I do alot of canning and preserving. Salsa, jelly, jams, veggies...not only is it a great way to keep the summer freshness from fruits and veggies...to me, it's another way to show your family how much you love them. Silly, I know, but it's really nice when a family member cracks open a new jar of preserves or salsa, and remarks on the fact that it still tastes like it was JUST made. I can remember my grandmother doing this when I was a child, so it's homey feeling, too!!
Sure, canning can be work. Since there's also 2 different ways to can (pressure canning and water bath), it can be a little complicated, as well. It's also an investment, because you need certain tools to do it, and those tools aren't always cheap. But...what I've paid out has been returned 10-fold, so I wouldn't change a thing. I've made some mistakes, too...which is why I'm doing today's blog. If I can save one person the headaches I went through when learning, that in itself makes it ALL worthwhile!!
First, let's discuss tools. After all, without them, you get nowhere. I originally started out using a pressure cooker (10 quart size). It cost me $50, and yes, it worked...for a while. The problem with using a pressure cooker came to the forefront quickly, though. You simply can't process much in one. You can fit 5 pint jars or 3 quart jars (and those ONLY if you lay them down, which is supposed to be a NO-NO). That's it. And, since the entire purpose of canning is to put away large quantities of food, that means you have to run the process over...and over...and over!! Who wants to deal with that?
After using the pressure cooker for 2 years, I finally invested in an actual pressure CANNER. It's a 23 quart monster!! But, I can EASILY fit 10 pint jars or 7 quart jars in it at one time...MAJOR improvement. Alas...the only drawback (and the reason it took me a couple of years) to getting it was the cost...it was $135!! Yes, it will pay for itself...mine gets used every couple of months for about a week as fruits and veggies become available. I've had it for 3 years now, and wouldn't trade it for the world!!
So, a list of what you REALLY need to do home canning (all available from Amazon and other companies):
Pressure CANNER (don't mess with a pressure cooker), at least a 16 quart, preferably 23 quart)
Canning Utensil Set (consists of a lid lifter, jar lifter, wide-mouth funnel, jar tightener, and tongs)
Canning Jars (I prefer to do everything in pints and quarts, but there are 1/2 pints available, too)
That's pretty much all you need, hardware-wise. Let's now turn to the HOWS...how it works, and how to do it!!
Let's begin with how it works, because that will help with how TO do it. Earlier, I mentioned 2 methods...pressure and water bath canning. We'll address each one individually.
Water bath canning doesn't involve pressure (but you CAN use the same pot for it, so no need to buy a separate one). A water bath simply means bringing water to a regular boil, and allowing the canned items to sit in it for a certain amount of time. This can ONLY be used for high acid foods, folks...specifically fruits. You CANNOT use this on veggies or anything with meat...those MUST be canned under pressure for health safety!! This is the easiest method of canning. Simply bring it to boil, process for the time required, then remove and cool the jars. That's it!!
When you are canning foods in a pressurized container, you are increasing the actual temperature you can achieve well above the norm. Typically, water boils at 212 degrees...and that's as hot as it ever gets. That's great for high acid foods. But, inside a pressure canner, the pressure increases that temperature, up to 400 degrees...by doing that, the heat will pretty much kill ANY type of bacteria that might be living in/on the food. In turn, this means that what's inside that jar is "bug" free, and will last almost indefinitely (more on storage times later). Pressure canning is required for any veggies or meat items.
Now, on to HOW to can. First, determine roughly how many jars you'll need, and make sure you have enough 2-part lids (canning lids and rings) for each, then add 2 MORE (just in case). Using a large stock pot, put all jars and lids in, cover with water, and bring to a simmer...you want to make sure you see little bubbles, you don't need a hard boil. Let them stay in the this sterilizing bath for at least 5 minutes.
Once the time is up, using your jar lifter, remove the jars ONLY, and allow to drain completely. Next, line them up on your counter next to whatever concoction you're canning, and grab your funnel.
Using a ladle, scoop the contents into each jar, being careful not to fill beyond 1/2-1 inch from the very top. This is called headspace, and is essential for processing, because the heat will force excess air out of the jar as it processes. Once all the jars are filled (or you run out of goodies to put in them), take a paper towel, and gently wipe the rims of each jar clean. This will help with making a good seal. Using the lid lifter, get a lid/ring for each jar, and put them on, tightening ONLY until you feel resistance (do not tighten hard, as this will inhibit the excess air from escaping).
Once you have all the jars ready, place them into your pressure canner, and fill with water until you have AT LEAST 1 inch above them all. Turn on the heat.
Now for the tricky part...certain recipes will call for differing canning times and pressures. The timing does NOT begin until you actually reach the pressure called for, so you have to wait until it's at that point before starting your timer. Some items need 15 lbs pressure for 30 minutes, others need 10 lbs pressure for 45. MAKE SURE you are at the correct pressure, then start timing.
NOTE - Most pressure canners come with a weight that sits on top of a vent in the lid. Typically, the weight is set to reach 15 lbs of pressure. If you want one that will do different pressure readings, you'll probably have to buy it separately, but they can be hard to find. I have found that simply reducing the temp on the stove can have the same effect, so I've not gotten one. High will put you at 15 lbs, med will put you around 10 lbs. So far, I've not seen anything using lower pressure than that.
Once the time is up, simply turn off the stove, and allow the canner to reduce pressure naturally. If you have another batch waiting, you CAN do this manually, however...simply remove the weighted regulator. This will allow the canner to vent much faster, however it will be EXTREMELY loud (it's very similar in sound to an old-fashioned steam whistle). Whatever you do...DO NOT REMOVE THE LID OF THE CANNER UNTIL ALL PRESSURE IS RELEASED!!! The pressure will cause the lid to literally explode off, causing serious injury. You will know it's done when the pressure gauge is at 0 for at least 5 minutes.
Using the jar lifter (these will be extremely HOT), remove each jar and set on a heat-proof surface to come down to room temp. Check for a proper seal after cooling by pushing on the center of the lid...if there's no movement, it's ready for storage. If it flexes, it did not seal properly, and should be stored in your fridge for use within 2 weeks. You CAN try to reprocess the jar, but I don't recommend it. It's too much hassle, and usually doesn't work.
Occasionally, after removing jars, you'll suddenly hear a little ping sound. Not to worry...it's the center of the lid depressing itself as it cools, and is perfectly normal. First time my hubby heard it, he thought something had cracked!! It took me 5 minutes before I could stop laughing long enough to explain!!
Once you're finished, you will have jars of healthy veggies, fruits, or meats that can be stored on a pantry shelf. Typically, the length of storage is as follows:
Fruits, including preserves, jams, jellies - 2 years
Veggies, not including meats or fats - 1 1/2 years
Veggies including meat or fat - 1 year
Meat or meatstock - 9 months
As for the times each requires, here are some links showing general guidelines that you can use. Just remember...if your particular recipe calls for a longer time, follow that. If it calls for a shorter time, use the guideline recommendations for your own safety.
Ok, folks!! To those who have always wondered how this is done (and those who've suffered through my ramblings simply because you like me...HAHAHA), thank you!! I certainly hope this has helped you all understand that canning/preserving isn't as complicated as it might seem, and that you CAN do the CAN CAN!!!! ENJOY!!