As the harvest season comes to an end, it’s time to think about canning the contents of the garden so you can enjoy them throughout the coming months.
As Sara in the Housewares department likes to say, “The best thing about canning: all your hard work during the summer gets translated into pleasureful gratification during the winter.”
Well, Sara reminds, “People shouldn’t fear it. It’s not hard. Never having canned doesn’t mean you shouldn’t can. Once you do it, you see how easy it really is, and start planning your garden around the things you’d like to can.”So you have a garden full of produce and you’d like to try canning, but it seems daunting, right?
So, where to start?
We’d recommend taking a look at a canning recipe book or website that you trust. It’ll give you step-by-step instructions for just about everything growing in your garden, whether you want it pickled, jellied, jammed, or just saved for later enjoyment.
Sara’s grandmother taught her how to can when she was little, and she has some tried and true tips that she wants to share with the interested future canner:
- A big pot, preferably a canning pot
- A canning rack
- jars (appropriately sized for what you’d like to can)
- lids (with bands to seal them)
- jar lifter (to remove jars from boiling water)
- necessary additives like vinegar, pectin, lime, salt (all, some, or none of these, depending on what your recipe book tells you)
How to can:
- Fill canning pot with enough water to cover plenty of clean jars and lids, and bring it to a boil to sanitize them. “It’s all about keeping them clean,” Sarah says. Lay a towel nearby, and when the water is boiling for a few minutes, remove the jars with the tong-like jar grabber and set them mouth-side-up on the towel, ready to be filled. Remove the lids and place them on the towel or another clean surface nearby.
- Depending on what you’d like to can, prepare the produce according to the directions of your canning cookbook. For example, if your canning tomatoes or peaches, many recipes will call for them to be scored, blanched and peeled before going into the jar.
- Fill the jar with produce, leaving 1/2″ to 1″ head space on the top (again refer to your recipe for specifics). This would be a good time to readjust the water level in the canning pot so there’s enough to cover the standing jars with at least 1 inch of water, and to get it boiling again.
- Place the lids on the filled jars and screw the bands on loosely. Wipe off any produce spillage on the outside of the jar, lid or band.
- Place the jars on the canning rack and submerse them into the pot, re-bathing them in the boiling water (see your recipe for how long to keep them in).
- When time is up, turn off the heat from the stove and let the rack rest for five minutes before removing it from the water and setting it on your towel. Now, listen for and count the “POP”‘-like noises of the jars releasing the last of their air and pressure sealing themselves as they cool slightly. Listen carefully, because if there aren’t as many “pops” as jars, they must all be inspected for loose lids to find the non-sealed culprit, which should be either refrigerated and used immediately or re-bathed in the boiling water for another round, maybe with the next batch. If the same jar doesn’t “pop” after the second time, it may have a faulty lid. Another test to see if jars are sealed is to push down on the center of the lids after they cool down. If they flex up or down, it’s a good indicator that they’re not sealed.
- Let the jars cool down to room temperature and store them in a cool place out of the sunlight. Use within the next year.
- When you’re all done canning, pack all the supplies in your big canning pot, so when you’re ready to do it again next year, everything is already together.
“I think jelly is one of the nicest things to can,” she says, “It’s pretty, it’s yummy, and you can give it as a gift.””It’s about you and your produce and a hot, steamy day, and you’ve got all these jewels in your pantry,” Sara says, naming beans, asparagus, corn as some of her canning favorites, although she likes the fruits too.
For jellies and jams, Sara says you need pectin, which helps jam be jam, and not syrup. Apples are naturally high in pectin, though, so you don’t necessarily need to add extra for those types of spreads.