Six Tips to Start Canning

posted by Andrea | 06/26/2012

Are you ready for canning season? If not, today’s guest post offers 6 tips to help you get started {and I shared a few more last year.}

I won’t be doing any canning this year — thanks to our “fun” kitchen renovation — but I did preserve a double batch of everything last year… so we won’t starve! Actually, I usually only can every other year, and then take a year off. So thankfully, it worked out quite nicely that this was my year off.

Since I won’t be doing any canning this summer, I wanted to share this guest post from Leslie Bilyeu (a fellow Michigander). She knows a ton about canning… so listen up!

Guest post from Leslie Bilyeu. 

As a child, my mom would can the peaches from the tree in our front yard. It’d be August, hotter than ever, and my mom would be standing in front of the sink, blanching peaches with the ceiling fan going what seemed like 100 miles an hour. The pressure canner would be venting behind her on the stove and she would be wiping the sweat off her forehead.

My mom canned the produce from our home all summer long. Taught by my grandmother, my mom was able to put away produce that reminded us of summer during the long Michigan winter.

When I got married, naturally I asked my mom to teach me. She came to my house, helped me snap the ends of green beans and showed me the basics on how to water bath and pressure can. Since then, my abilities of home preservation have improved and I stock a full pantry of fruits, vegetables, stocks, and many other staples we use regularly.

My mom provided me with the right tricks and tools, but I have learned a few lessons of my own along the way.

1. Use tested recipes and trusted resources.

Sure, Aunt Rita gave you a wonderful recipe for jam or directions of her way to can green beans, but if you are new to home preservation, use trusted resources. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great place to seek basic recipes.

I also like to encourage folks to check out the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving if they are new to canning. These resources will be very clear on how to process your food — either by water bath or pressure canning.

2. Keep it simple.

If you are just learning to can, try easy recipes and don’t be afraid of the pressure canner. If you like green beans, preserve green beans! If you can’t get enough summer sweet corn, buy some from your local farmer (or grow it yourself) and get busy! If you love jam and pickles, maybe a water bath canner is all you need.

But remember to take it easy!

Last summer I was willing to take on the challenge of pressure canning 48 dozen ears of sweet corn in one weekend- by myself! My kitchen, my cupboards, myself and my house was covered with sweet corn juice and it was a sticky hot mess. I have no idea what possessed me to do that (I figured I’d get an entire year’s worth of corn put up in one day I guess) but never, ever again.

3. Ask around for jars.

If canning and home preserving is something you think you may like to do, ask around for jars. They can be expensive when purchased in the store, especially if you want several jars!

I hardly had any mason jars when I first began canning but I asked my mom if she had any extra I could get started with and then sent out a quick e-mail asking if anyone had any I could buy from them.

Within days I had people dropping off mason jars on my porch — for free! I had all types handed to me and no one even wanted any compensation for them. I always asked but most of the time I was told “You’re cleaning out my attic/basement/garage- thank you for taking them.”

Be sure to inspect your new found jars for any cracks or chips. I ended up with well over 500 jars and keep a regular rotation of jars and foods preserved in my pantry.

4. Store your canned items without the ring.

If you can with the two piece lids like I do (the metal ring and lid), remove your rings after your jars have sealed and wipe the lids clean. The metal rings can hold the lid in place and can leave a spoiled jar of food undetected for some time.

Once your processed jars have set still in a cool place for more than 24 hours, remove the ring, wipe the jars clean, and check for proper sealing and store.

5. When in doubt, throw it out.

Long gone are the days where we may only have wilting potatoes from our root cellar to eat for the entire month of January. When canning, pick good-looking, fresh, ripe produce. Sometimes I come across some funky tomatoes while I’m prepping to make sauce — and I pitch them! It isn’t worth using a spoiled tomato to ruin an entire batch of tomato sauce.

Same rule applies after the canning process is finished. Look for spoilage and smell it. If it smells “off”, throw it out. No home canned item is worth contracting a food borne illness.

6. Know your food.

For each jar of preserved jam, green beans, tomato sauce or stock I have in my basement pantry, I can tell you where each of the food items came from. Each food item I purchase or receive has a story.

The picked asparagus came from my grandmother’s 30 year old asparagus patch. The strawberry rhubarb vanilla jam? The berries and rhubarb came from my mom’s home and the vanilla beans from a small Italian store in New York City (Chelsea Market) on vacation.

All the green beans came directly from our garden. The apples were picked from a local farm and sold at a farmer’s market in Snover, Michigan. The sweet corn came from a local farmer known around my town as “The Corn Man.”

The process of home preserving for me goes way beyond feast or famine; it’s about building relationships with people, creating memories, and knowing where the food in our home is from.

Are you canning anything this summer?

Leslie Bilyeu is a southeast Michigan based freelancer. As a 2008 Walsh College of Accountancy and Business Administration graduate, Leslie majored in marketing and management. Leslie can be contacted at lebilyeu@gmail.com.

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18 comments

  1. Chris

    06/26/2012

    How long do home canned goods last? My in-laws had some really old stuff at their house. Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Leslie B. Reply:

    Hi Chris,
    The typical self life of items is around 1 year- I have some items that are over one year- food like tomato sauce, pickles, and jam. If they are stored in a cool dry place, chances are they will last longer. Heat and moisture can effect the shelf life. Once it gets to be over one year, I typically crack the seal when eating, smell the lid and the contents and check for signs of spoilage.

    [Reply]

  2. L.

    06/26/2012

    I really want to try canning this year, but i don’t/can’t have a garden since i live in an apt. complex. If I were to buy fruit (ex. apples) by the bushel how many cans does a bushel give u?

    [Reply]

    Leslie B. Reply:

    Hi L,
    I understand the want to can, but the limitation on growing. I too can only have a small garden at my home. For food I can’t grow, or if I want more than I can produce at home- I buy from the farmer’s market. How much space in your apartment are you willing to set aside for storage?

    The bushel depends also on what food item it is. For example, a bushel of snap beans could produce 15-20 quarts. A bushel of apples for sauce could make 12-16 quarts. A bushel of tomatos can make as many of 20 quarts of sauce, depending upon how long you cook it down (thickness). A recommendation for you would be to check out ‘small bactch’ canning. Recipies are cut down and don’t produce the high number of quarts- but you can still enjoy the summer produce. Marisa McClellan, author of blog Food In Jars has a lof of small bactch recipes- great for people with limited storage space.

    [Reply]

  3. Suzi

    06/26/2012

    I used to sell produce at a roadside stand as a summer job for a local peach orchard in Illinois. Many customers would come to our stand at the end of the day and ask for the “second” peaches. They tend to be slightly bruised, might have a bird peck hole in them, or some green spots on the skin. All in all they are perfectly delicious peaches…just with a few imperfections. Typically stands at farmers markets will sell you their “seconds” by the bushel at a VERY discounted rate. Because they are likely going to give them out to family members or throw them out anyway. The peaches when peeled and sliced are still PERFECT for canning! Just a TIP!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, great tip Suzi. I almost ALWAYS ask if I can buy “seconds” — and I almost always walk away with delicious fruit for a fraction of the price.

    Thanks for the reminder :)

    [Reply]

    Leslie B. Reply:

    Suzi,
    Lots of time too, the farmers markets would rather sell at a discounted price at the end of the day than have to haul the produce back to the farm at night. I like to wheel and deal if possible, but always pay fairly- farmers work hard too!! :)

    [Reply]

  4. Jessica @ Budget For Health

    06/26/2012

    I used my mom’s canning stuff last summer to can my own blackberry jam. I haven’t blocked out time in my schedule to do more canning but I loved it. There’s a great sense of pride when you get to eat something YOU made!

    [Reply]

    Leslie B. Reply:

    I know the feeling Jessica! I love opening a jar or something and know that I made it and I know what is in it. I can everything from stock to soup to baked beans, vegetables, pickled asparagus, jam, etc, and it just feels so good to know I’ve made it myself!

    [Reply]

  5. Stacey

    06/26/2012

    Some things, like applesauce (of which we eat copious amounts!), I can every fall. However this year, with the freeze that hurt the apple crop here in W. MI, I don’t know how that will go. We much prefer our home canned applesauce to store bought. Perhaps I’ll use store bought applesauce for my baking and the home canned (if we can get any local apples) for with dinner. I still have about a dozen quarts left from last year, so that will help.

    Some things that are more fussy (requiring multiple ingredients and lots of prep) get done every other year: salsas, chutneys, etc.

    Some years we are blessed with an abundance of produce from friends and I’ll put up whatever they give us. Last year it was a bumper crop of pears. I don’t need to can pears this year!

    I don’t think I could ever go to an every-other-year schedule for all of my canning. I like to even it out a bit. I’m amazed though, at God’s providence even when we’re not always aware of it at the moment. One year we had so much fun picking apples at the orchard that we came home with way more than we usually do. We had so much applesauce that fall that we had a ton left the next season. Our family was hit with a crisis that fall and we never made it out to pick apples. The abundance from the previous year was there. God had it all lined up!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Stacey, your comment made my smile — growing up, we had a jar of applesauce out at EVERY meal — even Mexican :) Dave’s family eats quite a bit of applesauce as well… and you better believer there is almost always a jar of homemade applesauce in the center of our table each night!

    And yes, I also feel fortunate that I chose last year to do a double batch of everything — especially since I still had a few jars left and I was pregnant and tired. But his summer, I’m MUCH more tired than I was last summer (and I don’t have a kitchen).

    [Reply]

  6. Kaui @ Thrifty Military Mommy

    06/26/2012

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve been really scared to try this on my own, but I think I’m finally going to do it now that I’ve read this. Thanks a bunch for the resources!

    BTW, do you have any tips on where to buy a huge batch of fruits or veggies without breaking the bank?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Kaul, I buy all my fruit straight from the orchard. I pick almost all my own berries (which is MUCH cheaper) and generally, I’ve found the buying straight from the orchard is by-far the least expensive and probably the freshest too.

    [Reply]

    Leslie B. Reply:

    Kaui- the website pickyourown.org is a good resource for local orchards and farms for produce. I also have a bulk food store run by a Mennonite family about an hour from me in Snover, Michigan. The produce is local and the prices are excellent! The local orchards here get about $28-32 a bushel for apples for example- at the mennonite store, it is $13 a bushel. Well worth the car ride for the produce.

    I understand the want to get huge batches of fruit at a fraction of the price- it can get expensive!

    [Reply]

  7. Karen @ Abundance on a Dime

    06/26/2012

    I canned my first batch of strawberry jam (without adult assistance) at 14, after watching my mom do it for years. It’s 27 summers later and I’m still at it :) Some years I do more than others, but I always do at least a few different items each year. I just made my first ever batch of saskatoon jam using foraged saskatoons (aka serviceberries or juneberries). It tastes awesome – almost like blueberry jam.

    I have also found that if you ask around, you can get lots of free jars. Since I’ve been canning for so many years, lots of people know I do it and I get offered jars quite often. People are also really good about giving me my jars back if I give them home canned gifts. I did buy a few jars in my early canning days, but it’s been years and years since I’ve had to buy any. Some of my jars have been with me since my first years of canning – it’s pretty cool to think how many times I have reused them!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Karen, I’m using jars from my mom and grandma — so think how many times MY jars have been used and reused! It is cool to think about — and even cooler that they were ALL free :)

    [Reply]

    Leslie B. Reply:

    Karen,
    My grandma, who still cans occasionally (she is in her 80′s) has several jars in her basement and they are beautiful. I just think of how many pickles were in the half gallon jars, or how many times I had rhubarb jam from them as a kid. Just give me the warm and fuzzies!! :)

    Yes, lots of time people are willing to give them to you for free. They always tell me “thank you!! You are cleaning out my basement/garage/attic/etc!”

    [Reply]

  8. Debra

    07/07/2012

    My Penpal sent me some fruit Pectin. I hope to make some peach jam this year. I am so excited.

    [Reply]