Beginners Guide to Canning
Preserving food in jars can be intimidating to those who are interested but inexperienced in this area of homemaking. Frugal LivingNW wants to help you gain those skills through our Canning Guides and Recipes.
When I was first getting started, I found that canning with other experienced canners and reading everything I could get my hands on gave me the confidence to strike out on my own. We hope this helps you do the same!
For those of you just getting started (or thinking about it!), here is a list of FAQ for Beginning Canners:
Q: What is the difference between a pressure canner and a water bath canner?
A: Water Bath Canners are used to safely process foods that are high in acid (or have added acid), like fruits, jams, sauces, tomatoes, and pickles. It looks like this:
Granite Ware 21-1/2-Quart Water-Bath Canner with Rack (Amazon) Once the water reaches and maintains a boil (212-degrees), the jars are processed for the amount of time called for in the recipe. This will destroy molds, yeasts, and bacteria to give you a safe product. Pressure canners are used to process low-acid foods, such as meat, carrots, beets, turnips, asparagus, and green beans. It looks like this:
Since the steam inside of these canners is pressurized, they can maintain a temperature of 240-degrees. This safely destroys bacteria in foods that don’t have the natural acid to guard against certain kinds of bacteria growth. I personally just stick to water bath canning, as I am comfortable with the process and my family prefers these foods anyway. I just blanch & freeze low-acid foods. There’s definitely room to pick and choose what fits your interests & tastes.
Q: What supplies do I need to start canning?
A: For more details on this topic, check out our post on Water Bath Canning: Collecting the right equipment.
Q: How should I label my jars?
A: If you are into form, there are tons of great label options available (Amazon). These are perfect if you are planning to give canned goods as gifts. For those interested in function, a Sharpie marker to the jar lid works just fine.
Q: How do you buy all the canning equipment without spending a ton of money?
A: There are many inexpensive ways to build up your stock of canning jars and equipment. Keep your eyes open at thrift stores and garage sales. Check Craigslist. Ask your neighbor or relative who no longer cans. Watch for deals at the end of the season. Some communities, like the North Portland Preserve & Serve, even loan out canning equipment for a small donation!
With the exception of lids, your canning supplies can be re-used for years. The initial investment will pay for itself over time.
Q: Is canning cheaper than just buying cans of fruits or vegetables at the store?
A: There are obviously many variables to this, as it depends on what you paid for your canning supplies and produce. But I’ll take peaches as an example. Last year I picked peaches for $.50 per pound (I try to pay no more than $.70/pound for canning produce). One quart holds about 2.5 pounds, round up for supplies and processing, and each quart cost around $1.50.
A can of peaches from WinCo might be cheaper, but that’s not a fair comparison. A closer match would be whole canned local fruit in glass jars, which is closer to $4 to $6 per quart! And the fact that the quality is so superior to anything I would buy in the store makes it an easy choice for me.
Q: What types of recipes and foods are good for beginners?
Q: How do I keep my kitchen from becoming a disaster zone?
A: I just resign myself to the fact that my floors are going to be sticky, my cabinets are going to be splattered, and my table is going to be covered with produce from late August to early October. It kind of comes with the territory. However, I do try to minimize the mess to maintain my sanity.
Before canning, I clear away all clutter and clean the kitchen. While canning, I keep a big bath towel on the floor and smaller towels on the counter to catch spills or wipe up messes. I also place all my jars on a rimmed baking sheet while I am filling them and just give the sheet a quick rinse in between batches. I keep all my canning supplies (except jars) organized in a 3-Drawer Storage Cart (Amazon). It is stored in the garage most of the year and moves to the kitchen for easy access while canning.
Q: How can I get rid of all these fruit flies?
A: To keep the fruit fly population under control, fill small straight-sided dishes halfway with apple cider vinegar and a tiny drop of dish soap (to break the surface tension). Also, move produce scraps from the kitchen to the compost bin as soon as possible.
Q: How can I pull off a marathon canning session?
A: My favorite way to do big batch canning is in a group. This year, I canned 101 pints of salsa with four other people. That is a ton of roasting and chopping and stirring. At the end of the day, we each walked away with about 20 pints of salsa! There is no way I would have been able to process that many jars on my own in such a short amount of time.
If I am on my own, I clean my kitchen, clear out the kids, and prep as much as possible ahead of time. Also, by keeping everything as hot as possible, you won’t spend as much time waiting for the canner to heat up in between batches.
Q: Will I kill myself with exploding jars?
A: No. Canning jars are not ticking time bombs, waiting for some unsuspecting soul to try filling them with food. They are just jars. The most common cause of jars breaking are rapid changes in temperature.
For example, if you try to put cold jars in a canner full or hot water or hot jars onto a cold counter top they will break. When jars burst in a water bath canner, it’s not a huge explosion. You will probably hear a pop and see fruit floating in the canner, with your sad little broken jar bobbing around on top. The best way to avoid this is to keep your jars hot going into the canner and to have a rack or towel on the counter in a draft-free spot for your jars after processing.
Q: How long should the food in my jars last? Is there an expiration date?
A: Store your jars with the rings removed in a cool, dark place. The food will keep for a long time, but you will probably notice a decrease in the quality (flavor, texture) after one year.
Q: I want my kids to learn how to preserve food with me. How can my kids help?
A: If you have younger kids, canning is not the place for kitchen helpers. There are just way too many hot and heavy objects. Plus, the goal in canning is to move quickly and efficiently which doesn’t exactly work with little people. I usually can during naps or bedtime. If your kids are older, they could wash, sort, and peel fruit or prep lids and rings. Or make you a sandwich.
Q: What are the best low sugar/no sugar jam recipes?
A: My favorite way to achieve low sugar or no sugar (low amount of any sweetener) jam is by using Pomona’s Universal Pectin (Amazon).
Q: Do you have to add sugar when canning fruit?
A: Sugar or other sweeteners are not necessary when canning fruit or fruit sauce. The purpose of sugar is to preserve color, texture, and flavor. You can certainly use water instead of a syrup, but from what I’ve read, you probably won’t enjoy the taste too much as canned fruit loses it’s sweetness during the canning process.
You can use unsweetened fruit juice instead of a sugar syrup (grape and apple juice are good options) or honey. These ingredients will give the fruit a different flavor and texture; add spices or citrus peel to enhance the flavor, if you want. When canning applesauce, I like to do a combination of apples and pears. The pears give the sauce sweetness without added sugar.
Q: What’s the purpose of Fruit Fresh or other citric acids? Is it absolutely necessary?
A: These products prevent your fruit from darkening in between cutting the fruit and filling the jars. They are optional.
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- How to can peach vanilla bean jam
- How to can tomatoes
- How to can pears
- How to can peaches
- How to can applesauce
- How to can apple pie filling
- How to can sweet cherries