ‘Holiday applesauce’ with cinnamon and spices in it.
Out of some organic plums came honey-plum-cardamom jam.
Some of these are for a holiday boutique our church will be having in December. Last year we sold out! In fact this year we have another canner making things like bacon jam, golden raspberry jam, dessert toppings with Grand Marnia.Fancy-pants stuff.
I recommend getting the Ball Big Blue Book of canning. It is chock full of recipes and how-to’s. In one year I used mine so much it looked wrinkled and worn out like an antique.
Here are the basic steps to canning, just to give you an idea:
- wash your jars and lids
- fill your canning pot with water and set to boiling.
- make your canning food.
- set out your equipment with paper towels handy. Lay towels down to set hot jars on.
- warm up and sterilize the jars in the hot water
- put the lids in hot water to soften the wax.
- fill the jars with your sauces or whatever
- put lids and rings on and set jars in boiling water canner.
- set timer according to your recipe
- take out jars and listen for the special ‘pop’ that says to you that the jar sealed. Leave jars to cool and store.
I can can some sauces in about an hour. Sometimes it takes longer if I can several things at once, or depending on my recipe.
So to sum up; you would need, at minimum, a large boiling water canner, a jar lifter, a wide mouth funnel, a magnetic lid wand, a bubble remover & headspace tool, jars, possibly pectin. Then the things you probably already have around the house such as dishtowels, pots to cook in, a ladle to spoon out the sauce or jam and to stir with and so on.
In my next canning post I will talk about the mysteries of pectin.
Later, when I get my missing pressure cooker piece ordered, I will talk about canning with a pressure cooker.
Then there will be assorted recipes for canned foods for you to try, plus there are many in the canning book I told you about, as well as a myriad of recipes on-line.
One useful site is called “Pickyouown.org”
Another is the Ball canning site, called “Freshpreserving.com”.
These both have lots more information than I do at present, in case you want to run with this right now. I will catch up with them later.
So if you are at all interested in canning some of your own food for your family or as gifts, fear not! If I can can, anyone can.