Tips for Canning your Harvest
It's gardening time again and to me that means canning season is upon us. Canning food is a way of preserving the harvest so that your family can eat it all year. There are two different ways to can foods - with a pressure canner or by using a water bath to seal the jars. I have a pressure canner, but I also use it as my water bath canner as well. If your canner is a water bath canner only (the most common one sold) then you cannot use that as a pressure canner.
The most popular kind of canning is water bath canning, but you have to be careful using this method, as all foods cannot be preserved this way. I find the water bath method easier and faster. The jars are completely submerged in boiling water for a certain period of time. This heats the foods inside to 212 degrees Farenheit or 100 degrees Celsius. The water bath method is good for highly acidic foods like fruit, tomatoes, jams, jellies, preserves, applesauce, pickles and relish. Heating the foods to this temperature will kill any bad bacteria in the foods.
With a pressure canner you can preserve almost any type of food. With a pressure canner you can get the temperature inside the canner to 240 - 250 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is needed to kill bacteria in low-acidic foods such as meat, vegetables, poultry, fish, or soup. When you use a pressure canner you add just a few inches of water to the bottom of the canner. You have to have a canner with a tight fitting lid that can be locked on. You need to get your canner calibrated from a cooperative extension office each year so that you will know exactly the pressure your canner gets too and how long to process your foods. I find the pressure canning method more complicated and time consuming. It also uses more energy. The benefit though, is that you can preserve just about anything and it will be good to eat for years.
For all canning you need some special tools. Technically they probably aren't required, but I don't think I would be able to can without them. A wide mouth funnel will make the process so much easier. With a wide mouth funnel I can ladle anything into my jars without worrying about spilling boiling hot foods or liquids on myself or the counter. I find a jar lifter a must. This is a special tool that you dip down into the boiling water to lift each jar out safely. You can get a lid lifter as well, but I get along just fine with a pair of tongs. Other than that you will need a wet rag and pot holders.
The most important thing you need to do when canning is to make sure that everything stays sterile. Before I start canning I wash all the jars and rings I will need. Then I put a large pan of water on the stove and a smaller pot of water. I place the jars upside down in the pan of water, fill with an inch or two of water, bring to a boil and then simmer while I prep everything else. In the pot of water I place all the rings and lids I will use and fill with water and simmer. You should always pour hot food into hot jars to prevent cracking or shattering of the jars.
Once you have the jars filled you need to wipe the top of the jars off with a wet rag before you put the lid on. This will ensure a good seal. If you don't have a good seal then your food will not last on the shelf. You have to have the ring on the jar before putting it into the canner. Tighten the rings, but not all the way. You should be able to take the ring off easily. At this point the jars are ready to go into the canner. I always have my canner heated before I put jars into it. This speeds up the process.
I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book of Canning as a wonderful canning resource. It is full of information, recipes and more. It will tell you how long to process each food in the canner. Once the time is up, turn the stove off and if you can, remove the canner from the heat. Wait a few minutes before opening the canner. When you do open it, lift the side that is away from you first so that you don't get steam in your face. Use the jar lifter to remove the jars. Place them a couple of inches apart on a towel and do not touch or move for 24 hours. You should hear the sweet sound of the pings when the jars seal. This means success.
Once the jars have cooled overnight you need to test the seal. Remove the rings and gently lift up on the edge of the lids to see if they move. They should be sealed tightly with a slight depression in the middle. If they did not seal you can either place in the refrigerator to eat right away or you can try to process them again. Once I remove the rings, I always take a wet rag and wipe the entire jar well and write the contents and date on the lid. Then I store to enjoy all winter.
If you have never tried canning as a way of preserving food before, I find it very much worth it. Use these tips to help you preserve your harvest. It is very satisfying to have food stored for my family in the event of an emergency. I hope you enjoy canning as much as I do.