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Home Canning: How To Preserve The Harvest

Updated on January 17, 2012
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

It is autumn. The light is changing, the days are shorter and there is a chill in the air in some areas. Birds and wildlife are more active now, preparing to store their food for winter. Many of us are involved in the same process, albeit with a little more difficulty.

Preserving food has been an important skill for centuries. Drying , salting, and smoking were the first ways to keep food for the winter. Now we have the ability to can foods in a safe and healthy manner, unlike the large open kettles of Grandmother's day. As long as you follow the directions carefully your food will be safe and fresh and delicious when you open the jar. There are two basic canning methods, used for different products. Highly acid foods can be canned by the open kettle method but meats, vegetables, and fruits must be canned in a pressure cooker to be sure the food gets hot enough to kill all the bacteria.

A collection of heirloom tomatoes from the garden is a treat whether fresh or canned.
A collection of heirloom tomatoes from the garden is a treat whether fresh or canned.


In all kinds of preserving it is important to use only the highest quality foods available. The ingredients should be carefully prepared according to the recipe you are following. For fruits that turn dark when peeled you will want to have a large bowl with a couple of crushed vitamin c tablets or some lemon juice in it. As you peel and slice the fruit just place it into the bowl. This will ensure that the finished product is an appetizing color.

As you are preparing the food, place clean, washed jars, lids, and rings into simmering water. The jars need ot be immersed to ensure proper sterilization. Take your time. It is much better to go slow than to have an entire batch of beautiful vegetables go bad on the shelf.

When you are ready to can take the hot jar out of the water. Using a wide mouth funnel, fill the jar with the hot food and any liquid that you are using (sugar syrup, brine, etc.). Run a sterile knife down the sides of the inside of the jar to release trapped air. Leave headspace at the top of the jar, usually 1/2 inch, according to your recipe. Using a clean cloth use some of the sterile water to clean the top of the jar and quickly place the lid on and tighten the ring. After tightening, loosen the ring one-quarter turn to allow for pressure to escape during the canning process. Set the jar aside and quickly fill the other jars in the same way but filling ONLY as many as you will be putting in the canner. At this point remember to keep everything hot, sterile, and clean.

Water Bath Canning

Foods recommended for this type of home canning are high acid foods. The foods must have a ph of 4.6 or less, and would include tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, fruit betters, and pickles. As a rule of thumb I do not can tomatoes mixed with other things in a water bath, choosing instead to use a pressure canner for safety's sake.

Once you have prepared as many cans as can fit in the water bath you fill the canner halfway with water. Begin to heat the water. DO NOT PUT HOT JARS IN COLD WATER!! Place the cans on a rack in the canner carefully and add enough water to cover the tops of the jars by one inch. Place the lid on the canner. When you hear the water come to a rolling boil (you can check) start timing the process. Boil gently for the recommended time, adding boiling water as needed to keep the cans covered.

When time is up remove jars from canner by using a jar lifter and place on a folded towel in a draft free area where they will not be disturbed. Leave them alone overnight. As the jars cool you will har loud pops signifying that the jars are sealed.

Next day remove the rings and test the seal by first pushing the center of the lid..It should be firm and not pop. If it does pop the jar needs to be reprocessed. Empty contents, wash jar and start over.

If the jar does not pop test it further by gently pulling at the top of the jar with your fingers in an upward motion. This should not be a strong enough motion to break the seal, only lift it if it is not sealed. You will be able to tell easily with a little experience. Wipe the sealed jars down with water into which you have added a tablespoon of bleach and store in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Water Bath Canning

Pressure Cooker

People are afraid of pressure cookers but they shouldn't be. Modern pressure cookers are safe when used according to instructions.

Place 2 inches of hot water (or manufacturer recommended amount) in the pressure cooker. Set the prepared jars on a rack, allowing for plenty of air space between them. Lock down the canner lid and allow the water to begin to boil and the steam to escape for 10 minutes. Close the vent and allow the pressure to build up monitoring it carefully. Once the pressure gauge shows the recommended pressure start timing. Keep the pressure constant, adjusting heat if necessary.

When time is up turn the canner off and let the pressure gauge drop to 0. This will usually take up to an hour, but don't remove the lid or try to hurry it during this time.

When time is up unfasten the lid and tilt it away form you to remove. Remember, the canner is full of steam and you can get burned badly if you are not careful. Using the lifter remove jars to a folded towel and leave to cool for 24 hours. Finish, check seals, and store as for water bath canned jars.

How To Use A Pressure Cooker

Using Your Preserved Foods

Check jars for any signs of spoilage. Bubbling of contents, mold, off odor, or bulging lids are all signs that the food has spoiled. Be sure and dispose of it in a way that animals/curious children cannot come in contact with it.

There is a special pride in serving beautifully home preserved foods. Something about it links us with the generations that have gone before, and, as any skill that contributes to our self sufficiency, raises self esteem. As you gain more experience with canning begin to work on an artful presentation within the jars. Aristotle said, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.


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    • profile image

      canning tomatoes 

      7 years ago

      great hub! thanks for the videos you posted. they were easy to follow and understand.

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      Great idea to preserve your own produce and at the same time Reducing garbage disposal by Recycling and Reusing used jars and cans. But if tomatoes are like the ones I see in the photo, it's tempting to eat them blanched or raw. Thanks!

    • Charlotte Anne profile image

      Charlotte Anne 

      9 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Nice Hub

    • Michele Engholm profile image

      Michele Engholm 

      10 years ago from Hutchinson

      Great hub Marye...Thanks...Loved the videos.

    • cgull8m profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      One time I tried to can strawberry Jam I made, it was an awful experience, I tried to take short cuts :), I think if done the right way, we can save lots of home grown plants. Excellent videos, I added it to my favorites with the article.


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