It wasn’t too long ago that canning was a quaint skill relegated to the hot, humid kitchens of Grandma and Great Aunt Pauline. Somewhere in the past few years, though, that has changed in a big way.
Canning is now a hot, hot trend, in large part as a backlash to the widespread rejection of the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) and a return to whole, healthier foods. Millions of Americans want to know exactly how their food is produced and packaged, and they aren’t satisfied with government-approved labels. Approval by the FDA and USDA doesn’t exactly elicit wide-eyed trust anymore.
So, we can.
This month, if you haven’t tried canning, I’m challenging you to give it a try. Learn how to can! Start with water bath canning and a few pounds of fresh tomatoes. This is a very easy and rewarding project, especially if you find yourself frequently purchasing canned tomatoes. Some food experts aren’t a big fan of canned tomatoes and fresh is always best.
Here’s what you’ll need to start canning
All canning projects start with jars, lids, and rims. The rim is the round open portion that screws on top and seals the lid to the jar. It’s best to buy canning jars made by Ball and Kerr. I’ve purchased Walmart’s canning jars, and they are cheaper, but I’ve read numerous complaints about them.
These jars will last for years and years, if not decades, so purchase quality jars, even if they come from second hand stores and yard sales. The lids can be used only one time but the rims can be re-used as long as they are rust-free and in good shape.
- Tiny 4-ounce jars for things like jelly, small batches of preserves
- Half-pint (8 ounce)
- Pint (16 ounce)
- Pint and a Half (24 ounces)
- Quart (32 ounces)
- Half Gallon (64 ounces)
Here’s a handy canning jar guide you can download.
The jars also come in regular mouth and wide mouth openings. I’ve always preferred the wide mouth jars, just because they’re easier to fill.
When you purchase canning jars from any store, and you’ll find them everywhere from grocery stores to Walmart and Target, they will come with the lids and rims. However, you might want to buy extra lids, in particular, and you’ll find them on sale toward the end of the fall canning season.
By the way, for many canning fanatics, there is no such thing as “canning season”! They can all kinds of food year-round, including things like spaghetti sauce and homemade soup.
A few more tools to make the job easier
If you start with water bath canning, you’ll need a very, very large pot, one that can accommodate several canning jars. I’ve heard of some people using whatever large, deep pot they happen to already have, and this is fine. Just make sure the pot is deep enough to allow at least 2-3 inches of water over the tops of the jars.
The water bath canner pictured here is the one that I own and use. You’ll notice that this particular pot comes with several accessories that are not only helpful, but necessary. For example, there really is no safe substitute for a pair of tongs large enough to remove scalding hot jars from boiling water! You’ll need these!
One big safety tip
Although the water bath canner is the easiest one for most people who are just getting started, it’s important to know that not everything can be canned using this method.
Water bath canning
Foods that can be safely canned using the water bath canning method are:
Tomatoes, with lemon juice added (for increased acidity)
Pretty much, everything else needs to be canned in a pressure canner. One reason I like the pressure canner method is because, with its tight fitting lid, all the steam is kept inside throughout the canning process. This was especially appreciated on hot summer days in Phoenix!
Specific foods that require pressure canning:
Other main dish recipes
If you can imagine opening a large, quart jar filled with your family’s very favorite soup, salsa, or marinara sauce, you’ll really come to appreciate using a pressure canner for its versatility.
One final note about food safety is that it’s strongly recommended that you stick with canning recipes that have been tested by official canning kitchens and experts. I know that many, many experienced canners can all types of things that aren’t officially sanctioned and haven’t been tested for safety, and they insist that their family has used the recipe and canning technique for generations. However, I have to err on the side of caution and say, go with what has been tested and approved by organizations such as Ball, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and extension offices around the country.
Where to get cheap produce
If your garden is overflowing with abundant produce, you’ll have no problem coming up with loads of fresh fruits and veggies to can. However, most people struggle to grow even a few tomato plants!
For cheap produce in large quantities, seek out produce co-ops in your area by doing an online search. Bountiful Baskets is a great resource.
Look for exceptionally low prices at grocery stores and, in particular, ethnic grocery stores. One year I bought a massive amount of Roma tomatoes at a Hispanic market for just 20 cents a pound!
There’s more to canning than this article!
Entire books have been written about canning and there are probably hundreds of websites that are devoted to canning and only canning! As well, you’ll find numerous articles here on the blog.
Decide today that this is the year you are going to learn how to can and begin collecting the supplies you need. I recommend getting the jars and other tools lined up and then buying the produce. You don’t want to watch perfectly good food rot just because you don’t have canning jars, a water bath canner, or some other critical piece of equipment! (Can you tell I’ve done just that?)
Watch this webinar that I taught a couple of years ago, covering the basics of canning, Canning 101.
Enjoy preserving fresh food by learning how to can!
A few canning resources I recommend
- All-American Pressure Canner (Ultra heavy duty, more expensive)
- DVD: At Home Canning for Beginners and Beyond
- Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
- Ball Canning Utensil Set
- Presto Pressure Canner (budget-friendly)
- Simply Canning by Sharon Peterson
- Mrs. Wage’s Home Canning Guide and Recipes