Canning Made Easy

The question of what to do with all that garden bounty becomes simple once you learn a few preservation techniques.

LEAD_iStock_Pickles Ladd

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During the first World War, the U.S. government asked its citizens to contribute to the war effort by growing gardens. Americans rose to the challenge. The millions of quarts of provender produced by this astonishing effort not only fed American families, but helped feed starving people all across Europe. Humankind caring for humankind in a time of need – an example the world could heed today.

Similar food shortages have occurred throughout the centuries. When Napoleon was faced with the problem of feeding his rapidly growing military, the French government offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could figure a solution. A man named Nicolas Appert, though not completely understanding why, discovered that by putting food into a bottle or jar, sealing the jar up tight and cooking it for a few hours, the food could be preserved for consumption later. Napoleon’s army didn’t go hungry.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, flocks of free-thinkers sailed the ocean blue in search of a place where they could live free and govern their own lives. Once settled in their respective colonies, they too found daunting the challenge of having enough to eat. Through much trial and error, they discovered how to provide their daily needs and to preserve the precious leftovers for leaner times. Waste not, want not. The colonists learned how to take care of one another.

Preservation progress came at a cost, however. For example, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that anyone knew about Clostridium botulinum, the soil-borne bacterium whose lethal toxin, sometimes found in improperly canned food, claimed countless lives. Likewise, pickled provender frequently went bad when cork stoppers or pig’s bladders were used to cover the crocks and jars. Jams and jellies, sealed with brandy-soaked paper, often sprouted mold. But help was on the way – in the form of a rubber-sealed glass jar.

Tinsmith John L. Mason couldn’t possibly have known how his 1858 patent would permanently revolutionize family nutrition. His machine mass-produced threaded metal jar lids that, in combination with threaded-neck jars and rubber sealing rings, made it easy for virtually anyone to achieve a safe seal when canning. Mason’s canning jar and lid concept caught on immediately and opened the door for several improvements and modifications with familiar names like Ball, Atlas E-Z Seal and Kerr. Through time, the rubber seal has improved, as has the science behind the processing, but home canning is every bit as accessible today as it was in 1858.

You, too, can can

Before starting a canning project of your own, you should keep a few things in mind. It is best to gather only the produce you can work up in a few hours. This ensures optimum nutrition and quality. If possible, harvest early in the day.

Get your supplies out and check them over. Always use jars made especially for canning rather than old mayonnaise or pickle jars, and never use jars that are cracked or chipped around the rim. Use only the two-piece screw lids, never re-using the flat piece, as its protective ability is compromised once lifted off a jar.

Lids and jars should be sterilized before use by boiling for at least 10 minutes, leaving them in the hot water until they are needed.

The two canning methods in general use today make use of either a boiling-water bath or pressure canner for processing. The boiling-water system requires longer processing times and is suitable for foods with higher acid contents, while the pressure canner reaches higher temperatures faster and is suitable for virtually all food types. Once you have decided which fruit, vegetable or meat you want to can, be sure to educate yourself on the current recommendations for method, processing time and sterilization precautions for that produce. Your county extension office provides a wealth of information for your area, or you can go online to such sites as the USDA’s National Center for Home Preservation (

Canning methods

For high acid foods, such as tomatoes, use the hot water bath method, which employs a large enamel kettle with a rack. To start, fill the kettle half full with hot water.

1) Wash your food thoroughly but gently, chop it and cook or blanch as your recipe dictates. Pour into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace at the top. Wipe the rim clean, and screw down the sterilized lids.
2) Set into the kettle’s rack. If the jars of food do not fill the rack, place empty jars (also sterilized) into the extra spaces to prevent the jars from tipping.
3) Lower the rack into the hot water. Processing time starts when the water returns to a boil.
4) After processing, use tongs to carefully remove the jars from the kettle and set them onto clean towels. Within a short time, you should hear the lids “click” down. However, do not disturb the jars for several hours.
5) After that time, remove the screw band and check the seal by noticing its concave indentation. A second test of your seal is to place the jar into a bowl and pick it up by the lid. If it does not fall away, your seal is good.

For low-acid foods such as green beans, asparagus and most other vegetables, it is recommended you use a pressure canner. Steps 1 and 2 are the same as for the hot water bath.  Then:

3) Lower the rack into the pressure canner, into which you have poured two inches of water (or whatever is recommended in your owner’s manual). Tighten down the kettle’s lid but do not close the vents.
4) Keep the canner on high heat until the steam flows freely from the vents. Hold at this temp for 10 minutes. Then close the vents. Processing time starts when the gauge reaches the level recommended for that food.
5) When processing is complete, remove the canner from the heat. Allow its temperature and pressure to fall naturally. Never hurry this process. Once the pressure returns to zero, wait two minutes before opening the vent and the canner’s lid, pointing it away from you to prevent steam burns.

Safe, secure and yummy!

At a time when we all worry about the preservatives and additives in our food, we can find comfort in the food we buy fresh and preserve ourselves. Imagine the smiles on the faces of your family come next January when you place a bowl of hot blueberry compote beside a stack of steaming pancakes, or the pleasure you’ll derive in popping open a jar of sparkling red tomatoes you canned with your own hands.

As fruits and vegetables become available this summer and fall, consider preserving some of the produce for the winter and beyond. Prices may continue to climb, but when we open our pantry door and see the shelves lined with the fruits of our labors, we will feel secure. Thank goodness the art of home preservation has not vanished – for it’s a wonderful way we all can take care of each other.

Susie Schade-Brewer lives in Adrian, Missouri, with her family and pugs. Her first historical fiction novel, The Sacrifice of the Sage Hen, is scheduled for a spring 2008 release. She’s working on the sequel, Passion’s End. Visit her Web site at

Albermarle Peach Chutney

President Thomas Jefferson once boasted, “I am an Epicurean.” He undoubtedly enjoyed this peach recipe, as it originated in Albermarle County, Virginia, the location of his Monticello estate.

12 cups sliced, peeled fresh peaches (approximately 5 pounds)
4 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 cups vinegar
5 cups diced, peeled tart apples (about 6 medium)
2 cups raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon mustard seed
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika

Mix together peaches, sugar and vinegar. In 6-quart kettle, mix apples, raisins, onion, lemon peel, lemon juice, mustard, ginger, cumin and paprika. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes; stir often. Add peach mixture. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Pack into hot pint jars, leaving 1/2 -inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath 20 minutes. Yields 7 to 8 pints.

Gerri’s Salsa

4 to 5 quarts tomatoes, skin removed, chopped
4 large onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (about 6 peppers)
6 green peppers, finely chopped
2 cups white vinegar
12 ounces tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
6 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon alum, powdered or granulated
1/2 cup pickling salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground pepper
1/2 cup granulated sugar

In large kettle, bring all ingredients to a boil; simmer for 30 minutes. Pour into clean pint jars. Place two-piece lids on jars, screwing bands on securely. Place jars in rack inside processor, keeping jars apart. Process jars in boiling water bath for 20 minutes. (Adjust time for your altitude.)  Yields 12-15 pints.

Sour Pickles

50 tiny cucumbers
1 cup salt
3 green peppers, chopped
6 whole allspice
6 peppercorns
1 1/2 sticks cinnamon
1 blade (or 1 tablespoon) mace
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seed

Wash cucumbers and place in large crock. Cover with cold water. Let stand 2 hours. Drain. Cover with boiling water to which 3/4 cup salt has been added. Cover and let stand 2 days. Drain. Discard cucumbers that aren’t solid and in good condition. Pack in sterilized jars.

Make pickling liquid. In large saucepan, combine sufficient vinegar to cover cucumbers with green peppers, 1/4 cup salt, allspice, peppercorns, cinnamon, mace, bay leaf, onion and mustard seed. Heat mixture, but don’t boil.

Ladle liquid into jars, covering cucumbers and leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, and adjust lids. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Let jars set 8 weeks before opening. Yields about 8 pints.

Sugar-Free Blueberry Bay Jam

2 quarts blueberries
Unsweetened apple juice
5 bay leaves, optional
1 package (1.75 ounces) no-sugar-needed pectin
12-14 packets Equal sweetener or 3 1/2 to 4 teaspoons Equal Measure
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Prepare five 1/2-pint freezer jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Crush blueberries to make 4 cups. Place blueberries in strainer over glass measuring cup to drain juice, and add enough apple juice to make 1 cup total.

Combine blueberries, juice and bay leaves in medium saucepan; add pectin, slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Boil and stir 1 minute.

Remove saucepan from heat; skim foam, if necessary. Let stand 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove and reserve bay leaves. Stir in sweetener and lemon juice.

Fill freezer jars to within 1/2-inch of top. Push 1 reserved bay leaf into the center of each jar. Wipe jar rims; cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours.

Refrigerate until chilled, or place jam in freezer. Jam may be stored for up to 3 weeks in refrigerator, or in freezer for up to 6 months. Yields five 1/2-pint jars.

Baked Apple Butter

10 to 12 pounds apples
Apple cider
9 cups granulated sugar
Juice and grated rind of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice

Wash and quarter apples. Place in large pot with just enough apple cider to keep apples from sticking, and cook until soft and mushy.

Cool slightly and put through sieve. You should have about 18 cups of apple puree. Using a large ovenproof casserole or roasting pan, combine the puree, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Mix thoroughly.

Place casserole in cold oven and set the temperature to 300 degrees. Cook several hours until the apple butter is desired thickness. Stir every 1/2 to 1 hour and then more frequently as butter thickens. You can test the butter for doneness by placing a small quantity on a plate. When no rim of liquid separates from edges of the butter, it’s done.

Pour the mixture into hot, sterilized jars and seal, using two-piece canning lids and following the manufacturer’s instructions. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. (Adjust accordingly for your local altitude.) Fills about eight 12-ounce jars.