Get Started with Home Canning

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From the outset of my first garden, I knew I wanted to pursue home canning. Since my purpose for a garden revolved around growing food for my family and cutting our grocery bill, I wanted to preserve as much of the harvest as possible. Since homegrown tastes so much better, we wanted to save as much as we could.

The problem?

I had no idea how to can, freeze, or otherwise preserve anything.

So, I had to learn from the very beginning. Thankfully, I got a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Canning and read it cover to cover. But, I also followed people online to learn more.

One of those people was Melissa K. Norris. I began listening to her podcast, the Pioneering Today Podcast, and I read many of her blog posts and tutorials. Now, canning is just part of the gardening process, and my dining room hutch brims with canned goods ready for the off-season.

If you’ve just begun your home garden, you may not have planned on what to do with the extra. You never thought you would have extra, right? But now that you do, you want to make the most of each second of time and drop of sweat you’ve poured into your home garden.

And perhaps you want to explore the possibility of home canning yourself.

On this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, Melissa K. Norris and I chat about how to get started in home canning. Make sure to check out my other interviews with Melissa about her book The Family Garden Plan and her best gardening advice. You can click below to listen or read on for the highlights.

Get Started with Home Canning — Interview with Melissa K. Norris

Why Can?

Most of us, even if we have a small garden, harvest more than we can consume fresh. Unless you want to give it all away, you will have to decide whether to let it go bad or preserve it.

Canning gives you the option to store that excess for later use, just as do other methods such as freezing, dehydrating, and fermenting.

But canning comes with distinct advantages. You can store more than you’ll be able to with freezing. Obviously, limited freezer space is a big issue. Plus, extended power outages may leave your frozen foods vulnerable to spoilage.

And although dehydrating is a shelf-stable option that doesn’t need electricity, it does require water to re-hydrate the foods when preparing to cook. If water becomes scarce, canned foods are ready to go without needing additional water supply.

Canning v. Freezing

Vegetables that cannot be canned. No matter how much we enjoy canning, there is definitely a place for freezing. Some vegetables cannot be canned such as greens (beet greens, lettuce, chard, kale, spinach, etc.). These are best when blanched and frozen or even dehydrated.

Considerations for berries. Berries are also best frozen when preserved whole, since most of them don’t hold up to the heat in canning. But even if you’re making jams, jellies, and syrups (which you can preserve by canning) out of berries, freezing first can be a good option for two reasons. First, you can freeze them if you find yourself overwhelmed if all the harvest is coming on at once. Then, defrost them and make jellies later in the fall. Second, previously frozen berries give their juice easier than fresh.

How you use it in cooking. Another big consideration is how you will use that fruit or vegetable later. For example, consider how you normally eat green beans. If you typically eat them canned, it just makes sense to can them instead of freeze them (or vice-versa if you have the freezer space).

Water Bath Canning v. Pressure Canning

Canning is a science, and you have to follow certain rules to stay safe. These rules govern whether you can water bath or pressure can your fruits or vegetables.

Water bath canning involves immersing your sealed jars into boiling water for a set time.  You can safely water bath can foods on the pH scale that are 4.6 or lower. This is most fruit, pickled vegetables with a 1:1 vinegar to water ratio, and salsa using a tested recipe.

pressure canner dial

Pressure canning involves placing sealed jars into a pressure canner with a smaller amount of water and using pressure to bring the contents of the jars to the desired temperature. (Although it sounds more complicated, most people agree it’s quicker and easier.) Foods higher on the pH scale (4.7 or higher) must be pressure-canned. This will include all vegetables, meats, broth, and soup.

Canning Safety and Tested Recipes

Not all recipes — and not all canning methods — you find, especially online, are safe. To make sure that you are using a tested recipe, here are the sources Melissa suggests:

National Center for Home Food Preservation
Recipes from County Extension Offices (Search here for yours)
Pomona’s Pectin web site for low-sugar jams and jellies
Ball Blue Book of Canning
Ball Canning Web Site 

(For more details on the safety precautions and how to find tested recipes, Melissa explains this much more in detail in the podcast episode linked above.)

Where to Start

If you’re just beginning, start out with water bath canning. Peaches and cherries are two of the easiest fruits to can. I find tomato sauce to be the easiest vegetable to water-bath can. Click here on my post for more information on preserving tomatoes.

But if you’re like me, most of your excess may come from vegetables like beans, black-eyed peas, and corn. If you’re up for pressure canning, green beans are the easiest vegetables to start out with.

What Equipment Do You Need?

For water bath canning, you only need mason jars, lids and bands, and a pot. The pot needs to be deep enough to cover the mason jars by one to two inches. You can purchase a water bath canner, but you can also use a large stock pot. If you use a stock pot, though, you must place something on the bottom of the pot to ensure heat flow underneath the jars. Melissa recommends extra canning jar bands or rolled-up dish towels.

For pressure canning, you definitely need a pressure canner. This is the one I use, and I’m on my sixth season and haven’t yet even had to replace the seal. Melissa uses this brand, and though it’s more of an investment, it’s likely to be your one and only pressure canner for life.

Our recommendation: If you see yourself ever pressure canning in the future, invest in a pressure canner, as it will also double as a water bath canner.

I also recommend a canning accessory kit like this one. It makes everything easier.

Learn More

If you’re like me, you appreciate when someone will take you by the hand (even a virtual “hand”) and walk you through how to get started. Thankfully, Melissa has two ways that she can help you

The second is for you if you know you want to get started canning now, and it’s Melissa’s Home Canning with Confidence E-Course. Get more information on how to can up to a year’s worth of food with Melissa’s canning techniques and recipes.

And if you haven’t yet, make sure to listen to this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast in its entirety, as Melissa not only goes into canning safety but she also answers questions submitted to me by members of my free online group for beginning gardeners, the Beginner’s Garden Shortcut. (Click here to join.)

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