As a child, I grew up playing cashier in our “family grocery store” which was Mom’s fruit room in our farmhouse basement. That’s how much she canned … we had a room full of canned fruit.
Shelves were neatly labeled and packed with salsa, tomatoes, tomato juice, beats, string beans, carrots, plums, peaches and pears, apples, jams, jellies, and pickles.
But, I wasn’t one to watch my mom cook in the kitchen — I was too busy with imaginary play and wasn’t interested in being “Betty Cracker” (I mispronounced it every time), and when she tried involving me in the canning process … I usually did something wrong.
Like when she asked me to wash off the lids to her freshly sealed 75 quarts of peaches and I took her directions literally … popping off every, single lid. I washed them in warm, soapy water and then neatly laid them in a row next to the opened jars of peaches. DOH! A mother’s canning nightmare.
I had a lot to learn …
She didn’t push canning or growing homegrown produce onto me. It was something I came to like as an adult – a pastime I wanted to learn. But, let’s face it: I still mistakenly bake frozen pizza on cardboard. How would I ever learn how to water bath can?
One evening of paying attention and whala! I was hooked. It was easier than I thought!
Here’s what you do:
Get The Essentials
Canning requires a few gadgets to get started. Either borrow or buy the following and set-up your station before you begin. Canning isn’t something you easily walk away from once you start.
Here are my top 10 must haves, but for a detailed description on canning essentials, check out: Canning Equipment 101.
- Ball Utensil Starter Kit
- Jar Lifter
- Large, deep pot (also called a “Water Bath Canner”)
- Small saucepan
- 1-2 pots and large bowls
- Canning jars, lids and rims
- Paper towels
- Bath towel
A blender and food scale are helpful, but not required.
Pick a Recipe
You’ll find hundreds of variations to every canning variety and it can be overwhelming. Ask your friends and families for their favorite canning recipes and choose ONE to get started. If you’re a novice canner, small batches of one thing are more manageable and less intimidating than trying to make a lot of everything. Before you know it, you’ll be addicted to the fruits of your labor and stocking up your pantry like my mother did her fruit room.
Choose a Day & Set-Up
To can efficiently, designate five workspaces in advance of starting:
- Wash, dice and blend
- Boil and cook
- Assemble & hot water bath
- Cool down and seal
Don’t rush it. Set aside a minimum of 4-6 hours per batch because it takes time to set-up, cook your produce, hot water bath your cans and clean-up. Note: a lot of canning recipes require a 30-40 minute water bath per batch and sometimes a full batch won’t fit in your large pot of boiling water and you’ll need an extra, unplanned 40 minutes! Focus on canning for the day and have fun doing it.
Prep Your Produce
I find that September/October are best for fall canning because produce is at its peak during this time. And, fresh is best!
Either challenge yourself to grow a garden or take a trip to our Rochester Farmer’s Market (one of the best, in my opinion) and support our local growers. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is another great option if you don’t want to garden, but want fresh produce throughout the season. You’ll likely need a trip to the grocery store for seasonings and other supplies that you can’t grow and or find at the farmers market.
If you’re making salsa – a popular choice for first-time canners – buy a few more tomatoes than you need. Some have bad spots and will be composted and your batch may cook down more than you anticipate. Plus, a little extra salsa that doesn’t get canned makes for a good mid-day snack!
Your stations are now set, your food is prepped and you’re ready to start water bath canning. I like these resources for understanding the mechanics, process and troubleshooting – check them out beforehand and you’ll feel more prepared:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Canning by Marisa McClellan, Serious Eat’s
- Canning & Preserving Food for Beginners by Debbie Wolfe, Lovely Greens
- 10 Steps to Water Bath Canning by Carolyn Malcoun, EatingWell
I’ve also learned a few things along the way – other than NOT to pop off the lids to ‘wash them off’ before storing. Keep these seven tips in mind before starting:
- Start boiling your water early because it can take a while to get to a rolling boil, required to hot water bath.
- Wide mouth jars are easier to get certain foods (e.g. pickles) of out verses regular mouth. Have a variety of jars on hand depending on what you’re canning.
- Hot canning jars may scorch wood counters even if they’re wrapped in bath towels!
- After the hot water bath, be patient and keep your jars wrapped in the bath towel for 24 hours … you will hear a “popping” sound and that’s your lids sealing properly.
- Once sealed, remove the metal rim as it can rust with time. Label your jars, including the year!
- If you skip the hot water bath – for example: canned pickles can get mushy if bathed too long – (not recommended), discard the jars after a year for food safety concerns.
- Canned salsa made with jalapeños will get hotter year after year so if you make a ‘hot’ salsa year 1 and open it year 2, it’ll be warmer. Keep this in mind when adding jalapeños to your recipes – fewer jalapeños if you hate heat — more if you love it.