14 Things You Should Know Before You Start Canning

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I loved canning even before I could can. Beautiful jars of homemade jellies and pickles have always warmed my heart. Mason jars full of food are so comforting, no doubt from all the love that went into making them into little packages of goodness to open when needed.

Today canning brings back a bit of nostalgia from when things seemed simpler and we lived in a less complicated world. It has been a tradition in many families for generations, but today it is in danger of being lost.

My great grandmother canned. She had a canning kitchen in her basement. My grandmother and mother have never canned. That didn’t stop me; when you love something you find a way. So I learned to can from books, mentors, and trial and error. I have made it my mission to help bring back this useful tradition that is great for the environment, is often times a healthier alternative, and is a practical money saver.

I feel a little victorious because all of my boys know the process and the terminology, of course whether they can for their family or not remains to be seen. I am hopeful, though.

I’m also hopeful that you too will fall in love with this wonderful way to preserve food. Maybe you don’t even own a canner yet and are wondering if home canning is right for you. I hope I can convince you to give it a try because it’s so fun, easy, and so rewarding. You can build up food stores quickly and have ready to eat meals in minutes.

If seeing those Mason jars full of home cooking sparks a little glow down deep inside of you then I bet you love canning too even if you’re not a canner, yet!

Canning Is Easy To Do

There are rules you have to follow to safely can that will keep you and your family safe. Grab my Ultimate Canning Safety Guide for all the details. But despite this, once you learn the ropes canning is really an easy and reliable way to preserve food.

Canning Has A Rich History

Canning was first developed for Napoleon’s army in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Canning allowed the French to feed their troops more effectively. The French government even offered a reward for the first person who could figure out how to preserve food long enough to get it to the men on the front lines. As a food preservation method it’s one of the newer methods; dehydrating and fermenting go back to ancient times. Yes, freezing and modern freeze drying (there are actually places where freeze drying occurs naturally) are newer, but they are not as sustainable so I put them in a different category.

Canning Is A Science

This is a VERY IMPORTANT point to understand. Canning is not an art or a craft. It’s a science and as such has rules that you MUST follow in order for food to be safely preserved. These rules are not negotiable and if they are not followed you are putting anyone who eats your food at risk.

You Must Follow Safety Procedures

Because canning is a science you must follow the rules of science to create a safe environment for your food to be stored in a Mason jar at room temperature. If you follow the correct safety procedures you will kill any harmful bacteria and create a vacuum that protects your food. These rules are not difficult to learn, or scary. It’s kind of like driving a car. Do it badly and you can hurt people. Do it well and you help you, your passengers and everyone else on the road.

There Are Two Kinds Of Canning

There are two different canning methods and they CAN NOT be interchanged. You can can high acid food using the water bath canning method. You can pressure can high acid foods, although I would not recommend you do this unless you are an experienced canner. You MUST can low acid foods using the pressure canner method. In order to kill the spore that causes botulinum you must raise the internal temperature to 240 degrees fahrenheit at sea level. Boiling will only raise the temperature to 212 degrees fahrenheit no matter how long you boil the food.

There Are Two Kinds Of Pressure Canners

There are two types of pressure canners. The difference between the two is how pressure is indicated. In a dial-gauge pressure canner you rely on a dial-gauge to indicate the correct pressure. You need to have this dial checked for accuracy from time to time. Then the second kind of pressure canner is called a weighted-gauge pressure canner and relies on you to place the appropriate weight on the lid to indicate and can at the correct pressure. Both have pros and cons.

Canning Is Addictive

Once you begin to can you will want to can more. And more. And then can some more. Yes, it’s a bit of work to ‘put-up’ your harvest. But it’s kind of like having a baby. Once you see what you have created you forget about all the pain and long to do it again. And it just so happens that if you’re preserving your harvest you get about a nine month break. Coincidence? I think not….:) Truthfully, though, if you find yourself in love with canning you can find things to can all year round.

You’ll Fall In Love With Mason Jars

I really can’t explain this one. It’s just a thing. Once you start canning you will love Mason jars. I mean really LOVE Mason jars. You’ll want to drink out of them, make light fixtures out of them, store ALL your food in them (even dry goods), store makeup and lotion in them, and/or make candles in them. The list really goes on forever because you can do SO MUCH with a Mason jar. Maybe it’s their versatility that we love. Maybe it’s their reliability. After a while you’ll be able to fill each jar with whatever you need to hold. The folks at Ball and Kerr don’t help. Have you seen the latest pretty styles? They are just beautiful simple little glass holders that are always there when you need them and we have deep loyalty, appreciation, confidence, and dependence on them. Canners simply love Mason jars.

Once You Start Canning You Might Not Be Able To Stop

Yes, we covered the additive part, but that’s not what I mean here. I mean you really might not be able to go back. My boys won’t eat commercially canned peaches. Because they have always had mine they won’t eat the ones that don’t taste as good. It’s also the same story when it comes to some of my jellies and jams. This is what happens when you feed children real whole food. The stuff from the store doesn’t taste as good. I consider it a blessing, but just know once your family tastes the good stuff you will not be able to easily eat anything less.

Choose Your Equipment Wisely

You don’t really need a water bath canner. You can actually use a large pot you might already own. You just need to put a rack in the bottom or a dishtowel. So if you do decide to purchase a water bath canner make sure you can use it for other purposes and that you have room to store it. As mentioned above there are pros and cons to both types of pressure canners. I explain in greater detail here. You can water bath can in a the bottom part of some pressure canners. If space is an issue you might want to consider purchasing one of the lighter pressure canners so that you can easily use it for both canning methods.

You Can Save A Lot Of Money

Yes, it’s true you can go to the store and buy a name brand non-organic grape jelly, with preservatives, on sale with a coupon, for a cheap price. The same goes for salsa, pickles and applesauce. So when I say save money, I mean when when you compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. If you go to a whole foods market and buy an organic grape jelly with no preservatives you will absolutely save a ton of money by making and canning that jelly yourself. You’ll save even more if you grow the grapes yourself.

People Will Think You Have Super Powers

Most people do not know how to can. So when you present them with the best canned peaches they’ve ever had they will wonder how you did it. Furthermore, can some food that is not usually on a store shelf like pineapple jam and well, they’ll not only come begging for more, they might also go searching for your cape.

You CAN Can Without A Ton Of Sugar Or Preservatives

You can make jam and jelly with no sugar added. I prefer low sugar but the options are there. You can use natural pectin that will allow you to control the sugar. There are some recipes that call for preservatives in home canning. I do not use these recipes and recommend that you do not either. You can easily and safely can without preservatives, following a tested recipe.

You’ll Be So Glad You Learned How

I have been dehydrating and fermenting (the other two forms of food preservation) for years. I truly love all 3 of these sustainable food preservation methods. But the truth is that nothing gives me the satisfaction of a job well done like I get from labeling and putting away my home canned goods. You can easily build up your food storage canning your favorite things. You can deepen relationships by working in the kitchen with your children (or friends) teaching them this tradition and the science behind it. If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to take our canning eCourse.

Happy Canning! What is your favorite thing to can?

Are you ready to start canning? You can build up food stores quickly and have ready to eat meals in minutes.
  • Diane says:

    I have been canning and dehydrating for a number of years now but any tips are always welcome and yes I am downloading your booklet with thanks. Have a good day Diane

  • Terri says:

    I guess if I had to pick only one thing as my favorite it would be my chunky cranberry-applesauce (with salsa & spaghetti sauce tied for second).

  • Annette Gruber says:

    I learned how to can at home. I was fortunate to have a mom who did water bath canning, and she taught me well. As an adult I learned how to use a pressure canner from a good friend, (My mom was deathly afraid of them, so no help there) I started learning by doing cooked dried beans and progressed from there, I also can meats, which I find very useful. You are absolutely right when you say canning is a science, not to be taken lightly. I am very careful when I can, because I never want to be the reason someone gets ill. Thanks for a great article, I really enjoyed it.

  • marshall reagan says:

    It is hot & tiring . it seems like it always takes a lot longer than you think it should. but the food is so much better than store bought canned foods.

  • Laura Smith says:

    I have canned well over 200 jars of ‘something’ so far this year! Beans, berries, etc! Even meat! Not done yet!!!

  • Molly says:

    I’m canning for the first time this fall, and the one thing I’m most looking forward to canning is the pear butter I’ve been making (and freezing) for years. Also excited to make my own apple butter for a change.

  • Melodee says:

    For the first time this week I have canned using the solar oven-a new method. So far it is the easiest method of canning I’ve ever done. I’m 64 and have been canning all my life. I’ve taught canning classes and I’ll continue to teach traditional methods, but I appreciate learning new techniques and methods. In this case the energy used is free and it doesn’t heat up the house. Thanks for all of your important information. I LOVE canning.

  • Carol says:

    I canned for many years. When my 6 children were young it was not unusual to put up 1200 jars in a year. I had blue hands all summer from picking black raspberries in the woods and making jam. My husband always went overboard, where people would plant a dozen tomato plants he would plant 12 dozen.
    When I moved from the country in the late 70’s and went to work long hours in Dallas I quit canning and and had to learn how to cook with store bought food. In the last 5-10 years I have been canning again and started dehydrating in the last year. However, I can much less but hate to see food go to waste. I live in town and I only have myself and husband to can for. I used to walk every day and pick up apples and pears fallen on the side walks and can. I still go to the woods for black raspberries, but have red raspberries, blackberries, dewberries, strawberries grapes, Bush cherries for awhile and boisenberriesin my yard. Therefore it is not on usual for me to put up 6 or 8 dozen jars of jams and jellies in a year. My husband just retired and my back yard is full of plants. We will see how it goes this year. Glad people are learning skills I used to think everyone knew.

  • Kristen says:

    I started canning with fruit jams, jalapeno pepper jam, and apple butter several years ago. Now I also can fruits, veggies, meat (chickens I raise, beef & sausage from a local farmer), and sauces. Every year my goal is to grow and/or put-up one new thing, even if I only try it once! I keep a “diary” of my efforts right next to my Ball’s book and pressure canner instruction manual. My oddest thing was watermelon pickles many years ago.

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