Canning Basics 101

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canning-basics-101

What Is Canning?

Canning is a food preservation method that uses temperature to kill microorganisms while sealing food in an airtight container.

My Top Five Favorite Benefits of Canning

  1. Save Money–When you can your own food, especially food that you’ve grown yourself, you save money. You can save even more money if you can year after year because you reuse your Mason jars. A jar of all natural ingredient organic jam might cost between 5 to 8 dollars at the grocery store or farmer’s market. You can make the jam yourself for 50 cents to 1 dollar.
  2. Preserve The Harvest–Canning is a great way to preserve the harvest of your garden. You work hard to produce organic food that you love. Sometimes you can’t eat it all before it starts to go bad. So canning is a great way to save that wonderful food for later.
  3. Traditional–There are a lot of older people who can and somewhere along the line some of us younger people were not taught. Then of course our children might not know how to can, especially if we don’t do it. Canning is a great way to bridge that generation gap.
  4. Eco Friendly–When you “put-up” your own food and create your own food stores, then you eliminate the need for huge trucks to transport food from the farm to the factory then to the store. So you eliminate all the fossil fuel usage it would take for the trucks and factories and grocery stores to do their respective parts in getting the food to you.
  5. Taste–There is nothing like the taste of home canned food. If you don’t believe me, can some peaches and have yourself a little taste test with commercially canned peaches. There is no comparison!!

Methods

Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is a method where Mason jars are filled and then placed in boiling water and boiled for a certain amount of time, depending on the foods being processed. This
method is suitable for high acid foods like most fruits and food that have acid (vinegar) added to them. The temperatures get high enough to kill molds, yeasts and most bacteria. Bacteria spores (clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism) cannot flourish in high acid foods.

Pressure Canning

Pressure canning is a method in which pressure is added along with heat to raise temperatures to at least 240°F (at sea level). This kills the spores that cause botulism and is the only canning method recommended for low acid foods like most vegetables and all meats. (Note: Botulism spores cannot be detected through sight or smell) This method uses a pressure canner, not a pressure cooker. Be sure you never try to can in a pressure cooker.

9 Foods You Should Never Can

  1. High Fat Food–As a general rule oil is not safe to can. There are a few recipes that use a bit of oil that have been tested and are safe to can, but do not can oil by itself. Mayonnaise is also not safe to can.
  2. Dairy And Eggs–Butter, milk, cheese, sour cream, cream, yogurt, buttermilk and eggs. Also, any recipe that includes these ingredients, such as puddings, cream soups, cream vegetables, and chocolate.
  3. Some Meats–Avoid high fat meats such as bacon and sausages. Do not can any meat with fillers like meatloaf. Also avoid organ meats since they are usually denser than muscle meat.
  4. Wheat and Grains–This includes bread, oats, rice and barley and pasta. Also included are all flours, even for thickening (you can always, after opening your canned food, add thickeners right before serving).
  5. Thickeners–Anything you would use to thicken recipes including oats, wheat, barley, grains, rice, bread, noodles or pasta, hominy, crackers, biscuits, pie dough, eggs
  6. Vegetables–Broccoli, Brussels sprouts (pickled are ok), cabbage (pickled is ok), cauliflower (pickled is ok), eggplant (pickled is ok), summer squash (pickled is ok), olives (pickled are ok), lettuce, artichokes, mashed parsnips, mashed squash, mash potatoes, mashed pumpkin.
  7. Fruit–Do not can bananas, avocados, or coconut milk.
  8. Candy–Do not can things like caramel and marshmallow.
  9. Soy and Nuts–Do not can tofu, soy milk, nut butters including peanut butter

Safety After You’ve Canned

  1. Sealed–Make sure your jar is sealed before you open it. When you open your jar–take the lid off, you should hear a pop or a whoosh of air. That’s the vacuum being broken. In other words that’s air going into the jar that had previously not had air inside. This is proof the seal was not broken. If the lid falls off or comes off without the pop then discard the food.
  2. Cracked Jar–If your jars are cracked or leaking discard the jar (if cracked) and the food. Do not eat the canned food even if it looks and smells fine.
  3. Canned Food Over A Year Old–The recommended shelf life of home canned food is one year. As time goes by food loses its texture, taste and nutrition (vitamins and minerals). There are seasoned canners that keep their canned food longer than one year, but the National Center For Home Preservation recommends one year. As long as the seal is not broken the food is safe to eat, but may not taste good or have the best nutrition. You must decide how long you are comfortable storing your food. Store your food in a cool, dry, dark place.
  4. Jars Never Sealed Out Of The Canner–If your jars do not seal after you take them out of the canner then you’ll need to use the food right away; store them in the refrigerator for a few days until you can eat or reprocess the food.
  5. Store Canned Food Properly–Home canned food needs to be stored in a cool, dry and dark area, because light, temperatures and moisture destroy food. Always store canned food without the metal ring. If your lid becomes unsealed the pressure from the ring can cause the lid to “reseal” (not re-vacuum seal) or become stuck on the jar as if sealed. So if the ring is removed and the jar becomes unsealed you’ll know right away to discard your food. Also, never stack canned food on top of each other. Again if a seal were to become compromised then the pressure from a jar sitting on top of the seal could cause the seal to appear “resealed” and you would not know your canned food had been compromised.

Getting Started

To start focus on water bath canning, all you need to start are: a pot, a cloth, some jars, some lids, and some rings – that’s all. Then always follow a proven recipe because canning is a science. Canning fruit and jam are great foods to start canning. Remember with only can high acid food with a water bath canner.

Two Trusted Canning Sources

Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving

National Center For Canning And Preserving

Common Questions

Can you can on a glass stove top?
You can on some. Check the instructions that came with your stove. The best stove to can on is a gas top.

Can I can tomatoes without lemon juice? Are they high or low acid?
Tomatoes have been high acid food in the past and they still contain acid. However, there are more recent varieties of tomatoes that might not have enough acid to keep your canned goods safe. This is the reason most modern tested recipes require adding lemon juice to your tomato sauce recipe.

Can I can pureed pumpkin?
NO! The puree is too thick to reach the temperatures needed to kill botulism. If you’d like to home can pumpkin, cut it into chunks and then can those chucks.

How do I know if the canner I would like to purchase will fit on my stove if I have an overhead microwave?
The simplest way to find this out is to find out the dimensions of the canner you’d like to purchase and measure the space between your stovetop and overhead microwave.

Do you have to sterilize my canning jars before I can?
You will need to sterilize your jars if the processing time is under 10 minutes.

Do I have to simmer my lids to make sure they seal?
No, Ball recommends that you wash the lids and then use them without simmering them.

Final Thoughts

Canning is so much fun and so fulfilling and it’s really easy if you just follow a few rules. I encourage you to give it a try and then enjoy the convenience and taste of your home canned food.

We have an entire eCourse devoted to canning so if you feel like you need extra help please check it out.

  • Chantal says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    can I substitute some of the white vinegar with unpasteurized apple cider vinegar for pickling? Also can I substitute white sugar with honey or maple syrup or even brown sugar in jams and sweet brine for pickling?

    Thanks,
    Chantal

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Chantal,
      I would advise against substituting unpasteurized apple cider vinegar for white vinegar. In order for the vinegar to raise the acidity of the food, it needs to be a certain percentage of acetic acid. Apple cider vinegar can have the correct percentage, but it might not. So unless you know how to measure the acidity of your vinegar, stick with white vinegar. You can substitute other things for white sugar such as honey, just be sure to follow a tested recipe.

  • Meredith says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I never knew that I was supposed to take the rings off the cans after they were done! I always left them on because I thought that it would help ‘keep the seal’ on the lid.
    I have to watch the replays of your shows but I love them – lots of great information. Thank you!

    Meredith

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