We’ve been talking about food preservation the past few weeks as an economical way to eat organic local food year round. We looked at freezing and dehydrating already. We’ll devote two weeks to canning, because there are two completely different types of home canning that are possible. The most common uses the type of canner shown in the photo: hot water bath canning.
Food Preservation: Hot Water Bath Canning
What You Need:
A canner. You can buy these at most hardware and department stores. They come with a wire rack that holds seven jars.
A pair of jar lifters. These clamp over the neck of canning jars and allow you to safely lift them out of boiling water.
Canning jars. These can many years, so you can often find jars at garage sales or thrift shops. I have some my mom used sixty years ago. They come in quart (liter) or pint (half-liter) sizes, as well as two-quart (I have some I use for apple juice), and half-pint (1 cup). A size for every need! Plus the lids come in wide-mouth or regular (buy wide-mouth if you have the choice). If you’re buying old jars, particularly in Canada, a third common lid size is Gem. You need to know which jar mouth size you have.
Snap lids and screw bands: If you’re buying brand new jars, the box will include these. Otherwise, you can buy them separately. Screw bands can be used for years. Replace them if/when they get rusty or bent.
Jars are washed in very hot water, rinsed thoroughly, and kept hot if possible. Food is prepared according to its specifications, then placed in the jars, with liquid coming to within half an inch of the top of the jar (to the bottom of the neck). Wipe the rim with a clean cloth.
Meanwhile, place seven snap lids (check the size you need) in a small pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for a few minutes. This is to soften the rubber and will help the seal. With the seven jars full, place a snap lid on each, then tighten down a screw band. Place these full jars into the canner, which you’ve got half full of water already hot and coming toward a boil. Add hot tap water to cover the jars by an inch or so. Put the canner’s lid on, bring to a rolling boil, and turn down. Set your timer for the number of minutes stated in the recipe.
When the time is up, use your jar lifter to remove the jars one at a time. Place on a heat-proof flat surface, not touching each other, and out of a draft. Soon you should hear the magic sound as the lids snap down. When the jars are completely cool, usually the next morning, double check the seals.
One, look at light reflection on the lids. A sealed lid will be indented. Two, tap the lids lightly. A sealed lid will have a higher pitched ting sound. An unsealed lid will have a lower thunk sound and the lid may move. Put any unsealed jars in the fridge and use within a few days.
Remove the screw bands from the sealed jars. Wash the jars and label the lids with a Sharpie with the year, as a minimum. If there’s any chance you won’t recognize the contents later (two different recipes of pickles, for example) mark the batch on the lid as well. These jars should now be stored away from extreme temperatures and bright lights. Canned food may be kept for a number of years, but the quality will slowly erode so it’s best to can every year and rotate the jars.
Foods You Can Hot-Water-Bath Can:
The short answer is anything acidic.
Tomatoes used to be acidic enough to can, but newer varieties are often less acidic. It’s recommended to add 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice per pint of tomatoes to ensure the acidity.
The basic method of canning tomatoes is to blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds or so. Then immerse in cold water. The peels will slide off easily. Cut the tomatoes into chunks and press into jars. Add a bit of salt if desired and vinegar. Check a canning book for timing length and details.
I also can tomato sauces and pasta sauces. The recommendation would be to pressure can any tomato product that has other vegetables in it.
Peaches can be blanched and peeled similarly to tomatoes. I then cut toward the pit every 1/2 inch or so all the way around the fruit, then apply a bit of pressure and all the slices come off in my hand. Into the jar they go. Top with syrup, as below.
Fruits should be canned in a syrup. Some recipes call for heavy syrups, which is completely unnecessary if you have fully ripe fruit. Choosing how much sweetener to add is a huge benefit of canning your own fruit. I mix one cup of sugar to every four cups water and bring this to a boil in a large pot. I use just enough of this light syrup around the fruit pieces to bring the level to the recommended height in the jars.
I can peaches and pears regularly. I’ve also canned plums and cherries, but they’re not as popular in our house. I tried strawberries once. That didn’t turn out so well!
Jams and jellies are great to have homemade. Certo and other pectin packages have complete recipes, which you should follow.
Pickles are wonderful too. We make bread-and-butter pickles, dill pickles, and spicy dilled asparagus pickles. I’ve pickled peppers, carrots, beets, and beans. Our great grandmothers pickled a lot more things than that, as it was a way they could preserve vegetables even without a pressure canner (more on that method of canning next week).
I have been canning for over thirty years, but will not take responsibility if you follow my methods and your jars don’t seal. Use due diligence. If the contents of any jars discolor or grow moldy, discard the contents. It’s not worth testing them.