Get Ready for Canning Season!27. April 2016
It's time to get your CAN PLAN on well before it's time to harvest. Preparing for the growing and canning season will help you keep your sanity. And if you're efficient in the kitchen, you can avoid being over stressed if you have a solid plan on canning day. Here are a few tips that I keep in mind when planning my canning projects. Plus, I included a brief overview of proper and safe canning procedures.
PLANT TO CAN
For some of us, preparing for canning season takes place way before stepping foot in the kitchen. It starts with your garden chart! If you grow your own food to preserve, you'll need to plan accordingly for what you want to put up. If it's a salsa year, you'll need to plant tomatoes, peppers, and onions. And if your garden is like mine, you'll need to plant extra tomatoes in case a groundhog or raccoon stops by for a bite.
If you're new to gardening, read our Gardening Tips blog posts to make your garden a success and our History of Victory Garden post for inspiration.
MAKE A LIST
Ooooh, I like to make lists. My husband jokes that I might have an OCD when it comes to writing lists. For me, pre-canning season starts by listing new canning recipes to try. Then I note past recipes to avoid and what I want more of on my pantry shelf. (Note to self: Don't ever can Peach Ale Mustard again. It was GROSS). My Grow it, Can it, Eat It Pinterest board has lots of food canning inspiration and gardening tips.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
When I first started gardening and canning, I would plan our vacation during the height of tomato season. Then I'd stress about how my garden would get watered and when the salsa would get put up when I was out of town. There's nothing as unfortunate as homegrown produce going bad before it gets used. It's criminal! These days I leave a few weekends open in anticipation of the tomato harvest. Apple season is less stressful since the harvest can sit around longer than tomatoes and berries.
CHECK YOUR SUPPLIES
Be sure to have your supplies and ingredients ready before you jump into the kitchen on canning day. The last thing you want is to realize you're missing an important ingredient when you're standing at your stove. One year I was making applesauce when I noticed that I purchased wide mouth lids, but I only had regular mouth jars. Dang! I believe I said more than "Dang" that day. My husband says I went canning crazy (but not the good kind of canning crazy)!
- Check your pressure canner gauge to make sure it works properly. Call your county extension office to see if they are able to check your gauge for accuracy and safety.
- Inspect your jar and lid supply. Make sure jars are free of cracks and rings are rust free.
- Check your pantry for staple ingredients like pectin, canning salt, sugar, and spices.
- Stock up on canning labels, especially if you're giving your food in jars away for gifts.
Preserved with Love... and NOT botulism. Every time I give my dad canned goods, he asks if there's botulism in it (yes, he’s a smart mouth)! I'm no longer offended and merely tell him, "I guess we'll find out, enjoy!” (because I’m also a smart mouth). But when I first started canning, his question really freaked me out! I got paranoid about everything I did in the kitchen. How would I know what I canned was safe? WELL, stick with the basics and you’ll be okay!
Preserved with Love canning labels are available for purchase in our shop.
Follow recipes from safe and reliable sources
Sometimes those old family, hand-me-down recipes are outdated and unsafe. Likewise, you want to make sure you have up-to-date canning books too because proper canning procedures update periodically. Canning is not the same as cooking, so you can’t just “wing it” and half follow those recipes. Canning is part science. You need to make sure the pH of the food is safe to make the jar shelf stable and free from anything that can make you sick. If you change your ingredients or quantities, the pH can also change. So adding more bell peppers or less vinegar to a salsa recipe may not be safe. Botulism is no joke folks! If in doubt, contact your county extension office and have them look at your recipe. Try this map of land-grant college universities or the NCHPF cooperative extension system to find your local extension office.
A few of my go-to sources:
- The National Center for Home Food Preservation is my go-to source for safety questions on preserving food. They have many publications on their website as well as safe canning recipes on their blog.
- Food in Jars has a wealth of information! Marisa has a Canning 101 page with lots of helpful info. She has years worth of amazing recipes on her website and has several published canning books.
- Simply Canning is a great resource for new and also experienced canners. Sharon also teaches online canning classes on her website and has many Youtube videos as well.
- Ball Canning is a trusted source of course! They have step-by-step canning guides for the different food preservation methods with tips on how to adjust for high altitude canning.
- Healthy Canning has lots of safety advice, testing info, and recommendations. This site will often point out the various contradictions made between known “canning authorities.” It also offers lots of recipes and sometimes notes safe recipe ingredient swap options.
- LaRae Burke is a canning pro! She’s done several guest recipe posts for our blog. LaRae is a self-taught baker, cooking and baking instructor, recipe developer, and a canning editor at @thefeedfeed. Check out some of LaRae’s canning recipes.
Our Canning Recipes
Here are just a few of our favorite canning recipes on our website. These are all water bath canning recipes.
Our custom vintage Apothecary canning labels print with your name & food.
Follow up-to-date canning procedures.
I will admit this to you freely, my mom taught me unsafe canning techniques. Gasp. 45 years of canning, and she still does open kettle canning on her tomatoes. She also told me I could can applesauce in the oven. Yikes. I did survive my childhood eating her canned goods every day though. Thankfully she always used a pressure canner on her vegetables. And at least she never used her dishwasher to process jars of food. YES, dishwasher canning is totally a thing some people do, I kid you not! Luckily I bought my first Ball canning book before I started preserving my own food. So learn proper canning techniques from reliable sources and avoid unsafe canning methods.
Some people, like my father-in-law, reuse old canning lids. HEEEYYYYY, don’t do that! At least you don’t want to PROCESS jars with used traditional metal lids. You spent all that time in the kitchen canning, why chance reusing an old rubber gasket lid that may not seal? Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use old lids for other purposes. You could use them to store food in your fridge or freezer. You just don’t want to use them on processed jars a second time. There are however special canning lids than can be reused. 1-piece Tattler Reusable canning lids are reusable. Some peppers keep them on hand in case poop hits the proverbial fan and you can’t buy metal lids any more. They are more expensive too. I have not used this style of lid before, but it’s on my to-try list.
You also shouldn’t use non-canning jars for canning. Not all jars are used for home canning. So if you have an old mayo jar, please don’t process food in it. Those jars are made for commercial canning purpose and not HOME canning. I have vintage atlas jars that I like to can with. They are heavy duty glass jars. But if you’re using any old rubber gasket style jars, or those with wire bails and glass caps, they are no longer recommended and may not be safe for canning.
Apple pie in a jar canning recipe with our cute Country Quilt canning labels.
Learn the different canning methods
Water bath canning is great for beginners. This easy canning method involves boiling water and jars in a pot. It’s used for high acid foods that have a pH level of 4.6 or lower. It’s generally safe to can sliced fruits, jams, jellies, fruit spreads and sauces in a water bath (see important note below). You can also properly acidify foods such as pickles to make them safe for canning. Adding vinegar to pickles increases the acidity. Just make sure to follow the recipe properly to safely can food.
IMPORTANT NOTES: There are a few fruits that require extra acidification, such as figs, rhubarb, and tomatoes. Current recommendations for canning tomatoes safely includes adding lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid to further acidify them. Why? Some tomato varieties are less acidic than others which puts them in the “danger range” on the pH scale. Also, the pH increases as tomatoes ripen. This is especially notable with heirloom tomatoes which are usually 4.6 pH or higher.
Also, white peaches are not the same as yellow peaches. There are some white peach varieties that have a higher pH level exceeding 4.6 which would make them unsafe for both water bath and pressure canning. Freezing is recommended to preserve white peaches. You could certainly still use them for refrigerator jam.
Pressure canning is for low acid foods that have a pH of 4.6 or higher (meats, vegetables, beans, soups). You can use a weighted gauge or dial gauge pressure canner. The difference between the two is just how they measure pressure. Food is heated to 240 degrees for a certain length of time to kill botulism. It’s important that your gauge is checked for accuracy yearly. Contact your county extension office for details on getting yours checked. Also, don’t confuse pressure canners with pressure cookers. You must use a pressure canner to preserve food in jars. A pressure cooker is NOT safe for canning food. It will not kill botulism, so food in jars would be unsafe! Some pressure cooker manufacturers say their equipment can be used for canning. The National Center for Home Food Preservation and USDA do NOT recommend them for that use though.
If you live at an altitude higher than 1,000 feet above sea level, you need to adjust your processing times for both water bath and pressure canning. Ball Canning has tips on how to adjust for high altitude canning.
Check your seals and store your jars properly
There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing the PINGS of jars sealing. What’s not fun is having jars not seal (unless you’re counting on storing a jar in the fridge so you can immediately eat it). So 12-24 hours after your jars cool, check that your seals are good before you store them away. Press down on the center of the lid to make sure it doesn’t move up and down. The round center should be concave. You don’t want any movement in the center. Remove the band on the jar. Then pick the jar up by just holding just the lid. This will tell you right away if the seal is good. If a jar doesn’t seal, you can reprocess it or store in the fridge or freezer.
Now that you tested the lids on your cooled jars, you can also leave the bands off. By leaving the bands off, you’ll be able to tell if there’s anything wrong with your jar later. If the contents start to spoil, the lid should pop off. If you leave the bands on, you won’t be altered to that. Some canners opt to leave the bands on loosely for storage or gift giving. And if you ever have doubt, THROW IT OUT. NCHFP has tips on spotting spoiled food.
Store your jars out of sunlight which can deteriorate the final product. Hopefully you have a cool basement to store your jars. If not, just don’t leave them next to a heat source. Keep them someplace where you’ll remember them too.
ASK FOR HELP
Don't be shy and don't feel like you're swallowing your pride by asking for help if you need it. One time my brother-in-law came for a weekend visit and found himself peeling tomatoes. He didn't know what was in store for him on that visit. Neither did I. I made an impromptu purchase at the farmer's market that morning. It was a deal I just couldn't pass up. A guy was unloading bushels of tomatoes for $2 a pail. He must've been sick of tomatoes. So I asked my brother-in-law and husband to help. Actually, I didn't ask. I'm sure I just handed them knives and told them to get busy. But hey, they both got salsa, so it was a win for all of us!
DON'T GO OVERBOARD
I'm a try-it-before-you-buy-it person. My husband however, is a stock-up-now-the-world-is-gonna-end person. I'd rather do a small batch recipe to taste test, but he'd rather go full boar and assume we'll like a recipe (I always have to remind him about the nasty peach ale mustard I canned). And while I prefer marathon canning sessions, I don't want to get stuck with a lot of something we won't eat. I still have many jars of nasty tomato bruschetta from years ago. I only keep them around so I can use them in photoshoots for our shop's canning labels. At least it looks pretty in my jars. But what's the point if you can't eat it?
LOG YOUR INVENTORY
Now that you've exhausted yourself in the kitchen all season, it's time to sit back, relax, and take pride in your handy work. Our FREE Printable canning inventory chart download is a great way to record what you put up. Canning inventory charts are a helpful reminder for gift giving food in jars too. I usually give salsa away for Christmas presents. But if my chart reminds me that I only have 5 pints of salsa, well then, my dad might get a pair of socks instead. Sorry dad.
MAKE YOUR JARS PRETTY
When I first started to can, I looked everywhere for nice looking canning labels. They couldn’t be found! At least I couldn’t find any that I liked. Everything was too old-fashioned or ugly for my taste. So I started to design my own labels. I just didn’t want to use a boring Sharpie on my first jars of salsa for gift giving. And that was the beginning of CanningCrafts back in 2010. I started with one salsa label and now we have over 500 products.
So if you want to add some flash to your own jars, take a look in our canning label shop. We have custom canning labels for you to add your own text, and plenty of fruit and vegetable labels too. Custom honey labels and maple syrup labels are one of our favorites to make for our customers. If you need something simple and inexpensive for your own pantry, shop our Value Pack canning labels for bulk savings.
Have fun canning!
References & Additional Reading Materials
Reliable Canning Sources:
Canning Jar Safety
Tips on Handling Food Spoilage:
Why you shouldn’t can in a pressure cooker:
Canning White Peaches
Reusable Tattler Canning Lids
High Altitude Canning Tips:
- Step-by-step canning guide: https://www.freshpreserving.com/canning-guides
- Pressure canning: https://www.simplycanning.com/pressure-canning.html
- Water bath canning introduction: https://www.simplycanning.com/water-bath-canning.html
County extension office databases:
NOTE: There are NO affiliate links in this article. We are linking to original sources that we feel are reliable useful. We are not getting paid to do this. Please research carefully before you start to can. We have only provided a brief overview of safe canning procedures in this article.