Canning

We LOVE to can food at our house! It's a rare and wonderful treat to be able to pull items from our seasonal harvest off the shelf to find them tasting as fresh as the day they came off the vine. It fills us with pride and joy to give out Yule gifts of our berry and fruit jams or to serve guests sauce we put up over the summer using nothing but vegetables and spices grown in our own garden. Best of all, canning is easy to do and costs very little to get started!

All that being said, there is a dark side to canning. If you mess up, you can grow nasty, nasty things in your canning that have unpleasant effects. Botulism, for example, is a very powerful toxin - just one microgram is lethal to humans, blocking nerve function and leading to respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. So, on that cheery thought, let me stress that sanitation is key in successful canning as is good planning and preparation. It's also important not to deviate from a given recipe until you're sure you understand why all the ingredients are there (e.g. don't drop the citrus juice and/or vinegar from a canned salsa recipe as this ingredient insures the acid content of your food is high enough to withstand bacterial growths). In all, it's important for me stress that if you mess things up and kill off your family, friends, or neighbors by using bad canning practices, then it's all your fault, not mine; read "all warranties stated or implied herein are null and void forever and ever and ever, neener neener".

INGREDIENTS

EQUIPMENT

  • Canning Jars
  • New Canning Jar Seals
  • Wide Exit Funnel (a.k.a. Home Canning Funnel)
  • Jar Picker Upper Thingy
  • Large, Deep Sauce Pan; get that big stainless steel one out that you use for chili.
  • 1 Metric Whack® Water; preferably filtered.
  • Hot Pads
  • Clean Towel(s)
  • Clean Washcloth(s); possibly dipped in bleach water.

First and foremost, to can you need canning jars. Lots and lots of canning jars. Don't worry about buying too many canning jars; trust me, once you get the canning bug, you'll use 'em all up repeatedly. You'll also need lids and seals. The lids are the bits that screw on to the jars; the seals are the bits that fit into the lid and contact the lip of the jar. You can re-use jars, you can reuse lids, but you can NOT reuse seals because the rubber on them wears out after one use. You'll also need something heat resiliant to act as an extension to your arm when moving jars into and out of boiling water. Pictured here is a specialty tool you may pick up at any farm supply store, but a pair of tongs might do the trick for you as well. You'll also want to have a wide exit funnel on hand as pouring can be tricky business.

To begin, fill your big pot with water and bring it to a boil. If possible, use filtered water as this will introduce less particulate matter into your cooking. Remember that covering the pot will help this along. Once it's at a rolling boil, place all the jars you'll be using for this canning session along with all of your hardware into the pot and boil them for 15 minutes. This is a fairly reliable sanitation method, removing any nasties that may be living on the sides of your jars. If you don't have enough room for everything, then process them through in several loads.

Note: You should try to time the completion of whatever it is you're canning to coincide with the jars coming off the boil.

Once the equipment is all toasty, fish out your jar-picker-upper-thingy, allow it to cool, and then use it to remove the remaining items. These should all be placed on a clean towel, which should itself be situated on an open and unobstructed counter space.

Insert the funnel into a jar and pour in your jam, jelly, salsa, Baked Tomato Sauce, whatev, into the jar, being careful to leave about half an inch of space between the top of the filling and top of the jar. This gap provides an air pocket that is important for allowing pressure to escape the jar and then for pressure to seal it up when it cools. If you miss the lip and get anything on the lip or threads of the jar then wipe it off with a clean washcloth (possibly having a light bleach solution on it).

Place a seal on the jar and then screw on a lid hand tight; do not apply any pressure to push the seal once it loosely contacts the seal or else pressure will not escape the jar and your canning will fail.

Use the the jar-picker-upper-thingy to move the preserves back into the boiling water (you didn't turn it off, did you?!) and leave them there for another 15 minutes. If you watch closely, you'll see gas bubbles escaping from the jars in short order.

Once they've completed their second round, move them back to the towel and leave them to sit for several hours. You should here melodious "plink" noises as the seals suck down onto the jar. Do NOT E*V*E*R push the lids down manually during this cooling down time; if the lids do not suck down on their own then it's a sure sign that the canning did not take, so pushing them down prematurely has the potential for disaster as you will not know which jars sealed and which did not.

Once the jars have cooled to room temperature, carefully push down on each of the seals. If any of them gives noticeably, then place that jar in the refrigerator and treat it like an already opened jar (i.e. eat it before it goes bad). The rest should be stored in a cool, dry place and pulled out on cold, blustery days to remind you of the harvest and plenty to come next season.