Have a lot of fruits and vegetables but don’t want them to go to waste? You can preserve food by using a variety of methods, including freezing and drying, but home canning is a method that is interesting and fulfilling when done properly. If you’re curious about canning your own foods at home, here are a few tips that can help you can successfully.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, provides guidelines for proper home canning. The Blue Ball Book of Canning also offers recipes and techniques that will help you produce canned goods that are safe to eat. These guidelines are in place so that home canners will be able to safely can foods at home. After all, no one wants to eat tainted green beans or tomato sauce, so make sure you are following USDA and Ball canning procedures.
When you find a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation or from the Blue Ball Book, follow the directions exactly as they are written. Do not use a substitute unless the recipe specifies what substitutes are acceptable. Altering any part of the recipe may result in seal failure, or the pH level in the jar may not be sufficient to ward off bacteria. You can purchase a Blue Ball Book Canning guide from a local bookstore or online. It is relatively inexpensive and it offers a great deal of information in a user-friendly format.
One of the first steps to take when you want to can is to gather all of the necessary supplies before you even think about a recipe. Supplies include the right canner (whether it’s a boiling water canner or a pressure canner), jar and lid lifters, jars and their lids and bands, various pots and pans. The next step is to make sure that you sanitize and sterilize your jars, lids, and bands. You can do this by washing them in hot soapy water or by running them in a sterilize cycle in your dishwasher. Then, keep them in a pot of very hot, but not boiling, water. The lids should be kept in a small pot of just-boiled water; do not boil the lids.
Choose the right recipe. Make sure that you have all of the ingredients and equipment that the recipe calls for. If you are canning low-acid vegetables, you may need a pressure canner unless it is a pickling recipe. Remember that pH is very important in canning. Naturally acidic fruits do not need to be pickled and do not need to be canned in a pressure canner. However, vegetables such as mushrooms or green beans, or fruits such as watermelon, are not naturally acidic and will need to be either pickled or pressure canned.
When you are done filling your jars, clean up the rim and the sides of the jars completely using a warm damp cloth or paper towel. Cleaning the very top and edge of the rim of the jar helps the lid seal. Then, place the lid on the jar using a lid lifter. Screw the band on finger-tight only. This means turning the band until it resists a little. Do not screw it on too tightly or the lid will not have room to move up and down during processing.
Set the timer once the water starts boiling, if you are using a boiling water canner, or when the pressure gauge comes up to the correct pressure. Process the jars for the exact amount of time that the recipe calls for. You can process a minute or two longer, but do not process a minute or two less. If you are using a pressure canner, turn off the heat and let the steam vent when the processing time is done.
Finally, let the jars cool completely, undisturbed, on a towel for 12 to 24 hours. It is best to let them cool for a whole 24 hours, then you can remove the bands for storage so that they do not rust. Store the jars in a cool dark location. Once a jar is opened, you cannot reuse the lid. You can purchase reusable lids, too. They are more expensive at first, but they do save you money in the long run, especially if you can often and throughout the year.
You can find more tips at the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation website or by reading the Blue Ball Book of Canning.