Are you a new canner and need all the advice you can get? Worried about which canning jars to use and which lids are the best? From canning jars to equipment to recipes, here’s a great round up of newbie canning information.
When you’re first starting to can, there can be a lot of things on your mind. So, let’s talk basics as you begin your canning journey.
If you have children, be sure to include them in the canning activities in the home in ways that are appropriate for their age. Stuff is hot and goopey and kids may “get in your way”. However, just consider how your efforts will pay off later.
You’ll learn to can together! Eventually, you’ll have canning assistants able to help or even take over some of your canning duties. Plus, the kids are less likely to waste any food they’ve canned themselves after all that work!
If you’re completely new to this canning thing, take some time to experiment on your own. However, once you’ve got jam and pickles down, invite the kids into the kitchen to help and learn!
Keep Kids Safe in the Canning Kitchen with our article here.
Ok, back to our regularly schedule programming…
Why Should I Start Canning?
Chances are if you’re reading this post, you have already thought about this question. Canning is a method of food preservation that has been used for consistently since the early 1800’s.
In our modern culture, you can just run to the store and buy canned tomatoes, corn, beans, soups – even fruits and pie fillings! Not to mention, preserved condiments like salsa and ketchup. So, one may well ask: why bother canning today?
Canning Gives Control
Canning your own food provides control. You control exactly what goes into each home-canned jar of food.
Many commercially canned foods contain elevated amounts of salt and other preservatives. There are also potential problems with pesticides and herbicides making it into your food.
Save yourself a headache and preserve foods you’ve grown yourself according to methods of which you approve. Buy in bulk from growers you trust and you’ll have quality product. You can even learn to grow your own food for canning!
Canning Saves Money
Another good reason to can your own is to save money – most of the time. When canned corn goes on sale I can’t honestly say that it’s cheaper for me to can my own home-grown, organic corn. Especially when you factor in my time. We don’t eat enough corn to make it worth it!
However, when I start getting to items like:
- organic tomato sauce
- large cans of apple sauce
- organic stews and soups
the savings begin to mount!
Plus, as I said, I can control all the ingredients and only use those that I know my family will enjoy.
To learn more about canning, especially how to do it safely and appropriately, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation and take their free, online course on canning. They even have a section for youth called Put it Up!
Keep reading for even more information!
What are Canning Jars?
Canning jars are made of glass and come in many different sizes. Most typically you can find
- pint size
- quart size
- even half gallon size jars – those these are not generally recommended for canning.
Canning jars also come in decorative colors and unusual shapes especially made for gift giving.
Buying Used Canning Jars
You can buy them new, of course, but you can also often find them at thrift stores, yard sales and from your elderly neighbor who just doesn’t feel like canning anymore. Don’t buy any canning jar that has a chipped rim or any visible cracks. Why?
- A chipped rim will rarely hold a seal, which means your food will spoil.
- Even a small crack in the jar will not hold over time, in hot water and under pressure.
Canning Jar Lids
There are basically two kinds of canning jar lids. One is made of metal and consists of two parts: a metal lid with an attached rubber seal and a metal ring that secures the lid.
There is also a BPA-free plastic canning jar lid made by Tattler that has a plastic body with a separate rubber ring. The metal lids are a one time use (though the ring is reusable), but the Tattler lids are made to be used over and over.
Both come in two different sizes to it the two different standard sized canning jars: wide mouth and narrow mouth.
- To learn more about using Tattler lids, click here. You can expect to pay more for the Tattlers but you may decide they’re worth it over time. I love mine but still use the metals lids – both are great!
- To learn more about the anatomy of a canning jar, please click on this post from Attainable Sustainable.
What Other Canning Equipment Do I Need?
Don’t get overwhelmed by the word equipment. There are certain tools you need to can successfully besides canning jars.
You’ll need some kind of consistent heat source like a stove or outdoor camping stove. In fact, if you are able to can outside, be sure you do because it’s a very hot activity!
Water Bath Canners
To can high acid foods like jams, pickles and salsa you’ll need just a water bath canner.
Water bath canners come in different sizes and usually come with a rack for the bottom of the pot (to keep the jar bottoms safe from cracking).
Perks of a Water Bath Canner:
- Water bath canners are usually roomy and you can fit a number of canning jars inside.
- They’re also cheaper than pressure canners.
- The foods you preserve in them have typically shorter processing times (the amount of time your jars of food are inside the canner).
To learn more about using a water bath canner, please visit this post from The 104 Homestead.
Their only drawback is that you can’t can everything in them. Some foods with lower acids levels require longer processing times under pressure. That’s why they’re preserved in something called a pressure canner.
A Pressure Canner looks like a water bath canner with a body, lid and rack inside. However, it also has a clamping system for the lid and usually a dial, or some weights that go on top. My favorite kind is the All American because it is very sturdy.
Perks of a Pressure Canner:
- Pressure canners are usually heavier, often dual walled pots (the good ones, anyway) with a close fitting lid and some kind of pressure gauge.
- You can preserve low acid foods like vegetables and meat in a pressure canner
- You can also use them for meal preparation when not canning.
Using a pressure canner may sound harder and while it does take practice and you must follow the instructions, it’s really not hard. You’re very smart and I have absolute confidence that you can figure it out. If I could, you certainly can.
Other Items You’ll Want
There are pieces of smaller, simple equipment that you’ll probably want, too. Items like:
- Jar lifter – that allows you to remove hot jars without burning your hand
- Magnetized lid lifter – that allows you to remove hot seals from water without burning your fingers
You may also want pectin, if you’re canning jams, jellies and/or pie filling. My favorite kind of pectin is the non-GMO (does NOT contain genetically modified ingredients), natural fruit pectin from Pamona’s. For more information on how to use Pamona’s, please click here. It’s a little different from regular pectin.
For jams and other sweet treats, you will also need some kind of sugar. You can replace sugar with honey as we did in this recipe for Dandelion Forsythia Jelly. Once you heat raw honey it cooks a lot of the beneficial elements of raw honey so you needn’t use it unless you prefer the flavor.
There are healthier sugars, if you’re looking for some, though. Try Wholesome Sweeteners, or any raw sugar you can find locally. Also, consider coconut sugar, rapadura, and/or honey.
Finding Food to Can
All the canned and many of the bottled foods you find in the store you can duplicate in your home canning efforts. To find produce to can:
- Join a bulk buying club or group.
- Shop the local discount grocery store and watch for in-season deals on bulk fruits and veggies.
- Buy in bulk as often as possible, including beans, to can big batches all at once.
- Find your local farm or farmers market for fresh foods. Farmer’s market vendors will often save back boxes of bruised produce for their canning clients for a reduced cost.
You don’t have to can in large batches, though. If you have smaller amounts of produce or ready-made meal ingredients that you’d like to preserve, you can learn to do that.
Often, small batch canning is a welcome reprieve from the larger batches. For more information on small batch canning, please visit this post from Every Growing Farm.
There are scads of canning books with recipes and scores of canning recipes online. Here are a few good canning books:
- Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond: Safe, Easy Recipes for Preserving Tomatoes, Vegetables, Beans and Meat
by Angi Schneider
- The Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest: How to Can, Freeze, Dehydrate, and Ferment Your Garden’s Goodness
by Ann Accetta-Scott
- The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables: Canning, Pickling, Fermenting, Dehydrating and Freezing Your Favorite Fresh Produce
by Angi Schneider
You can read my review of Daisy Luther’s The Organic Canner by clicking here.
If you need a delectable jams and jellies book, please click below to learn more about this one:
Here are a few of my favorite bloggers and their canning recipes. Most of these bloggers have more than one recipe, so it’s worth sticking around their site and nosing around. Oh, and there are a few from Homestead Lady here, too.