The Great American Tradition of Canning: How Do I Do It?

Back in the first half of the 20th century, home canning was a normal household chore. Then as the typical family became a two income household, canning went out the window in favor of a quick stop at the grocery store. Today, home canning is making a comeback and families all across the country are picking up this healthy, fun habit.

Seeing pantry shelves lines with jars of food that you and your family canned all by yourself gives a sense of pride and satisfaction. The best part about canning your own food is the fact that you know exactly what is going into the jar. You are picking the best fruits and vegetables for your family to eat and are not relying on somebody else to make that decision for you.

Home canning is fairly simple to do. It can be a bit time consuming, but it is a great time to hang out with friends and family. A person can find everything they need for canning at their local grocery store or department store. Although some fruits and jams can be canned in a large stockpot safely, most foods need a pressure canner to be stored safely.

A pressure canner is typically the most expensive piece of equipment needed for home canning. Expect to pay around a hundred dollars. Jars, lids, and bands are fairly inexpensive. The jars and bands can be reused for several years, assuming they do not rust or break. A pair of jar tongs are also a necessary to remove the jars out of the boiling water.

Those with a green thumb may choose to grow a garden with the intent of canning those foods. For those who do not have a green thumb or the space to grow a large garden, the produce section of the grocery store works just as well. Nearly every fruit or vegetable can be safely stored in a canning jar. Potatoes can be difficult to can and many choose not to because of the increased risk of food poisoning if not stored correctly.

Each vegetable or fruit may require a different canning method, but the mechanics are generally the same. Cut the fruit or vegetables into sizes you prefer. In most situations, the food is partially cooked in a pot of water before being canned. While the food is cooking, this is a good time to inspect and thoroughly wash all the jars, lids and bands.

Once the food is cooked or blanched, use a scoop to put it in the jars. Most canning experts will recommend the jar is packed full with little airspace. Leave a ½ to 1/8 gap at the top. This is referred to as head space. Typically, a few ladles of boiling water are poured over the top of the food within the jar to fill up any spaces. Fruit can be packed with a sugar water substance if desired. Some people choose to use water with a touch of salt for storing vegetables.

Follow instructions provided with the pressure canner for each type of vegetable or fruit. Most vegetable will need to be in the pressure cooker for at least 30 minutes. It can take another 30 minutes for the pressure to be released enough for the lid to be removed. Place the jars gently on the counter and let stand for about 24 hours. It is normal to hear a popping sound as each jar seals itself. Check each jar to ensure it sealed correctly by pressing down on the lid. If it is springy, it did not seal. Follow instructions in the canner to attempt to reseal the jar again.

Label the jars and store in a cool, dark place. Most experts recommend keeping canned food for no more than a year. However, others will argue the canned foods are good for up to five years. Fruits and other foods with high acidic content do not store well for long periods of time.