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Canning: Not What You Think!

canning not what you think

Written by Anne S, Guest Writer

In the “old days”, canning was just part of the household routine, a useful way to preserve the bounty of the growing season for the cold dark days of winter. Mothers passed down the skills of canning to their daughters in the same way they passed down all the other essential house-keeping skills – by example and instruction.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the practice of canning fell by the wayside as mothers began to rely more and more on the mass-produced canned goods (and shipped-from-far-away “fresh” goods) from the grocery store.

Thankfully, canning is making a comeback, but few of us have the benefit of real-life tutors to walk us through the process. Consequently, the whole idea can seem scary and more than a little bit complicated! Hopefully, I can help you ease your mind and get you started on your own canning career.

jar in water bath

Canning is Easier than You Think

Canning is not difficult, at least not in the sense of needing a special skill set. When it gets right down to it, canning is simply a matter of immersing hot jars into boiling water long enough to suck out all the air, thereby sealing the jars. That’s it!

Canning is super easy if you begin with basic recipes that involve simple ingredients and minimal steps, like these:

One of my favorite websites, Pick Your Own, has a fabulous and detailed section on canning with step-by-step tutorials complete with pictures. All the information you need to get started is right there on that site.

Canning is Faster Than You Think

Canning doesn’t take all day. At least it doesn’t have to. There certainly are people who set aside a day (or days) to can produce from their farm or garden, but that’s because they have a lot of extra produce to preserve.

Since I don’t have a prolific garden (just a couple tomato plants, a jalapeno pepper plant, and a few herbs this year), I don’t have a lot to preserve: most of what I preserve comes from what I pick myself at local farms or buy in bulk at the farmers’ market. Consequently, for me – and likely, for you – small batch canning is a much more practical way to go.

The honest truth is that one batch of canned jam (or pickles, or peaches, or what-have-you) takes about an hour, start to finish. By start, I mean washing the produce, and by finish, I mean a row of gleaming sealed jars. When people can for an entire day – or longer – they are simply repeating this process over and over.

So here’s my advice: start small. One batch at a time, one hour at a time.

Canning is Cheaper Than You Think

Canning doesn’t really require a lot of special equipment. You just need a really big pot (I used my stock pot for a while, until I found a canning pot at a thrift store), some canning tongs (which are very inexpensive), good jars, and lids. Even if you bought all the supplies new, a basic canning kit would cost a total of $100 or less. And you can get all your canning supplies for much less than that – even for free – if you know where to look.

Canning: Not What You Think!

Canning is Safer Than You Think

One of my biggest concerns that kept me from canning for the longest time was the issue of safety. I read horror stories and dire cautions online about botulism from home-canned goods. I still have a healthy fear of botulism, but after safely consuming jar after jar of home-canned food, my mind rests a little easier now.

The truth is, all you have to do is follow a few simple safety rules, and you can avoid botulism:

  • Always, always make sure your canning water is at a full rolling boil. When you immerse the jars in the water, the boil might die down briefly. Don’t start your timer until the water returns to its full boil.
  • Follow the timing guidelines for boiling the jars (it’s different for each type of food or recipe), and adjust for altitude as necessary.
  • Pay careful attention to the headspace (the distance between the surface of the food and the lid of the jar. The general rule is: 1/4 inch for jams and jellies, 1/2 inch for fruits, 1 inch for vegetables.
  • Unless you are pickling them, all vegetables must be canned using a pressure canner. Some vegetables, like pumpkin, should never be canned at home at all. All fruits and pickled vegetables can be safely canned in a boiling water bath.
  • Always start with hot, sterilized jars and lids.
  • Don’t re-use metal lids (some people do, but I prefer to play it safe). Tattler’s lids are the only kind that can safely be re-used. Don’t use metal bands if they are rusted or bent.
  • Don’t use jars not intended for canning (like jars left over from store-bought products).
  • Don’t use jars with knicks or cracks.

If you still have concerns about canning and need a little more guidance, The National Center for Home Food Preservation has been an invaluable resource for me. All the instructions, recipes, and suggestions err on the side of caution, so I know if I follow their guides, I’ll be safe!

Do you do home canning? If you haven’t tried yet, what is it that’s holding you back?

This post includes affiliate links.

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  1. Thank you, Anne, for this non-intimidating post on canning…..it will be very helpful for those who want to can but don’t know how to start. There is nothing like that end result of seeing my shelves filled with jars of food I canned myself. It’s also satisfying to pull jars from that shelf when the snow is flying! I have to say, though, I have personally used the hot-water bath method for almost 20 years now (and not just for pickled foods) and I ate food that my mother processed that way for just as many years and we never had a problem with botulism, ever. I think, for me, it was more economical to just use what I had at home instead of running out and buying a pressure cooker. I realize that to be on the safe side, everyone now recommends pressure cooking for vegetables, especially since that’s what the experts now say. I now have a pressure cooker and can say I love it for things that normally take a longer processing time with the added bonus of not heating up my kitchen too much!

    1. Thanks, Holly! I can’t wait until I have a pressure canner one day 🙂

  2. Fabulous article Anne! 🙂 I just love canning with my mom – it’s a great bonding experience and I can learn from all her knowledge.
    All your points are spot on. Most people don’t try it because they just expect it to be hard. 🙂

  3. Great post for beginning canners. I was lucky enough to learn from my grandma and my mom, but I know from teaching friends to can that it can be very intimidating to those who haven’t tried it. It looks and sounds a lot harder than it is. I hope more people pick it up, because it’s economical (especially if you’re canning things you grew yourself) and fun.

  4. I grew up canning with my mom! We always had a huge garden so we had tons to put up each year. Since being married I haven’t done a lot of canning, just some jam or pickles here and there. Honestly, what keeps me from doing more is the time. I already spend so much time in the kitchen, the thought of one more hour is NOT a happy one most of the time.
    We plan on moving this winter. I’m canning more this summer to keep it out of our freezer for when we move. It’s good motivation, and it is SO satisfying to see those shiny jars lined up!

  5. Hi! Great article—-love to see people get into canning as its one of my favorite ways to save $$$. Pickyourown has some bad info mixed in with the good, a better website option is SBcanning.com. SB Canning has a Facebook group as well, and its a wonderful place to ask questions and get feedback on canning recipes.
    I’ve been canning for over 20 years, and although I learned from my mom, I still consult the most current Ball canning books for info. Follow the directions/recipes exactly and you will turn out beautiful jars of safe home canned food.

    1. Thank you, Kathryn, for the SBcanning.com site. Definitely like it better than Pickyourown for content, accuracy, and readability!

    2. Thanks for mentioning the SBCanning site; I will have to check it out. And yes, the Ball canning books are great resources!

  6. Great post with great tips, Anne! You may canning sound so easy! I admit–I am still scared! My mom used to can some when I was young–but I was so young I have very, very fuzzy memories of it. To this day, she talks about what a hassle it was, and my dad talks about how it was a huge stress reliever when she stopped. 🙁 I think I just grew up with that negativity and it scares me.

    1. You *make* canning seem to easy. 😉 But I wish you lived closer, so you could come teach me in person!

        1. LOL, Erin, you crack me up! I only have very fuzzy memories of my mom canning as well. Once she got a chest freezer, she started to freeze everything instead. Some things – like jam and pickles – I just prefer canned to frozen, but I probably would freeze more if I had the freezer space.

  7. I’ve been canning off-and-on for years (after watching my mom do it when I was a kid ~ I still have her canner which was passed down from HER grandma!). Haven’t done much the last couple but I’m determined to put up as much as possible this year! I made a batch of jam (strawberry-rhubarb!) last week in between getting all kinds of other things done. I usually set aside part of a day when I know I have lots of stuff that needs to be done, but it’s super quick & easy to throw together a batch of jam!

    The hardest/most tedious part for me is just getting all the fruit/veggies cleaned! I love planning a canning party with a friend to make the work go faster!

    1. Yes, jam is so quick, isn’t it? Cleaning the fruits and veggies can get tedious, that’s for sure.

  8. My mom was a serious canner. I’m lucky enough to have one of her 1970’s “mirro” canners.. Turns out parts are still available for them.

    I can (pressure can) meats. Chicken breasts/pork roasts/beef/hamburger. Hamburger is the only on that needs pre-cooked, and that’s primarily due to fat content.

    90 minutes at 10psi. DONE.. On the shelf, no refrigeration/freezing– no thawing.. Pre-cooked.. It ends up being faster than fast food, and of course cheaper and safer.

    I buy chicken breasts (boneless) when they’re less than $2 a pound, same with pork roasts.. If you’re willing to give their meat department time (usually a few hours) they’ll cut the pork into “stew meat” sized cubes for you– which makes canning a lot quicker. The chicken breasts will usually slide into the jars with a minimum of effort– and I don’t cut them up..

    Chicken and pork come out fork tender, so there’s no need to worry about getting them out of the can.

    USDA says once PRESSURE canned, they’re good for a year. I can attest to safely feeding my family older cans, without issue, so long as the seal remains intact. They don’t get the freezer burn that long term frozen foods suffer from.. There’s certainly less waste..

    Hope this helps someone.. 🙂

    1. One day when I get a pressure canner, I will try my hand at canning meat. Thanks for the encouragement!

      1. You dont need a pressure canner for meat.Just put in a water bath n get to boiling n boil for 3 hrs.

  9. i bought a little house last year and put in my first garden. because space is so little in my very little house i decided on dehydrating. i purchased a returned vita-mix and a used excalabrator off of amazon and started practicing right away. oh, what fun as i can do so much with the combination of the two and dehydrated foods take up about 1/3 the space!

    1. Elaine, you are so right! There are some things I prefer to dehydrate as well because the dehydrated food takes up so little space.

  10. canning pumpkin is safe at home – just in chunks and not pureed in any way. You can puree it for pies after it’s out of the jar.

    1. mashed w spices n sugar works great…canned it 5 years ago n it is still fine.add milk n eggs and bake in a pie.

  11. I just started water bath canning this year, I made a few batches of jam, and I love it. I really want to get a pressure canner, but it will probably be a while before it fits in the budget.

    1. If you don’t have a water bath canner yet you might be able to consider a pressure canner to do double duty. I’ve been canning for 35 years and have found some shortcuts. One, for around 10 years, is using the pressure canner without a gauge for water bath products (fruits and high acid) I don’t feel the need to cover the jars more than halfway with water because the canner lid is sealed tight and the top half is steam – which is hotter than boiling water. When it’s fully boiling I turn the heat down so I can still hear boiling within the canner but not a ton of steam coming out the vent.

      Just a thought, anyway. I feel it takes less energy and, of course less water to use this method. Plus it saves me from storing pressure canners (I have two) AND boiling water bath pots.

  12. I also watched my mom can while growing up but still thought it was so complicated and difficult but so far I have made a batch of apple butter on my own and raspberry jam with my mom. I see so many recipes I want to try but should just focus on the basics. 🙂 I love it when the people I love enjoy the things I have canned too, that makes it all worth it!

    1. Mona, so far I stick to the basics as well. Jam, pickles, and fruit is all I have done so far. I will get more adventuresome the more experience I have under my belt.

  13. I just canned 50 lbs of tomatoes yesterday. Took about 7 hours. And I have 20 quarts sitting on the counter. I was wondering if there is any savings considering how much water and energy is used. I water bath canned my tomatoes. Each load took 45 minutes. The stove was going most of the time 7 hours.

    1. That’s an excellent question! I guess you would have to compare like with like, by which I mean the quality of the tomatoes you canned and the quality to which you are comparing them. If the tomatoes are fresh from your garden, that’s pretty high quality! I don’t know exactly how much your electricity and water costs, so I can’t help you calculate that, but if you ever do sit down and figure it out, make sure you’re comparing your own jars against similar quality for an accurate price analysis.

  14. Thank you so much for this post! Even though I don’t have a huge garden or fruit trees, I can now consider buying in bulk in season (at the discount prices) and canning for out of season times.

  15. When I can I am never sure how far in the water the can should be? Ie. How much water should surround the can, 1/2 way or most of the way? Or does it not really matter?

    1. Yes, like Susie said, it has to cover the jar by at least an inch.

      1. If I were reading your article without knowing a thing about canning, I would think it was awesome & it would inspire me to run right out & start canning. However, I’ve been canning for almost 40 years and there are 2 things that to me are glarinly mis-stated.

        When you say “all you have to do is put a jar in boiling water that covers the jar and thats all there is to it”, that screams TROUBLE to me.

        There are 2 different types of canning methods and while I know very clearly that you are speaking of Water Bath Canning for high acid vegetables and fruit (including pickles) someone else may not know that.
        They may assume that anything can be canned this way, even though somewhere else you do mention high acid & pickles. In canning, its always better to be safe than sorry and make sure all the T’s are crossed & the i’s dotted.

        The other was that you cant can pumpkin. The USDA doesnt recommend you can pureed or pumpkin butter because of the density of it, but you can can pumpkin cubes or sections.. However, again, it cant be done in a water bath canning process and you must use a true pressure canner.. and in a canner, you dont cover the jars with water.

        Home canned goods last many years when they’re kept in a dark cool place such as a basement. They’ll be good much longer than any commercially produced goods if they’ve been canned correctly.
        I personally tend to start dumping anything beyond the 5 or 6 year mark, but technically they can still be eaten, though the nutrition lessesns over the years. I can all manner of fruit, veggies, & meat. Its a wonderful way to store your harvest and not have to worry about the electricity going off and my food in my freezer ruining.

        Hope you enjoy all your canning endevors.. I wouldnt want to live without it.

        1. I dont know why but twice yesterday I said 40 years when in fact its been about 30 + years for both subjects I was talking bout I have no idea where that 40 years came from. I guess Im feeling my age plus. 😉
          Just wanted to come clear it up, for my own consciousness. I know it matters not to you. 🙂
          Have a great day!

  16. This is a great article! I’ve been water bath canning for over 35 years and definitely saved a lot of money in food when our boys were growing up! I hope to do some peaches in water soon, as well as peach preserves. Just opened the last jar of last year’s salsa yesterday. Now I have a pressure canner as well and hope to be doing some soups and such. Pressure canning is more intimidating but it doesn’t have to be scary!

    1. Pressure canning is the next step for me, but first I have to save up for a pressure canner (or find a really good deal on one!). It is a little intimidating, I will admit, but I like the idea of preserving veggies!

  17. Interesting but I put jars into water same temp as what is inside jar n then bring to a boil.This way jar contents are boiling n then u time it,10 to 15 min for fruit,2 hrs for veggies, n 3 hrs for meat.I have never used a pressure cooker.I reuse jars like pizza sauce from store,u can get new canning lids,I have saved money by reusing snaplids for fruit n veggies, and I only put in water up to an inch below the jar when boiling.I have never had trouble n yes u can can pumpkin.

  18. i JUST started canning – started with making a jam from blackberries i picked on friday. i have to say, my first time took a long time, but i was double and triple checking everything i did to make sure it was done just so. i am excited to do my second go at it so that i can find my own rhythm. i used pomona’s pectin so i could use less sugar and even local honey in my jams.

  19. Hi. Just have to say I love that you that are encouraging people to can more. This is my first year ever but I managed to can peaches without too much difficultly at all. (And I just figured out… No one taught nor did my mother ever can anything that I can remember.) My next goal is applesauce!

  20. I am 26. I just got a pressure canner and I love it. I have canned all sorts of beans. Last week I canned diced tomatoes. My canner had instructions for cubed pumpkin. It has been a wonderful way to prepare foods ahead of time without freezing them. (My husband filled the freezer with meat hehe).

  21. Thank you for the great advise and words of encouragement. I started canning last year and was successful with strawberry jam, applesauce, tomato sauce, peppers, spiced apples and cran berry sauce. I also loved to watch my stash grow. Home canning tastes so much better than commercially produced items. My 9 year old woll only eat ‘mommy’s’ applesauce 🙂 can’t wait for the garden to start producing again.

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