A Beginners Guide to Home Canning

By Guest Author Conner Flynn

Home canning is a way to preserve fresh foods for months or years, depending on the type of food and the canning method. It can be a great way to save money and ensure that you’re still enjoying your garden produce even during the darkest days of winter.

home canning
Nearly any fresh food from your garden can be canned to enjoy months or even years later.

Most home canning is done with glass jars called Mason jars. There are two ways that you can seal a glass canning jar: Pressure Canning and Water Bath Canning. Each method seals the lid on the jar and keeps it safe from bacteria and decomposition potentially for years. However, there are certain foods that are best canned one way rather the other.

How effective is canning? If done correctly, food can be preserved for 100 years:

The steamboat Bertrand was heavily laden with provisions when it set out on the Missouri River in 1865, destined for the gold mining camps in Fort Benton, Mont. The boat snagged and swamped under the weight, sinking to the bottom of the river. It was found a century later, under 30 feet of silt a little north of Omaha, Neb. Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables. In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (FPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier. The Canning Process; Old Preservation Technique Goes Modern

How canning began

Canning was invented in the 1800’s in France. In an effort to support the military fighting the Napoleonic Wars, the French government offered an award to anyone who could invent a cheap and effective way to preserve foods. The process reached perfection during World War 1 when vast amounts of food were required for soldiers fighting in Europe, along with the switch to industrial grade tin canning from the more fragile glass jars. Most recipes will instruct you to use canned foods within 18-24 months, however, as the nutritional value starts to break down.

Canning is employed by many home gardeners to preserve their garden bounty and for some, meat, until the next season. It’s also used by some to avoid the preservatives and other additives used in commercially prepared canned foods found in grocery stores. Canned foods do not require refrigeration and when done properly, will maintain their nutritional content and flavor for many months to years. If you have an abundance of cucumbers or tomatoes in your garden, consider canning them instead of composting or throwing them away.

home canning

Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is done with lower temperatures and is great for acidic foods. It takes longer than pressure canning, as you want to ensure that all the bacteria and yeast that can cause spoilage, are destroyed. From there the jars are vacuum sealed and safe to consume at a later date.

Foods that are recommended using the water bath technique are:

  • Fruits, fruit juices, jellies, and jams
  • Tomatoes
  • Pickles, relishes, and chutneys
  • Sauces
  • Soup
  • Pie fillings
  • Vinegars
  • Condiments

Water bath canning is relatively simple. First, sterilize your canning jars and check for any minute cracks or chips in the glass. Discard any defective jars, as they may introduce bacteria into your canned food. Next, fill a deep pan halfway up with water and bring to a simmer, approximately 180 degrees. Place the empty jars in your simmering water, but do not put the lids in the water.

Next, take out a jar (be sure to use a jar lifter or something similar so that you don’t burn yourself). Fill it with whatever you are canning that day, being cautious not to overfill it. Most canning recipes will state how much room to leave to provide adequate space for proper sealing. Then wipe the rim, put on the lid, and thread on the band. Place in the water and then start filling the remaining containers in the same manner.

Once all the jars are filled, and in the water, cover with at least an inch of water and put a lid on the pan. The recipe that you are using to can will indicate how long to boil the jars. After the appropriate time has passed, take the jars out of the water and let sit upright for at least 24 hours so that the jar can properly seal as it is cooling off. When 24 hours have passed, check the lids to make sure there is no bend in the cover when pressed on. Write the date on the lids, so you know the age of the product, and store and use as needed!

Pressure Canning

Pressure canning is for canning foods that have low acid levels. This technique requires getting the temperature over 240 degrees, and the jars seal as they cool. Foods that may be successfully pressure canned are:

  • Meats: including poultry and seafood
  • Vegetables: cucumbers, carrots, green beans, beets, etc.
  • Tomato based foods that contain other meats and vegetables

Pressure Canning uses a pressure cooker, or canner cooker, instead of cooking on the stovetop. You start by following the same steps used to prepare the jars and fill them. Then, you place the jars in the cooker, making sure that they are covered in 2-3 inches of water, and lock the lid in place. Once the recommended pressure canning time has passed for the recipe you are using, let the canner return to zero pressure, open the lid, and let the jars cool for 10 minutes before removing.

Just as with the water bath method, jars must sit undisturbed for 24 hours before going into storage.

Canning can be a beneficial and fun hobby. As you start to understand the cooking times in the recipes you are using, you can start creating your own recipes and have fun with the craft.

Many store their canned goods in a pantry, cellar or basement, but there are a lot of canners out there who have so many canned foods that they need a special storage spot for all of it. Some people actually build a storage shed just for their canned goods. The good news is, a shed doesn’t have to cost a lot and it’s easy for anyone to build one quickly. You can find a shed building guide online and use some 3D shed plans like this 12×12 shed plan from 3Dshedplans.com.

No matter which method you choose or how you store your canned goods, canning is a fun, rewarding and delicious hobby that lets you enjoy your garden fruits and vegetables year round. Canned foods also make great holiday gifts. And if the power goes out for a week, you’ll have no worries about eating. If you need more help, there are many YouTube canning videos and tutorials online that will get you on your way to canning like a pro.

You can find more information on canning from the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Here’s a great video primer on canning basics from Michigan State University…

Author’s Bio: Conner Flynn has been writing professionally since 2007 and loves writing about a variety of topics, especially if it makes life better for the reader. When not writing, he enjoys reading so that he can learn more about the topics that he writes about.

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