Home Canning Made Easier
By Lois Hoffman
After this past year with food and supply shortages, more folks than ever have gotten on the home canning band wagon. For as far back as I can remember, this has just been a way of life for my family. It is actually hard for me to fathom anyone who doesn’t do it.
However, like anything, it can be daunting for the novice. I have heard comments such as “Pressure canning scares me,” or “What if I do something wrong and it’s not safe to eat? I would rather buy it.”
Of course, buying it isn’t always the answer either. Just think how many food recalls there have been in the last few years.
So, is home canning for you? You will never know until you try. As with driving a car, owning a gun or anything else, just follow the instructions. Where people get into trouble and things go wrong is when they take shortcuts. These only come after years of experience and trial and error.
With a few of those years tucked under my belt, I would like to offer some things that I have learned so far. Learning is a process, you never get done. Hopefully, these tips will help not only the beginner, but also the seasoned canners.
Just Do It
I’ll admit that, even with following instructions, accidents happen. Pressure canners do blow up. My best friend was canning salmon in her garage when this happened. Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt and it wasn’t in the house! That was a few years ago and modern pressure canners now have more than one safety device built in. For this reason, it’s preferable to buy a new one unless you inspect a used one to make sure all the equipment like sealing rings and gauges are all working properly.
Don’t be afraid to waste a little food. It’s better than getting sick. Whether water bath canning or pressure canning, sometimes there is a nick in the jar or a faulty lid and a jar doesn’t seal properly. Either put it in the refrigerator and use shortly or throw it out. Yes, a lot of hard work goes into home canning, but foregoing a little of that work is better than getting sick — or worse.
Skipping steps to make canning go quicker or easier is what gets folks into trouble. So, if it’s your first few times, get that booklet out and follow it precisely.
Photo by Lois Hoffman
Water Bath Versus Pressure Canning
Don’t be pressured into thinking that you absolutely have to pressure can. It all depends on what you are canning. High acid foods like fruits, jams, jellies, preserves, tomato-based products without meat and fermented foods are fine in a water bath canner. Pressure canning is the only safe way of canning low-acid foods like meats, seafood, poultry and all vegetables.
Of course, high acid foods can be pressure canned as well as water bathed. Sometimes folks use this method for the sake of saving time when doing multiple batches. For example, quarts of peaches need to be water bathed for 25 minutes and only pressure canned for 10 minutes. However, they may be softer and of less quality than if they were water bathed.
Generally, water bath canning is easier than pressure canning, at least for me. It’s all a matter of preference and where you are doing your canning….which brings us to the next topic.
Choosing a Heat Source for Canning
A couple generations ago, home canning was so prevalent that many homes had a separate small kitchen in the basement or back of the house that was used just for canning. It kept the heat and the mess out of the home. Most folks today don’t have that option.
Modern canning on an electric stove can be a problem if you have a glass top stove. Most manufacturers don’t recommend canning on these surfaces because the high heat can crack the glass top. Many water bath canners have grooves in the bottom that let heat build up and reflect back on the heating surface.
Some older models of gas stoves don’t have burners big enough to produce enough heat to sustain boiling a large water bath canner for an extended amount of time. We tried canning rhubarb this year on Ron’s gas stove top and it just wouldn’t get hot enough around the perimeter of the canner to cause it to boil.
So, what’s the answer? I am going out on a limb here because every source says never to use a turkey fryer for your canning heat source. OK, with that fact stated and, if anyone has any reservations, I would not recommend this method. I am just going to state our experience.
We have used a turkey fryer successfully for water bathing and a little pressure canning. There is one absolute rule doing it this way: DO NOT WALK AWAY. I am guilty of cooking something and walking away and doing other chores while something is heating, frying, etc. This is not an option when using a turkey fryer as a heat source.
The advantage to this method for me is that it keeps the heat and the mess outside the house. Especially with a water bath canner, once it starts to boil, it inevitably boils over which is not good for any stove top. Outside, this is never a problem. I simply sit in a lawn chair and adjust the gas flow to regulate the heat. Bonus here, I get a small break while keeping an eye on it!
Photo by Lois Hoffman
Quick Tips for Home Canners
I have heard comments, especially from those who live in the city, that they think they can’t can because they don’t grow their own produce. Farmers markets may even be a better source for home canning than personal gardens because you can buy the amount you need all at once instead of waiting for it to ripen. My last option would be going to a grocery store or supermarket but they are still viable options if you have no others.
Even old pros learn something new everyday. For starters, I used to peel tomatoes by the hour to can pasta and pizza sauce, salsa and plain tomatoes. Now, I just wash and chunk them and stew them for a few minutes then throw them in a food processor. The skins hold phytochemicals like quercetin and kaempferol, so besides keeping those, it saves a lot of time peeling them. However, I would not recommend doing this for making tomato juice.
When canning peaches, I always disliked ending up with jars two-thirds full no matter how tightly I packed them. After doing some research, I discovered that dropping the peeled peaches in hot syrup and boiling for two minutes takes the air out of them which will leave a full jar after processing. I was skeptical, thinking that boiling them would only make them mushy. But, lo and behold, it worked. Old dogs can learn new tricks!
Home canning isn’t for everyone but, for those of us who do have a passion for it, the real satisfaction (besides eating the preserved foods!) is in preserving our own harvest, knowing what’s in the food and seeing the finished product lined up on the pantry shelves. It doesn’t get any better!
Photo by Lois Hoffman
Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Michigan. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.
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