Food Trend: Home Canning

by in Healthy Tips, August 11, 2009

home canning
With the economy in the dumps and folks more interested in growing their own foods, everyone’s talking about home canning. So when my girlfriend and I heard about a canning workshop at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture near my house, we had to sign up. Canning has been around for 200 years, but I was new to the practice. What did I learn? It’s pretty easy, definitely fun and a wonderful way to preserve fruits and veggies to enjoy year round.

Intro to Canning
The workshop’s instructor Sherri Brooks Vinton (also the author of The Real Food Revival) was our canning maven and walked us through the basics. The first thing Sherri told us was that canning doesn’t actually involve cans; instead you use glass jars. Experts have made many improvements to the preserving process since your grandmother’s days — steps to help control the growth of clostridium botulinum, a deadly bacteria that may develop in canned food. Things still do go bad sometimes, but as long as you follow the exact instructions and discard food that is questionable (i.e. foul smelling, foamy, bulging lid), you should be able to enjoy your canned goodies safely.

There are two basic canning techniques: pressure canning and the boiling water method. You use pressure canning under high heat for more alkaline foods like meats and veggies. In class, we stuck with the boiling water method; it isn’t as hot as pressure canning and is good for beginners. When opting for boiling, you need to pick foods that are more acidic because they’ll naturally decrease the chance for bacteria to grow. Typically canned chutneys, jams, pickles and tomatoes use this method.

Before getting started, there are three things to keep in mind:
1. Make sure you choose an updated canning recipe (You may have grandma’s old recipe book, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the safest choice).
2. Go for high-acid foods (i.e., tomatoes, salsas, pickles, relish, fruit jams and jellies, etc.).
3. There’s no rushing the canning process. The boiling time listed on the recipe is the exact time needed — no more and no less.

Equipment for the Boiling Water Method
You can purchase a home canning kit, or you can use some of your own kitchen equipment. You’ll need the following:

  • Jar lifter: Don’t use tongs — you’re handing very hot jars and you don’t want them to slip. Look for a lifter at your local hardware store.
  • Special 3-part glass jars: These include jar bottom, lid and a lid ring with rubber inside. Don’t use old mayo jars — you need these special ones. The glass parts and lid rings are reusable; you’ll only need to purchase new lids.
  • Funnel: Makes it easier to get the food into the jar.
  • Lid lifter: These are magnetic to help with lifting.
  • Bubble tool: This thin, long stick helps pack food into jars and eliminate air bubbles that form between the pieces of food. Chopsticks are another option.
  • Large Pot: You don’t want your jars to sit on the bottom of your pot; look for special canning pots or place jar rims on the bottom of your home pot to keep jars lifted.

Food Safety Alert!
Clean all your equipment with hot water and soap before you start. And don’t forget to wash your hands! An apron will probably be helpful, too. Your empty jars will be sanitized when you place them in the water to boil. You can also dip your tools in the boiling pot to clean them. Skip the bleach; you don’t need it to sterilize (and nobody likes that horrible smell).

Packing Methods
When prepping your jar filling, there are two options: cold pack and hot pack. With the cold pack method, you don’t cook food before placing it in jars. You’ll need to use an acidic ingredient or mixture to help preserve the food and protect against bacteria. I’ve included a pepper recipe below that’s cold packed. It uses vinegar (a highly acidic ingredient) to help preserve.

The hot pack method, as the name implies, involves cooking food before you jar it. Jams are foods that are always cooked before canning.

After Prepping Your Recipe
Many how-tos tell you to pre-heat your jars in the water; this helps keep them from breaking when you introduce a hot food into them. Use the funnel to get food in the jar and then the bubble tool to help push food down and get rid of air bubbles. It’s important to buy the correct bubble tool (or use chopsticks) since you don’t want to scratch the glass in the jar or the metal lid (this causes rusting). Leave space between the liquid and the food and between the liquid and the top of jar (typically 1/4 inch for each).

Once you’ve packed the food, clean the rim of the jar well and use the magnet tool to put the flat lid on. Gently screw the lid ring onto the jar until it is fingertip tight (don’t close it tightly). Use the jar lifters and place the jar in boiling water. Bring the water back up to a boil and start timing. When time is up, turn off the heat and leave jars to cool for 5 minutes in the water and then remove. After some time (it took us about 10 minutes), you’ll hear a pop. Put your jar aside for 24 hours and check that seal is tightly attached. You can keep the jarred food for up to one year in a cool, dry place.

RECIPE: Pickled Peppers
Sherri kindly shared her recipe for Pickled Peppers. The sweet-and-sour brine mellows the chilies, making them perfect for a liberal sprinkling on pizza, rolled into a burrito or chopped up with your morning eggs.

2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pound chili peppers, sliced

In a medium saucepan, bring vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil. Pack peppers into clean, hot, pint-sized jars, leaving a 1/2-inch space between top of the chilis and the top of jar. Pour the hot brine over the peppers, leaving 1/4-inch headspace between top of liquid and top of jar.

For refrigerating: Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
For longer-term, shelf storage: Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Process, using the boiling water method, for 10 minutes. Remove from water, cool and check seals. Store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

Read Up on Canning
Here are a few good resources for canning tips and recipes.

Wondering about freezing foods? Check out Dana’s post from this week.

TELL US: Do you can and, if so, what?

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Comments (32)

  1. Sarah says:

    In June I had an large amout of strawberries pop up on our strawberry plant so I made a jam. It was my first time canning and I can't wait till next year to can some more.

    Also, my dad canned a bunch of cucumbers last year, but I don't think there will be too many cukes for another pickle party. He'll probably just use the end of the season jalapenos and banana peppers and pickle them.

  2. Craig says:

    My family just finished canning pears and will be moving on to corn later this week.

    Have you seen this t-shirt? It says “Yes, we canned!” Check it out at:

  3. amyt says:

    My husband and I love to can bread and butter pickles (YUM) and can his grandmothers hot pickle relish. It's a job, but so worth the rewards!

  4. Sandi says:

    My sisters and I follow a time tested family tradition of canning Sweet Chili Sauce every couple of years. We have also done Hot Pepper Jelly, Tomato Bruschetta Topping, various jams and jellies and the hits keep coming.

    There are 5 of us and we continue the tradition my Mom, Aunts and Grandmother followed. It is just us ladies for 2 days of talking, laughing and crying. Good memories are shared and made.

  5. Amanda says:

    This year I canned wild raspberry jam (the raspberries grow all over my property), dill pickles, and my tomato sauce. Last year I canned wild raspberry jam, peach salsa, and apple pie filling. They all turned out well!

  6. Norma says:

    I do a lot of home canning – tomatoes made into saucees, whole tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, pickled okra, applesauce – and I make all kinds of jams and jellies (blackberry-apple jelly, tri-berry jam, nectarine jam, peach jam, gooseberry jelly, elderberry jelly, pear butter & various others). I hated it when my mom made me help when I was younger, but have enjoyed it now that I have a family of my own. It's amazing what it saves on the grocery bill!!

  7. Christine says:

    Retired recently and am enjoying canning again. I'd been too busy with work for the past several years. Just finished Plu-cot jam and blueberry jam. We're picking blackberries and I'll be making blackberry jelly for the family. Found recipes for orange marmalade and lemon curd that I would like to try too.

  8. Gudrun says:

    ooh, I caught the pickling bug this year! Watermelon pickles (two kinds), dilly beans, bread & butter pickles. I am also hoping to pickle zucchini, if my darn plant would ever start producing! Loving the Joy of Pickling cookbook for these items.

    Also made loads of plum jam, as well as apricot and peach/nectarine. Using a great Farm Journal cookbook for some of the recipes. And the National Center for home preservation is where I first learned how to can, great site.

  9. Angela says:

    I canned for the first time this year. I made peach butter, peaches and pasta sauce and salsa. With this being my first time I want to make sure I did everything correct is there a way to test it for bacteria before we eat it and give it away for gifts. Amanda would you mind sharing your apple pie recipe? I have been looking for one and can not seem to find one.

  10. mary says:

    mary, i do can peaches every year, they come beautiful, i also do tomatoes.,lots of work but it worth the effort.,

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