I’ve always been hesitant to delve into the topic of how to can, but since canning has always played such a significant roll in how we store our food, I think it’s time to change that. It also happens to fit quite nicely with the whole theme of this website – being a Frugal Farm Wife.
But the thing is, I’m not exactly a Ball Blue Book adherant. See, I grew up for the most part, in an Amish-ish community. Everybody canned, nobody used the Blue Book (or any other book). There was nothing scientific about it. It was just something you did, like cooking dinner. That’s why I’ve been hesitant to address canning.
You’re not supposed to deviate from tested and true recipes, and what would happen if I put a recipe out there, and someone used it and it went bad? Now of course, I hope that people would use common sense when they open their food, taking appropriate safety measures before consuming it. But sadly, common sense doesn’t seem to be all that common. More to the point, since we modern folks tend to buy food that almost never goes bad (when’s the last time you opened a can of commercial tomatoes that was moldy?), we don’t think about it. Detecting bad food isn’t second nature to us anymore.
We can pumpkin (you’re not suppose to), we can meat without a pressure canner (you’re not supposed to do that either), We can marinara sauce (you guessed it, that’s taboo too), and soup, and gravy, and pie filing – all with homemade recipes. Not only that, I can’t name a single person who pressure canned anything for 90 minutes. 30 minutes, 45 even for some things, but 90 minutes? No. Never. We don’t necessarily sterilize our jars. Wash them, yes – although not necessarily right before we put food in them. It just depends on what we’re canning.
An open can of butternut squash with cinnamon – fantastic baby food!
See what I’m saying? I guess you could say we’re a bunch of canning renegades.
So maybe this can serve as a little disclaimer for future canning recipes that may appear on this site.
Nothing was tested, not even the ph of my tomato sauce. This is just the way I do things.
I can’t gaurantee that your food won’t go bad, but in reality, no recipe can gaurantee that. Use these methods and recipes at your own risk. Read up on canning safety, educate yourself, and use your common sense to decide what you should or shouldn’t do.
Always smell the food before dumping it out of the jar, and in foods that have the potential to grow botulism, always simmer them for at least ten minutes before you even taste it.
So now that that’s out of the way, here we go.
- What do you need to can food? Well, if you plan to can vegetables or meats, you really need to have a pressure canner. Above I referenced canning meat without a canner. That’s because there are Amish folks out there who are so conservative, they won’t own even a pressure canner, so they water bath can everything, Even meat. I don’t reccomend it. It takes forever, and is a tremendous waste of energy. It’s also much safer to use a pressure canner. I have a Presto canner – it’s cheap, but I haven’t had any problems with it. Mirro canners are also quite good. For a pretty penny (or you know, a few thousand), you can get a metal to metal canner to eleminate the problem of having the occasional bad gasket. Yes, they’re aluminum, but the food isn’t coming into contact with the canner itself.
The most handy size in my opion is a 21 quart capacity which should hold 7 quart, or nine pint jars. This size is large enough that you feel like you’re not wasting a lot of heating energy on just a little food, but not so large that it gets too heavy to move around when full if you need to.
- Water bath canner. Essentially, this is a stock pot large enough to hold either quart or pint jars, with at least an inch of water over the top. You’ll also need a rack of some sort to keep the jars off of bottom of the pot. I use the rack from my pressure canner, in a pinch, I’ve seen people use a folded towel. Water bath canning is used mostly for fruits and pickles, though you can use a pressure canner for them too (not the pickles – I think pressure canning would make them mushy).
- Jars. Here in middle Tennessee, you can harldy find a store that doesn’t carry mason jars. When I moved to central Texas for a short time, I was quite taken back to find that that is not the case there. So depending on where you live, you may be able to find mason jars at the Dollar Store, or you may have to order them online. Ball jars are very popular, with Golden Harvest right behind – and slightly cheaper. I much prefer smal mouth jars to wide mouth. There are very few things that you can’t shake out through a small mouth jar, and they hold a better seal. I use mostly quart jars for meat and most vegetables and fuits. Pints for jams, jellies, and pickles, and half pints for relishes because we don’t use a lot of relish. I find that a quart of pie filling fills a 9 inch pie shell quite nicely.
- Lids. New jars should come with lids. With subsequent uses, you’ll need new lids, also called canning flats. Like jars, these may or may not be available in your area, but I’ve definitely found them easier to purchase online than jars.
- Rings. I’ve never bought rings. New jars come with rings, and rarely go bad, so you can use them over and over. Further, you don’t need to keep rings on the jars to store them. Once the jars are sealed, you can unscrew the ring, leaving just the flat on the jar. So you really don’t need very many rings.
- A jar lifter is handy if you’re doing a lot of canning and need to lift jars out of a hot water bath before they cool.
- Lid lifters can be handy, but for me, that’s just one extra gadget that I don’t need cluttering my kitchen. If I need to sterilize lids, I can either drain the water, or fish them out with a fork.
- Canning funnel. This is nice for sloppy food like tomatoes. It keep the rim of your jar nice and clean while you fill. It’s also nearly a must for filling jars with hot jam.
Ugh. So, this got really long, so what I’m going to do is come back later with articles on things like how to use a pressure canner, water bath canner, how to sterilize jars, and then hopefully, you’ll start seeing canning recipes!