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Survival Skills: Preserving Food and Canning Tips

Updated on September 21, 2016
Cynthia Hoover profile image

Cynthia is a homesteader who grows, harvests, and stores many foods, and prefers natural, homemade remedies for her family.

Canning is one of my most effective ways to preserve food harvests from our farm. Canning and preserving food is not a new trend. Canning dates back to the 1800's and many other forms of food preservation date back even earlier than that. If you are a beginner, you'll find those of us who love canning are happy to share our knowledge and skills.

While you can preserve food purchased at the store, it is much more cost effective to establish a garden and grow your own fresh food. Especially if you have a small budget but want to start survival prepping!

Canning Food

The simplest thing one can do to prepare for any survival situation is preserving food. The two most common ways being canning and dehydration of food. Just about every food you can grow or buy is a good candidate to be preserved. In this article I am focusing on canning food.

Canning food can be done simply with a hot water bath method or a pressure canner. Occasionally I use the pressure cooking method for foods such as meats, as I want to make sure they reach the needed temperatures. But for my fruits and veggies I prefer to use the hot water bath method. I find the hot water bath is much easier than watching the gauge on a pressure canner because I have a toddler running around.

There are three main reasons why I choose to can my own foods:

  1. To save money. By canning and storing my own food at harvest time, I don't need to pay for expensive foods out of season.
  2. To avoid chemical preservatives. Whenever possible, I like my family to eat fresh, organic produce grown in our own garden.
  3. Canning food is absolutely a survival skill!

Creating a well stocked food pantry is essential to survival preparedness.
Creating a well stocked food pantry is essential to survival preparedness.

Canning For Survival

During the June 23rd flooding here in West Virginia, my family was without power for a week. Since we use well water, we were very limited as to what foods we could prepare. We had no easy source of fresh water. We even had to boil rain water to wash the dishes.

Luckily I had plenty of canned foods on hand. Many of those were edible and complete meals straight out of the jar! My favorite is a spicy mix of lil smokie sausages, pepperoni, peppers and onions, with my own secret sauce.

Had I not been an avid food canner, we would have been really hurting. We would have been starving. We lost power to our home, and within less than 48 hours (due to the extreme temperatures) all our refrigerator foods and frozen foods had spoiled.

We were completely cut off from the outside world due to the water being so high on our bridge. Even if the local stores had been stocked and powered, we couldn't reach them. So my family and I are living proof that canning your own foods is definitely a survival skill.

While you may think you are prepared for survival scenarios, if you are not canning foods and storing them for an emergency, you're not as prepared as you could be.

Preserve Fresh Fruits

Fresh fruit is wonderful. But to enjoy the taste out of season (and to prevent wasting any), you'll need to preserve some of your fresh fruits at harvest time.
Fresh fruit is wonderful. But to enjoy the taste out of season (and to prevent wasting any), you'll need to preserve some of your fresh fruits at harvest time.

What You Need To Start Canning Food

Canning your own food is really simple. Even if you are a beginner you should not stress over your first attempt canning food. Here is a list of a few items to get you started:

  • Large Pot
  • Jars
  • Jar Lids (Rings And flats)
  • Jar Tongs
  • Funnel
  • Small Spatula
  • Fruits And Vegetables
  • Canning Recipes
  • Kitchen timer

Simple as that. You can purchase a hot water bath pot, specifically for preserving food or use a large stock pot you have on hand. You can even use a smaller pot for smaller batches of food. So long as you have about 3 inches of water above the top of your jars. You may very well have some of those items already in your kitchen.

For safety reasons I do highly recommend the tongs, as they allow you to remove the jars without getting burnt. On the off chance that you have a jar start spewing out of the top due to a bad seal. The tongs will keep your skin away from the potential burn hazard.

You will need jars to preserve food with this method. Jars can be purchased with the lids in flats of 12 or 24. Jars are a small investment when preserving food. The jars are reusable, as are the rings. After you start preserving food, you will only need to reinvest in the flats to ensure that your jars seal.

Not having a funnel is a pain. Having canned for many years before I purchased mine, I can tell you it is worth its weight in gold! It saves so many messes. It also keeps me from getting burnt when I fill jars with food. Making and canning jelly is a dangerous task, and a funnel is most definitely a safety tool.

A small spatula designed for food canning purposes is ideal. This spatula is a needed tool to help rid your jars of air pockets and bubbles before the hot water bath. Removing air pockets when canning food is essential for proper preservation.

Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner, Including Chrome-Plated Rack and 4-Piece Utensil Set
Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner, Including Chrome-Plated Rack and 4-Piece Utensil Set

Here's the same type of basic Water Bath Canner I use. Of course you'll also need jars, lids, thermometer and a timer ... but these are the basic water bath tools you'll need if you want to can your own foods.


Sterilizing Jars Is Essential

Another important thing to remember is that even when using brand new jars, they must be sterilized. Sterilization should be done every time you are ready to can food. Here are the basic steps to sterilize jars:

  1. Wash jars in hot soapy water. Thoroughly rinse in scalding water. Put jars in a water-bath v or on a rack set in a deep pot and cover with hot water.
  2. Place a lid on the pot and allow to boil.
  3. Boil for a full 15 minutes from when steam first emerges from the pot.
  4. Just before filling your jars, invert them on a clean towel to dry.

Sterilizing is perhaps the most important step when canning food. Sterilizing jars before you put food in them will ensure that your food is not contaminated during the process.

Jars For Canning

By the end of every winter, I'm planning to buy even more jars before the next harvest season. My family would happily eat our home-grown produce every day of the year!
By the end of every winter, I'm planning to buy even more jars before the next harvest season. My family would happily eat our home-grown produce every day of the year!
Ball Mason Wide Mouth Quart Jars with Lids and Bands, Set of 12
Ball Mason Wide Mouth Quart Jars with Lids and Bands, Set of 12

If you are like me and grow your own foods, you can never have too many jars. Jars for canning come in different sizes, but I find this size (32-ounce) particularly useful.


Why So Much Salt In Canning Recipes?

Canning is one of the easiest ways I preserve food. Having a good recipe is key. I have a large canning book with detailed recipes. (See below.) Paying attention to the details of a recipe is important for canning success. If you do not follow the instructions completely your first canning experience could be a disaster.

A good canning recipe should include instructions from start to finish. From cleaning and preparing the food, to other needed ingredients and how to process your jars. Even things you consider non-essential in everyday cooking, make a difference when canning food.

For instance, you may think adding the full quantity of salt in a canning recipe may be too much. Trust me, sometimes it seems like there's too much salt in canning food recipes. But never skimp, because salt also acts as a preservative. Skipping some of the salt may very well have your food fail in the canning process. Particularly when you store it.

As you grow more accustomed to basic canning recipes you will get an idea of which ingredients are there for food preservation. If you are just beginning to can foods, I suggest starting with some very easy recipes. Cold pack green beans. Or even a jelly (jam) recipe is a great starting point for beginners.

I have been canning foods since I was a little girl on a stool helping my grandmother. While I have many recipes memorized, I still consult my canning recipe book. Following a written recipe is a great help when there's distractions in the kitchen. Making mistakes can result in wasted food.

Some canning recipes are much more complex than others. But sometimes, even when I'm working on a relatively simple project, I like the reassurance of having the recipe laid out before me.

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today

Why do I love this recipe book? Because having recipes to guide me helps prevent mistakes. (With a young child distracting me in the kitchen, I fear mistakes could possibly cause spoilage of food.) I have my favorite recipes, but occasionally I have the chance to can unfamiliar foods. That's when I automatically reach for this book!


Stockpiling Food

Is your food pantry stocked to carry you through winter? Or even longer, as a survival strategy?

Before you begin purchasing food at the store to stockpile, think about canning. Today you can buy metal cans of food in the store relatively cheaply, but eventually those cans will rust and swell. Making the food unfit to eat. Effectively canning your own food in jars should last much longer than the same food in a metal can.

Even if you are using coupons, price matching and a savvy shopper, you are doing yourself a disservice stockpiling metal cans of food. Buying bulk products fresh from a local farmers' market can be much cheaper than buying canned foods at the store. It also gives you the freedom to create many recipes with the food you buy. (Cold packing, and hot water bathing give foods a much better texture and taste than over-cooked steel cans of food in the store.)

If you decide to build your food pantry for survival, remember you can still preserve food by canning even if SHTF and the power is out. If you lack solar power, you can build a fire and use a hot water bath canning method to can food. Year in, year out, those of us with orchards and vegetable gardens can continue to harvest our fresh foods and preserve them by canning.

© 2016 Cynthia Hoover


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