I’m in the throes of canning. When I tell people I am an avid canner I get some quizzical looks and a lot of questions: Can’t you buy that canned food from the grocery store? Isn’t it a lot of work? Is it safe? How do you can food? What do I can? I thought I’d answer their questions here.
Can’t you buy canned food from the grocery store or what’s the point? Of course you can buy canned food from the grocery store! Do I? Occasionally, yes. But, I can’t control the quality of the food in store bought canned food. I can’t control the levels of salt in a store-bought can of tomatoes or of sugar in a store-bought can of peaches. I don’t know when the food was picked (was it at the peak of ripeness?) or where the food was grown. Canning your own fruits and vegetables gives you control of what you and your family will ultimately be eating.
Isn’t it a lot of work? It is work. A lot? That depends. First, it depends on where you get the produce. If you grow and pick it yourself it’ll be more work than if you get it from the grocery store. I don’t grow much produce so I get most of my canning produce from farmer’s markets and u-pick farms. Second, it depends on what you want to can. Tomato ketchup takes way more time and effort than raw packed tomatoes. Raspberry jam is easier than crabapple jelly. The first year I canned food I put up jams. If you use store bought pectin (and follow the instructions) it’s fairly simple.
Is it safe? Food safety is a real concern. When you are canning produce certain steps need to be followed to ensure the food will be safe to eat later on. Jars need to be sterilized and the canned food needs to be proceeded in a boiling water bath for a certain amount of time. Some foods (those low in acid) cannot be processed in a water bath unless acid is added (like pickles). The best way to ensure you’re canning safely is to read an up-to-date canning book (check out your local library).
How do you can food? To can food you need some basic equipment. At the very least you need a water bath canner and canning jars with rings and new lids (don’t reuse old lids). Some good places to find inexpensive canning jars are garage sales, thrift store, and Freecycle.org. Other equipment that you might find helpful include: a canning funnel, a jar lifter, and a canning lid magnetic wand. You don’t need these things but they may help prevent scalds and burns 🙂
Once the food is prepared, the jars are sterilized and the lids heated, the process of canning is simple. Fill the hot sterilized jars with food leaving a gap between the food and lid according to the recipe’s recommendation (head-space). Wipe the jar rim clean and place the hot lids on. Tighten the screw bands to finger tip tight and then place the filled jars into the canner. Bring the water to a boil and leave the jars in the boiling water for the amount of time stated in the recipe. The time depends on the type and amount of food you’re canning. When the jars are finished processing remove the jars and let them cool on the counter undisturbed until completely cooled to room temperature.
What do I can? Over the last few years I’ve canned raspberry, saskatoon and rhubarb jams. Crabapple and red currant jellies. Apricots, pears and peaches in a light sugar syrup. Tomatoes, tomato salsa and ketchup. Peach salsa. Plum butter. A variety of pickles. Some chutneys and weird things like pickled watermelon rind.