Home canning is a simple, healthy and attractive way to put up food for winter. You don’t have to live in a farmhouse to preserve golden peaches, tangy pickles or winter soups! It can happen anywhere, in any kind of kitchen!
Whether you’re looking to bring healthier food into the home, cut back on the grocery bill or satisfy your craving for old fashioned living, home canning is a wonderful place to begin!
In this post you’ll learn about canning equipment and will be directed to a source that answers the question all newbies have: is home canning worthwhile?
Why Home Canning?
Before freezers became popular in the average household, home canning was of utmost importance to both rural and urban dwellers.
This method of food preservation was heavily relied upon to “put food by.” Though it required hours of laboring over a hot stove, families would work together in attempt to preserve a large portion of their winter food supply.
Home canned food was shelf stable. It’s not difficult to understand why it was so highly valued!
Because goods are cooked during the canning process, it was also an instant food source. Housewives only had to open a jar, heat the contents and dinner was served with style!
We weren’t the first to “fall” for fast food! This desire for instant sustenance was inherited!
Difference is, for great-grandma it required a summer of stuffing mason jars with locally grown food and processing the goods over a hot stove!
Two Types of Home Canning
There are two tested and approved methods for your home today: waterbath and pressure canning. The method you choose will depend on what type of food you wish to put up! In our home, we practice both methods for a wide variety of canned goods.
If you are new to preserving, waterbath canning is a wonderful place to begin! This method is simple and far less intimidating than its alternative.
In order to avoid bacterial growth and potential food poisoning, produce preserved via the waterbath canner must have a 4.6 pH or higher.
Fruits or fruit-based goods, pickled vegetables and tomato products are the 3 safe options. Both pickled vegetables and tomatoes rely on an addition of vinegar to raise the pH to a safety zone.
This method has limitations! Suppose you want to put up soups for your family? Canned chicken? Or chili for a cold winter day? You must also learn how to pressure can!
If your goal is to really save money on the grocery bill and put up meals for the family, pressure canning is a must! This method makes non-acidic foods safe because the pressure canner reaches temperatures higher than that of boiling water. This amazing piece of kitchen equipment can reach an access of 250F+!
You can safely pressure can meat (fish, poultry, red), beans (green or dried), soups, broth, (some) vegetables, meat sauces and tomatoes as well. Because pressure canning reduces particular vegetables to mush, some are better blanched and stored in the freezer.
Safety in Home Canning
Be safe! Its important to use tested techniques and recipes for both the waterbath and pressure canner!
The #1 fear in the home canner’s world is botulism. By using government approved recipes and directions, you can rest assured! Your home canning will be safe. If you want to learn more, head over to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. There, you can find a vast amount of information on safe home canning and tested recipes for both methods.
Basics of Home Canning Equipment
A basic and essential part of safety is found in having the proper equipment. These items are outlined for you below!
Not all jars are suitable for home canning. Use those specifically designed for food preservation. They vary in brand name (Kerr, Ball, Mason, Bernardin, etc) and are most commonly found in quart (1 L), pint (500 ml) and half-pint (250 ml) sizes.
The Mouth Sizes
The mouth of the canning jar comes in two different sizes: regular (or small) and wide. Which one you choose is a matter of preference. Most avid home canners have both!
Regular size is often preferred for pickles and sliced fruit. Their tapering shoulders and small mouths help hold goods underneath the brine or syrup.
Wide mouth jars are wonderful for packing! Because your entire hand can fit inside, jars are easy to wash.
Lids and Bands
Canning lids, (though originally glass) are now made of metal, with a thin rubber seal set into the lid. These are reliable for one-time use only. Most grocery stores carry both the standard (small) and wide mouth sizes.
Note: some folks prefer standard mouth jars because lids are cheaper.
You’ll also need a metal band to hold the lid in place. They come in two sizes as well. Bands are removed after processed jars have set for 24 hours. They can be reused year after year.
In order to purchase the necessary amount, roughly calculate the number of jars you will preserve on your best canning day. Buy this many bands, plus 7 more as a necessary backup.
Hint: unless you use a pressure canner that allows for double stacking, most avid canners won’t preserve more than 35 jars of food in a 24 hr period!
These canners are inexpensive and can be found at most grocery and hardware stores. The package should include a pot, rack (for the bottom) and lid.
They are commonly found in black enamel (USD $30-$35), though you can sometimes find them in shiny, stainless steel (USD $70+).
If pennies are tight and you have a deep, wide pot on hand, it can be used as a waterbath canner. However, it will need a rack! Due to intense heat, jars will break if set directly on the bottom of a pot. Arrange canning bands in a flower-like pattern for a makeshift-but-reliable-rack.
Ensure that the tops of your jars (regardless of size) are covered by 1 inch of water. Wanna learn more? Check out the blog post: Waterbath Canning for Success & Safety.
A pressure canner can be costly. Prices vary based on the make, model and brand. Pounds of pressure are measure either by a dial or a weighted gauge.
Cheaper canners have a rubber seal (Presto) and are upward of $100+ USD. They must be tested every 2nd year to ensure the seal is still good. It will have to be replaced several times in your canning history!
More expensive pressure canners have a metal-to-metal seal (the All-American pictured above) and cost upward of $300. These canners are expensive, but will outlive their buyers!
The beauty of a pressure canner is this: they serve as both waterbath and pressure purposes. If you are interested in both, you may want to invest your money into the latter!
A Jar Lifter & Timer
You must have a jar lifter! With this tool, you can reach into boiling water, clasp a piping-hot jar around the neck and lift it to safety.
If money is tight, they can often be found at thrift stores. Don’t bypass this seemingly innocent tool! Scalding hot food in a equally hot jar isn’t a joke. Make certain you have necessary equipment to safely complete the job!
A timer is essential for safe canning. Regardless of whether you pressure or waterbath can, tracking your time is necessary if you wish to produce safe food.
These are the very basics. Before you begin canning, there is much more you need to learn! Each method comes with its own set of instructions and safety rules.
You may be wondering if canning your own food is really worthwhile? After all, it must take both time and effort!
I refer you to a valuable and wonderful resource. In her podcast “Pioneering Today,” Melissa K. Norris lays out the cost of home canning and takes honest look at whether or not it’s truly worthwhile. See episode #88 (Is Home Canning Really Worth It?).