Canning 101

Enjoy the Bounty of Summer Produce Year-Round with Home Canning

Just because summer is over, you don’t have to say goodbye to homegrown vegetables and fruits. By opening your kitchen to home canning, you can learn to preserve a variety of produce that brings delicious, wholesome ingredients to your meals throughout the year.

The methods of home canning have been improving for nearly a century. In 1909, Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company published the first Ball Blue Book featuring canning recipes and techniques. Through the years, the tradition has continued as the methods and recipes have been continually updated and tested for safety.

The basic ingredients of home canning are time-tested Ball jars and fresh summer produce. Below, the author tests her recipes.Anne Wilke

A recent National Family Opinion Mail Survey shows that more than 25 percent of U.S. households can at home. Among the most popular reasons are the ability to preserve produce from one’s home garden and the desire to enjoy tasty foods. Canning can also reduce your reliance on supermarkets, which contribute to environmental degradation through their emphasis on intensely farmed, monocultured foods. With a medley of recipes from jams and jellies to tomato sauces and herbed green beans, deciding which to try first may be the hardest decision.

Canning Basics

Canning involves placing foods in jars and heating them to a specific temperature for a required amount of time to destroy microorganisms and prevent spoilage and contamination. Low-acid foods, such as vegetables, tomatoes that are not acidified, meats and seafood, must be processed in a pressure canner, which can reach 240 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature necessary to kill botulism bacteria). High-acid foods, such as all fruits and acidified figs and tomatoes, can be safely processed in a water bath because the microorganisms found in these foods can easily be killed in boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

Diane Dunas, certified master food preserver and author of Preserver’s Journal, says many first-time canners do not understand the importance of following certified recipes and techniques. She likens the process to a science and advises that people use only reliable recipes, such as those found in Ball’s book or ones passed down from a grandparent.

There are a variety of kitchen utensils, as well as store-bought home-canning kits, that will help get you started. The most recognizable canning tool is the mason jar, named after John L. Mason, inventor of the first common canning jar. Pint- and quart-sized jars can be found anywhere from local grocery and second-hand stores to garage sales. These can be reused time after time as long as they stay free of cracks, nicks or other blemishes.

The most popular and safest jar top is a two-piece, screw-top lid and metal band. Lid discs can be used only once while bands can be cleaned and reused as long as they stay free of rust.

For water bath cooking, you"ll need a large, sturdy cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid and a wire or wooden rack that fits inside and keeps jars from touching each other. Several types of pressure canning pots are available on the market, so it’s important to read the manufacturer’s operating instructions. Most units have a tight-fitting lid with a gasket and a pressure measuring gauge.

Dunas says other helpful tools include a jar lifter for transporting hot jars, a funnel for pouring and packing, a magnetized lid wand for placing treated lids and a narrow, flat rubber spatula for removing trapped air inside jars. Before canning, wash jars in a dishwasher or hot, soapy water, rinse well, and keep them warm. Also wash and prepare lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Anne Wilke

Ready to Boil

and then adding hot water, juice or syrup. The more time-consuming "hot pack" method calls for bringing the food to a boil, or partial cook, and then pouring it into prepared jars.

When filling jars, you must leave headspace since foods will bubble during cooking. "If you don"t, they"ll just flow over the jar and ruin the seal," says Dunas. For high-acid foods, jars should be filled to within half an inch of the top of the jar; low-acid foods call for one inch of headspace.

When it comes time to enjoy your canned treats, make sure to inspect food for freshness before eating. Jars with leaking, bulging lids and loose seals should be examined for odors, mold or other signs of spoilage. If in doubt, do not eat the contents. Consult with cookbooks or your local agricultural extension office for full home canning details.

Canning can be time-consuming, so grab a partner and work together to keep the process fun and smooth. Your tastebuds will thank you for the effort.

ANNE WILKE, a former associate editor of E, enjoys canning tomatoes from her uncle’s garden for salsa and sauce.