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The Basics of Home Canning

Melissa Kimball - September 01, 2010

I never missed the signs of summer coming to a close while I was growing up: shopping for school clothes, getting backpacks and pencils together...and the smell of boiling tomatoes, hot peppers, and pectin permeating the kitchen.

With eleven kids to care for, canning food was not only an event in my household, but a necessity.  As soon as we saw the familiar sight of glass mason jars lining the kitchen cupboard, we knew it wouldn’t be long before we were recruited to pick tomatoes, peel peaches, or even pit cherries.  Sometimes it seemed mom felt the need to can every living thing in our backyard (with the exception of the dog). 

But those long days spent working and canning as a family built stronger relationships, even if it didn’t always build our food storage, like the time a fateful food fight left half our tomatoes on the ground instead of in the bottles.  

No matter what produce you plan to stuff away into bottles for the winter, canning can be the ideal way to preserve those fresh foods from your garden or the local market and also provide one last activity to bring your family together before the summer ends. 

Getting Started 

Equipment

Canning requires some different utensils that you might not already have in your kitchen. Some of the necessary equipment includes: a boiling-water canner (or a big pot), mason-type jars (different sizes are available, wide-mouth jars are easiest to fill), lids and rings (you can only use the lids once), a jar lifter, and a candy thermometer. 

Washing and Sterilizing

This is an important step in the canning process in order to get rid of all bacteria that could contaminate your food. Wash canning jars, new lids, and metal rings in hot, soapy water or the dishwasher, and rinse them thoroughly.  To sterilize the jars place them upright in the canner, cover them with hot water, and boil for 10 minutes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions that come with your lids. 

Processing 

Foods can be processed a number of different ways including: boiling-water, steam-pressure, and freezing. The recipes in this article follow the boiling-water process. To begin the boiling-water method, place a rack on the bottom of the pot to keep jars from touching the canner. Fill the canner half full with hot water and heat to 140º F for raw-packed foods, or 180º F for hot-packed foods. With the jars filled and capped, lower them into the canner with a jar lifter. Add more boiling water, if needed, so the water level is at least one inch above jar tops. Turn the heat to its highest position until water boils vigorously. Set a timer for the minutes required for processing food (according to the recipe).

Add more boiling water, if needed, to keep the water level above the jars. When jars have been boiled for the recommended time, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. Using a jar lifter, remove the jars and place them on a towel, leaving at least one-inch spaces between the jars during cooling.  

Start Canning! 

If you are trying to can for the first time, it would be best to start with fruit, because most use the boiling-water method. When selecting what fruits to can, select firm, ripe fruit.

Fruits are often canned in light sugar syrups. Depending on your desired taste, the amount of sugar in the syrup varies with fruits.  For the recipes here, use a heaping 1/3 cup to 3/4 cup per quart of water. Place the sugar in a quart measuring pitcher and add cold water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Pears

These are one of the most successfully canned of all foods. Wash and peel. Halve or quarter and cut out the cores. Boil gently in the syrup liquid for five minutes. Pack the hot pears in hot jars. Add the hot liquid, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process for 20 minutes. 

Peaches

Dip peaches in boiling water and remove after a few seconds; slip off the skins. Cut the fruits in half and remove the pits. Place in a pan without crowding, cover with the desired liquid, and bring to a boil. Ladle the hot fruit into hot jars, packing the halves in layers, cut side down. Add the hot liquid, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Process for 20 minutes. 

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a canning favorite and can easily be canned using the boiling-water method.  To peel tomatoes: Using a small knife, cut a small X in the bottom of the tomatoes; do not cut the flesh. Ease the tomatoes one by one into a pot of boiling water. Leave ripe tomatoes in for about 15 seconds, barely ripe tomatoes for twice as long. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and drop into a bowl of ice water. Pull off the skin with the tip of a knife. 

Wash, peel, and cut tomatoes into halves. Put in a pan without crowding, add water to cover, and boil gently for five minutes. Pack the hot tomatoes in hot jars. Add salt to taste. Add the hot cooking liquid, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process pints for 40 minutes in canner, quarts for 45 minutes.

Get Yourself into a Jam

Preserving jams can also be a rewarding and easy way to fill your food storage. Jams can be preserved through freezing or canning. For first-timers, frozen jam is generally easier to preserve, but below is also a good canned berry jam recipe for the adventurous. 

Strawberry Jam (frozen) 
  • 2 cups crushed strawberries (1 qt.)

  • 4 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 box fruit pectin 

Wash berries, remove stems, and crush. Measure the 2 cups of crushed berries into a large bowl. Measure the sugar into another bowl and then stir it into fruit. Set aside for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

Stir 1 box of fruit pectin and 3/4 cup water together in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute, and remove from the heat. Stir the pectin mixture into the fruit mixture, stirring constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy.

Pour quickly into clean plastic containers to within 1/2" of the top. Wipe off the top edges of the containers and cover with the lids. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours to set, and then refrigerate for immediate use or freeze. (Do not double this recipe; make one batch at a time.) 

Berry Jam (canned) 

Peel, core, and finely grate:

  • 8 ounces tart green apples

Mix with:

  • 2 pounds blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, or raspberries (stemmed)
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice 
  • 3 cups sugar

Cook together, crushing one-quarter of the berries that are in the pot, leaving the rest whole (but do not crush raspberries). Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, to the jelling point. This is the point preserves will jell once cooled; a good visual indicator is when, after boiling high and foamy in the pan, the mixture settles, and suddenly its surface is covered with furiously boiling small bubbles. You can also check using a thermometer. Jelling point is 8 to 10 degrees higher than the boiling point of water. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam before ladling into hot jars. Leave 1/4-inch headspace, and process for 10 minutes. 

© LDS Living Magazine
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