Fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive in the summer, but what about the rest of the year? Wouldn't it be great to preserve and save those fruits and vegetables for the winter when pickings are slim? Canning is a great way to do this and save room in your freezer. There are 2 methods of canning: Water Bath Canning and Pressure Canning. The difference being this: Watter Bath Canning is for canning things that have a high acidic value (jams, some tomato sauces, etc), while Pressure Canning is used for items that have a low acidic value (green beans, and other whole vegetables). Now, I haven't done any Pressure Canning myself, so if you are interested in Pressure Canning, please try this resource. Everything from here on out will be about Water Bath Canning.
To get started, you will need a couple of tools:
- A large pot or Canner: When I got started I used my stock pot because I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest in a canner. It worked well, but I was always worried that something would go wrong - the jars were just barely covered by the water by the recommended amount. If you think you'll can more than 4 times, I would invest in a Water Bath Canner. Look for these at walmart (they ONLY have them during the canning "season" - summer) or your local hardware/homegoods store. I got mine for $25.
- Jar Grabber: This is basically a huge set of tongs that you use to take the finished jars out of the BOILING HOT WATER. You are going to want one of these so you don't end up with 2nd degree burns. They run about $10 or less at your local hardware/homegoods store.
- Funnel: This is to make sure that what you are canning safely makes it into the jars. There are special funnels for wide mouth jars, which is what I use. If you are going to can anything liquidy (jams especially), definitely get one. About $5 or less at your local hardware/homegoods store.
- Ruler: It is important to not leave too much space for air in your jars, and most recipes tell you exactly how much space is okay - having a ruler on hand in the kitchen is very helpful if you are not good at eyeballing 1/2 of an inch or less.
- Canning Jars: I would recommend checking your local craigslist or freecycle before buying these at the store. They can be found at walmart, some grocery stores, and my favorite - your local hardware/homegoods store! (You will need the corresponding canning rings for these jars) They amount of jars you will need depends on what you are canning and how many jars can be filled with your recipe.
- Canning Lids: These are NOT reusable. Please don't try, because it is not safe. They aren't very expensive, and you can find them the same places you can buy jars.
Now that you have everything to get started, what are you going to can? Think about the fruits and vegetables that are in season before you decide what to can. Buy things that are in season, on sale, or growing in your yard! The following is a list of what I made last summer - my first summer of canning!
- Peach (show above) & Plum Jam - I used the recipes and instructions that come with Certo - a type of pectin used for making jams. Making and canning jam is what I would recommend for starting out. There are a few different kinds/brands of pectin available at the grocery store with the other canning supplies. Each kind/brand has their own recipe and instructions for canning. Make sure you read all the instructions before you start and make sure you are ready to can before you start making the jam. It might even be best to read the instructions before you decide what kind of jam to make - it will tell you how much of each kind of fruit you will need to make that kind of jam, and also how the fruit must be prepared to begin. The fruit must be perfectly ripe - not under ripe or overripe so timing is key!
- Tomato Sauce - The key to make tomato sauce safe to can is adding lemon juice to raise the level of acidity. It is important to follow an approved recipe. The time in a water bath canner is pretty long for tomato sauce - 30+ minutes depending on your altitude. Feel free to divide this recipe in half or more as long as your preserve the ratio of ingredients.
- Salsa - Ball has some great mixes that you can buy at the grocery store. I used one of them to make and can salsa. The directions are included in the packaging. This also has a relatively long time for processing.
Apple Season! Fall is apple season in my neck of the woods and I found myself up to my ears with apples! I managed to can both apple butter and apple sauce this year.
Apple Sauce - I used my food mill and my arm was killing me by the end, but it was definitely worth it! I did not add any sugar to my apple sauce and it is absolutely delicious.
Apple Butter - I followed this recipe, but I did something a little different because I was making a very small amount of apple butter (I ended up with 1 jar). Instead of starting with apple sauce, I sliced up my apples and put them in the crockpot whole for about 6-8 hours on low. When they are done, they will be VERY soft, and you can just mash them with a potato masher! Then, add the spices, etc, and continue to cook as the recipe entails. This will cook down A LOT, so you will start out with tons of apples and end up with a much smaller amount of apple butter, but it will be delicious. I also used my emersion blender in the crockpot to get it very smooth and I cut back on the sugar and used honey instead. Oh, it was so delicious, we were just eating it right out of the pot.
I hope this has gotten you excited about canning and preserving your fruits and veggies - the harvest season will be here before you know it!