How to Can Food: Beginners’ Style

Canning food is a reliable form of food preservation. By taking the bounty of the fat times, the summer months and converting them into jellies, pickles, sauces, stocks and other products, you can store up a reserve of food for the lean times, winter months when few, if any, crops will grow. It’s a labor-intensive process, but fairly repetitive, so that once you develop a rhythm, you’ll be churning things out repetitively. (Don’t be complacent however; improperly-canned food can be dangerous to eat. For this reason, maintain a clean, orderly canning set-up, to prevent contamination).

The process of canning kills most bacteria by heating the contents of the jar and vacuum-sealing prevents air and moisture from reaching your canned food. There is a chance that Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium which causes botulism, an incredible sickness that can kill, may take hold in your food. Although this is rare, it is a possibility. If your lids aren’t tight when you go to retrieve a jar of food, or if the contents are discolored or rancid, discard the food. With a little practice, however, this should be a very rare occurrence.

Canning is simple, but it takes patience to learn how to master the skill. Your delicious homemade food will be worth it! Image: jenniferworthen/flickr

To can, all you need is some basic equipment: a large canning pot, with a lid and a wire rack for jars to sit on (if you are going to stack them one level on top of another), mason jars with sealing lids and rings and some canning tongs, which grips the lid of the jar as you lift it out of the pot. That’s it. Of course there are a myriad of canning kits and methods out there for purchase, when starting choose what you think will best work for you.

The Canning Process

1.) Prepare the food you wish to can: jellies, chutneys, whatever. Recipes for canning employ some form of food-preservation, which restricts the ability of microbial life to take hold and spoil food. Jellies up the acidity of the food and pickles submerge cooked food in a salty brine, an inhospitable climate for unwanted microbial life.

2.) Fill your canning pot with water. Fill it with water, so that it goes over the level of your jars. Bring the water to a boil. Use your tongs to dip the jars into the boiling water. Which will sterilize them. Set them aside on a clean, dry towel to let them air-dry. Do not fill a jar that has excess water. Excess water will promote the growth of dangerous pathogens.

3.) Ladle or pour your prepared food (while still hot, if possible), into your jars, leaving some room between the level of your food and the mouth of the jar. Make sure the rim of the mouth of the jar is clean and dry. Place a new adhesive sealing lid on the jar and screw on a ring.

4.) Place the jar in your canning pot until the lid has sealed. This should take about ten minutes or so, to allow a vacuum to draw your lid tight and for the heat to kill unwanted pathogens. The heat from the water accomplishes both and will melt the adhesive on the lid slightly, to seal the jar. Keep placing jars in the pot. When it gets full, move the first jars out, to cool on another towel. Use a dish towel or oven mitt to insulate your hands and loosen the rings on your jars, so that they hold the lid snug without being fully tightened. Leave them to cool. Repeat this process until you fill all your jars.

5.) When your jars have cooled a little, check that the lids are sealed. Look closely; even if the lids are a little loose, they can’t be trusted to keep. Canned food can be safely re-canned within a 24-hour period from the time it was originally canned. Check the rim of the jar for nicks. If you find any, use a new jar. If not, you may reuse the jar that your food is in. Affix a new lid, with a ring and submerge it in your canning bath again. (You can’t reuse lids…can you think of a way to upcycle them?).

6.) Store your canned goods in a secure area with a moderate temperature, (cooler is better, but a room heated to 70 degrees F is safe, too). A basement closet or a pantry is an ideal choice. Make sure any shelving is strong enough to support the weight of your canned food. Your canned food can keep optimally for a year. Excess heat from pipes or a furnace can degrade your food and dampness on lids can corrode them, which may compromise a seal.

Don’t be discouraged if your first batch tastes, well frankly awful. Unless you are blessed to have a skilled grandmother to walk you through the steps on how to can food, you may have some difficulty in achieving perfect results…at first. Home canning benefits are aplenty, its a fulfilling pastime, a great method of food preservation, and a self reliant skill that everyone can appreciate. Not to mention the quality of canned food will likely be superior than what you can by in the store. -MIKE KLEPFER

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