Canning and Preserving Food for Beginners

fresh canned veggies

When you hear the word “canning,” images of the frontier might pop up in your mind, old sod homesteads with rickety shelves loaded with jars full of fruits and vegetables from the harvest. It’s true, canning does belong to another era, a time when people had root cellars and the thought that someday everyone would have a machine in their homes that could keep food cold, even frozen, would have been dismissed as lunacy.

But canning is alive and well. While it may be far easier to go to the supermarket and buy cans of vegetables and fruit, the motive behind canning your own food is the same one that drives people to build their own kitchen table, knit a scarf or do any number of things themselves: It’s a whole lot more satisfying to make something on your own.

For the curious, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about canning.

How does canning work?

Essentially, canning is a process of sealing food in an airtight container, can or jar, which then preserves the food for anywhere from one to five years, on average.

The kind of canning you can do at home, which could more accurately be called “jarring,” involves placing prepared fruits and vegetables into glass jars and using heat or pressure to preserve the contents. The two main techniques are the water bath canning method (a low-temperature method for high-acid foods) and pressure canning (for meats and low-acid foods). Both techniques have the same goal: to kill bacteria and create an airtight seal that will allow your canned foods to stay shelf-stable for at least a year.

Why should I can in this day and age?

There are plenty of reasons people continue to can and why you might find you love it too.

  • If you’re a gardener, preserving your harvest allows you to get more out of your work.
  • Food that you can makes great gifts.
  • It can be a fun way to experiment with various ingredients and a new way to “cook.” For instance, you can come up with the perfect pickle recipe or make some world-famous jam.
  • It’s a way to make you and your family more self-reliant and closer to the land.
  • It’s a way to connect to your heritage.
  • Able to control the ingredients in your food.

What do I need to get started?

The best way to start canning is to begin with the water bath canning method. The process is easy and you need a minimum number of supplies to do it.

As we said, this method works best for highly acidic foods, like tomatoes, berries, jams and pickles. We recommend picking up some Ball mason jars, as these are the industry standard when it comes to home canning. In addition to the jars, you’ll need a large kettle. The kettle should be big enough to hold the mason jars as well as an additional inch or two of water covering them. Granite-Ware makes an entire line of pots specifically for canning; some even come with a jar rack, which are essential for retrieving your jars.

In addition to these main pieces of equipment, you also want to have two-piece jar lids for each jar, a jar lifter, a funnel, a jar wrench and a non-metallic spatula. Conveniently, all these tools are available on our website.

What do I need to start pressure canning?

If you want to preserve full meals, meats or an array of ingredients (think: everything you need for a hearty beef stew in one can) then you’ll want to get into pressure canning.

The big difference here is that you will need a pressure canner. It’s important to note that this is not the same thing as a pressure cooker! They are two different pieces of equipment.

Boiling cans with the water bath method only brings them up to a temperature of 214 degrees (the boiling point.) By sealing the cans and the water in a pressurized tank, a pressure canner is able to raise the temperature to 240 degrees.

Most pressure canners are easy to use, but always be sure to carefully read the instructions before operating.

What kind of canning recipes are out there?

A great place to begin exploring is in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. This inexpensive volume is packed with helpful hints and intriguing recipes that will get you excited to start canning.

Canning really is easy, and as we’ve shown, doesn’t take too much equipment to get started. So this year, instead of wondering what you’re going to do with all those heirloom tomatoes you grew, why not try canning some? It takes less than a couple of hours and could lead to a new hobby!

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