Canning Supplies and Preparation
Canning is something that I never knew I needed in my life or even thought was possible. I mean, only people with absolutely nothing else to do can their own food, right? It even sounds scary! What if everyone I feed gets botulism and dies?! I get that. I'm still there sometimes, but only with the things I have yet to try canning. I am still truly only in the jam and tomatoes stage. I haven't tried pressure canning yet, and I'm no where near comfortable trying to can meat in a jar. That sounds terrifying. The nice part is that we live amongst a neighborhood and community of amazing and experienced canners. It's one of the things that I love about our small town, who live among the Amish. Time stands still in ways here, somewhere stuck in the 1840-1860s. People still do tasks the pioneers did; some people even still dress like pioneers!
Learning to can has been one of those ways that makes me feel insanely connected to my ancestors, to people of the past, though the modern tools can sometimes pull you out of that fairytale. I love being able to preserve the food that I grew myself. It's a full sense of accomplishment, truly. There are many days where I look at the ever growing pile of tomatoes and think, "Why didn't I get to eating these fresh?!" and almost feel bad canning them, like somehow I wasted the opportunity even though I am performing a task that doesn't waste them. In reality, I planted an overabundance just so that I could can them and have garden fresh tomatoes all year round. It's a conundrum, and one that I know I will be grateful for once the first frost rolls around. More tomatoes and fresh blueberry jam, please!
Canning is really quite lovely and not as scary as you think if you have never done it before. For instance, you really do not need all of the fancy equipment to get started, though some of the hand tools do make your life easier while handling hot jars, lids, and liquids. For starters, all you truly need is a large pot to heat over the stove!
- A pot for the jam. Or whatever you plan on cooking to put into the jar itself. This can be a brine for pickles or cooking down tomatoes into paste. Whatever it is you are cooking, you'll probably need a pot that can hold at least 4 quarts of liquid. Make sure that you use something nonreactive (no bare cast iron or untreated aluminum).
- A pot for the lids. This can be a small saucepan. You'll have to simmer the lids (and rings, if you want) before canning with them. There will be more information on lids later, but know that the seal has to be warm for it to work!
- A pot for the jars. You don't need to have the giant enameled canning pot, though I do enjoy mine quite a bit. They do begin to rust so be careful! A standard stock pot will work. You just need it large enough to have at least 1 inch of water over the jars while processing. You'll also need a round cake rack or specialized canning rack to fit into the pot, as the jars should be elevated while processing.
other hand tools
- Measuring cups. Honestly, enough said! You'll be making and measuring things constantly. These can also be used in replacement to a ladle for scooping hot jam into jars.
- Wide mouth funnel. These are made specially for canning and fit perfectly inside a wide-mouth or regular-mouth Ball jar. This makes it easier to fill the jars without making a huge mess, spilling jam down the sides and things like that. I love my funnel and would not compromise it for anything! Plus it makes the wiping of the rim much easier.
- Jar lifter. You will definitely want this! You don't have to have it, but it will make pulling the jars out of the boiling hot water much easier and less painful. I didn't have one for the longest time, and figuring out how to take jars out of the boiling water bath was always a tricky feat.
- Magnetic lid lifting tool. This is a little stick with a magnet at the end that pulls lids and rings out of your simmering water. It helps so that, again, you don't have to stick your hands into hot water and burn yourself. This tool is really just a bonus! You can also use the opposite end as a way to poke air bubbles out of what you are canning.
- Other tools include a sharp pairing knife, vinegar (this prevents your jars from becoming cloudy), candy thermometer, fine mesh sieve, and an immersion blender/food processor.
Processing your food into jars is a simple and easy way to take food that you have grown (or perhaps purchased) and saving it for months where it is no longer being grown. As a homesteader, this is why I do this. I want to continue eating tomatoes or cucumbers in the winter, so I find ways to save them. Canned goods also make great gifts for friends and family! I love gifting some of my jam or apple butter at Christmastime. So while it's all fun and games, there is also some caution that must be taken when it comes to preserving food in jars.
If you are processing in a boiling water bath (which is what we are talking about in this post, not pressure canning), then you must not skip the step of actually processing the product. Skipping this step can result in many issues, including botulism, and can lead to other issues if not done properly. Boiling the jars after they have been filled ensures that any contaminants in the product has been killed off and also creates enough heat to allow it to escape once pulled from the hot water and creates an air tight seal. This keeps all of your food fresh.
- Gather your supplies. If you are using old jars, check for any chips or cracks, especially on the rims. You will always need new lids (not rings) as lids that have been previously used for canned goods will have the seal technology broken and may create a "false seal." Always use new lids. Thankfully they sell them separately at most stores!
- Put the rack into your canning pot and the jars on top.
- Fill with water, enough to cover the jars at least 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Add at least 1-2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar as well. This helps to prevent the jars (and lids) from becoming cloudy/chalky and also kills off any bacteria.
- Put the lids in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a gentle simmer, do not boil. You can vinegar here, too.
- Prepare your product while the canning pot comes to a boil.
- Remove the jars from the canning pot when your product is ready. You want everything to be hot, so don't let the jars sit out on the counter to cool off. Place the jars on a towel and prepare to fill them.
- Fill the jars with product. It depends on the recipe, but most cal for leaving 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of headspace (the room between the product and the lid).
- Wipe the rims with a clean towel to prevent a false seal from happening.
- Apply the lids, centered. Screw on the rings. You should apply them with the tips of your fingers to ensure they are not too tight - this is called "fingertip tight." I look at it as, don't put the rings on so tightly that you'd have to ask your dad to open the jar back up.
I hope you have the best time canning up something delicious!