One of the best parts of growing your own vegetables and fruits is being able to preserve the summer produce for use during winter months. This can be done in several ways—canning is one of those ways.
Canning fruits and vegetables is not difficult. It takes some time, money to purchase supplies (most of which are reusable), and preparation.
Selecting Produce To Preserve
First, choose produce that is unblemished and fully ripened. Many fruits and vegetables can be safely canned. It is important to choose fresh produce that is not bruised or otherwise damaged when preserving whole fruits and vegetables. In severe cases this can produce harmful bacteria in your canned food and lead to illness or worse.
There are basic supplies that every home canner needs to have in order to be successful. A good canner (large pot to put jars in) is a must. Canning jars of various sizes, a jar lifter, a thermometer, jar rings, tongs, and lids are also needed. The only item here that is not reusable is the jar lids. These can only be used once and must be thrown away when your jars are opened for use. Everything else is a one-time investment.
A novice canner will benefit from having a book of recipes to follow. There are many good collections available. A terrific reference is the Ball Blue Book of Canning. This book covers the basics of canning and offers some easy beginners recipes.
Choose the recipe for the desired end product and gather the spices, produce, and any other ingredients necessary. Sweet pickles and jams are easy starters for the beginner. They are easy to can and have simple recipes to follow. The fresher the produce used, the better the end results.
During this time jars, lids and rings should be thoroughly washed and rinsed to prepare for sterilization. The canner should be partially filled with water and put on the stove to begin boiling.
Once the recipe is prepared and ready for canning, it is time to prepare jars and lids for putting the finished product in. Jars, lids and rings should be placed in boiling water in a skillet and allowed to sit for about three minutes (turn jars upside down in the pan). This ensures that all bacteria are killed in the jars before putting food into them. Once sealed, anything inside the jar will stay there!
After the jars are sterilized and the food is ready for canning, use a ladle to put the food into the jars. Fill the jars to the level recommended by the recipe (usually about one-half inch from the top). Wipe the rim of the jar and put a hot lid onto it without touching the lid with your hands (bacteria can transfer to the lid). Screw on a jar ring to a secure fit, but not too tight.
The jars will need to be put into the canner and brought to a boil. The boiling water must cover the jars completely and be about an inch above the tops. The recipe will indicate how long they should boil before being removed to a countertop.
Once removed from the canner, repeat the process until all produce has been preserved. The jars on the countertop should be left undisturbed for 24 hours. After this time, check the seals to ensure that they are tightly sealed. Once this is checked, the rings can be removed and the jars wiped off and stored in a fruit cellar. Any jars that did not seal should be stored in the refrigerator and used soon.
Pressure canning is a way to preserve some vegetables and recipes that are more complex. It requires a bit more skill than hot water bath canning. The pressure canner doesn’t require as much water and processes in less time, but it requires constant monitoring of the canner or it can literally blow up. This method of canning is not for the beginner, but the seasoned canner should be able to use a pressure canner without too much difficulty.
Pressure canning also allows for the processing of meats and meat based soups. Homemade vegetable soup can be ready to pour into a soup pot and warm up for a meal.
Canning fresh fruits and vegetables enables the bounty to last through the winter. Home canned produce is frequently fresher tasting than what is available in the stores. Additionally, spices and recipes can be altered to suit the tastes of the person doing the preserving.