Deliciously preserved vegetables and fruits are a blessing for every person who lives in a temperamental climate.
Imagine a freezing cold evening in winter, and you are preparing a fantastic peach cobbler from fruits you jarred one summer day long ago. Or perhaps you have a burger with pickles made by your own hands. Sounds divine, doesn’t it?
But, as is the case with all food preservation, the canning process should be taken seriously and made with all necessary precautions.
If you are safe, have the necessary equipment, and are fully prepared to make your best effort, your reward will be the best vegetables, fruit, jams, and other pickled goodies!
To help you with this matter, we prepared this ultimate guide to home canning, which will help you to make the tastiest preserved foods in the comfort of your sweet, sweet home!
Let's start with basics and define the two main types of canning people use nowadays for preserving food.
These are pressure canning and boiling water canning. Both of them have their pros and cons, so it is your choice to decide upon which is better for you.
It is an interesting method that requires expensive equipment, but can be one of the most rewarding, especially if you plan to can many different types of food.
Pressure canning gives you the ultimate opportunity to can everything! Yes, anything from low-acid salsa to meat can now be canned and preserved safely.
With this kind of canning technique, you drive the pressure and heat very high, which makes it possible to kill all the potential bacteria in the jars, thus preventing products from spoiling.
All the low-acidic foods that should be canned without a lot of vinegar or acids can now be preserved for a better day.
The pressure canning method even allows you to can shrimps, broccoli, and poultry! Just imagine that fabulous feast you will have once you open those jars!
It is the most popular, easy, and effective way to preserve your food and keep them fresh and edible for long months.
The boiling water canning method was discovered in the 19th century before people even understood the process of sterilization.
Using this method, you kill all the germs and bacteria in your products, making jars, lids, and products food-safe for extended preservation.
This method works for products with high acidity levels, such as fruits (most of them) or pickled vegetables.
You do need to add a lot of vinegar, citric acid, or lemon juice (depending on the recipe you are using) to increase that acidity level of those vegetables, but this will make the pickled products safe to preserve.
The acid helps to accelerate the process of killing all the Clostridium Botulinum (the main health concern regarding canning) in the products, despite the temperature being not as hot as in the pressure canning method.
These bacteria will only die with extreme temperatures or with acid plus temperature, so take this part seriously when looking for the recipe to can a particular food.
The boiling water method also creates a vacuum seal under the jar's lid, which keeps any new nasty microorganisms from spoiling your food and growing there.
Canning is a process that requires special equipment to turn out successful. If you have everything you need on hand, it will be an easy and enjoyable thing for you. And here everything you will need:
Yes, it is the most essential thing you need to preserve your goods, besides jars, of course.
So, the big pot that should be at least ⅓ higher than your jars is a must-have. Remember that we are speaking about the constantly boiling water, so it is crucial to have a tall pot for you to stay safe with your canned goods.
Also, make sure that your pot is a non-reactive one.
Jars cannot be put on the bottom of the pot directly because the burner's heat will crack them. That's why you need to use a canning rack or something similar to prevent cracking.
Before people began using racks, they used to put a clean cloth on the pot's bottom. It is an effective way, but if you have access to steel canning racks, it is better to use them.
You will need different sized jars for various purposes, like small 8 oz for jams or berries, bigger 16 oz for small fruits, and even larger 32 oz jars for things like pickles and tomatoes.
Also, you should have a brand-new lid to ensure the best vacuum seal possible.
This item is not as important as the equipment we've talked about above, but it can help you a lot during the canning process.
You will be able to transfer your products to jars a lot faster and safer with this funnel – it is a small thing that makes a big impact.
Preferably, you need to have a couple of them in different sizes: to take off your lid, when needed, and to lift up your jars from boiling water. It is a safe and easy way to remove your jars from the pot.
Yeah, things get steamy and very hot in your kitchen when you are canning! That's why it is very helpful for you to have a lot of kitchen towels on hand, to handle any unexpected situation that may happen!
Knives, potato peelers, measuring cups, spoons, cutting boards, plates, etc. It is a high-risk process that involves many hot liquids, so it is better to prepare everything beforehand to be fully equipped for the procedure.
So, when you are at the start of your journey and want to find suitable fruits for your chosen method, take a look at those high-acid options that can be safely canned.
Almost any berry or a whole fruit can be used for canning, and you can also preserve tomatoes with a little added acid.
The other option is to pickle vegetables and some fruits. Of course, the pickling process will turn even the sweetest fruit into a savory one, but trust us, it they are delicious!
In Eastern Europe, people pickle apples, plums, pears, and cherries. This creates incredible and vibrant new flavors to these fruits!
After gathering your fruit, you should prepare it according to the recipe, which can contain citric acid, vinegar, herbs, spices, sugar, and salt.
Read carefully, and if you need to cut your products, or leave them whole, do it because it can affect the end result.
As for tomatoes, be sure you are using the right kind. It can make a huge difference if you use tomatoes that are too soft or too hard as they can become very mushy or lack a quality taste.
If you use a pressure cooker, you can prepare any meats, low acid fruits, and non-pickled vegetables, but be sure that your food gets the right amount of heat to kill all the microorganisms in it.
You might also consider altering your recipe if your home's altitude is more than one thousand meters above the sea.
It will affect your boiling water temperature, and the processing will take longer for you to fully sterilize all the jars.
So, assuming you’ve chopped and cleaned all the food products, it is time to move to the next step!
Before you start filling up the jars, you should clean them as best as you can with either a dishwater or hot and soapy water to remove any dirt or microorganisms that may be on them.
This is a very important step, so even if you have brand new jars, do not skip it because it can change everything.
While you are cleaning your jars, inspect them and look for cracks or nicks on them.
You must immediately abandon all the damaged jars since they will crack in the process of boiling. Also, clean all the lids for your jars and ensure they are spotless.
After cleaning, you need to keep them hot, perhaps in a dishwater or a lukewarm oven.
These are crucial moments in your canning adventure!
Prepare the tongs, kitchen towels, oven mitts, a funnel, and a working zone with enough space for you to handle all the jars. Assemble all the jars you want to use and put on your mitts.
Put the funnel on one of the jars and carefully transfer jam, fruits, or other products you are using in this recipe into the jars. Do not forget to leave the recommended headspace in the jar.
After that, use a toothpick or a clean spoon to remove all the air bubbles on the food's surface and clean the jar's rims with a clean towel.
You can use a paper towel or a very clean cloth, but please be sure that the towel is clean as possible.
The last thing you need to do before processing the jars is to put lids on them and screw them tight. You should be careful not to remove the sealing compound of the lid.
Now you’ve prepared all your jars, let's move to the canning processing step.
If you choose the boiling water method, even before filling the jars, put the pot on your stove and add water into it. Keep the water hot, but not boiling, until you are ready to put the jars in it.
Next, place the filled jars in the pot (with the canning rack on the bottom), keeping in mind that at least one inch of hot water should be above every jar.
Then, you need to put the water to a rolling boil and maintain this during the processing. Set up the timer according to your recipe and check the jars from time to time.
When you finish the sterilization process, turn off the heat and let the jars stand in hot water for a couple of minutes. After that, remove the jars from the pot with the tongs and put them on a cooling spot.
It is important not to disturb the jars during the next twenty-four hours and check all the lids.
They must be tightly sealed. If the jars or lids have become damaged in the process, you can put them in the fridge and consume them first during the next weeks.
But if your jars are in great condition after the 24-hour period, you can safely move all the jars to your pantry and enjoy them at a much later date!
As for the pressure canning method, you can follow the instructions of the recipe you are using, or you can find all the needed instructions in the canner's manual.
The pressure canning method will help you to make a much greater variety of delicious preserved food, so if you can invest in it, we highly recommend you to do that.
Canning is a wonderful process that allows you to enjoy fresh and delicious foods you made during spring and autumn on those boring winter days.
We love canning because it allows you to use up all the excess fruits and vegetables you can have, and it is a lot cheaper than buying manufactured goods.
It is also a lot tastier, of course. It is an exciting process, and once you master it, it will change your life!