Canning Food For Beginners

December 14, 2009 :: Posted by - Summer :: Food :: (4) Comments

Creative Commons License photo credit: ellievanhoutte

A few weeks ago I picked up a box of jars for canning at a garage sale for only $1. I would have grabbed two boxes, but a feisty old woman snatched the second box up before I could reach for it. I thought about following her and asking for tips, but something told me she would have taken my box from me and ran off cackling. I only hope to be half as scary when I’m her age.

Sadly the jars have been sitting on a shelf in my garage. I have a ton of good reasons for that. One being that it’s absolutely freezing outside and just the thought of walking to my garage makes me put on another sweater. Second is that I don’t yet have all the supplies I need. In trying to be both frugal and small I am avoiding buying new lids and rings and other such supplies at the big box store. Instead I keep putting feelers out on Freecycle and Craig’s List, hoping someone will take a bite.

Thirdly, and probably most important, is that I do not have anything to can just yet. I have not yet begun to really garden, outside of composting and hammering together raised bed boxes. I am trying to plan out indoor container gardening for the winter, if I can find a spot safe from curious cats and kids. Something tells me I’ll be scooping a lot of soil up off the carpet. I need to buy a cheap thermometer to hang out in the garage and see just how cold it gets out there. If it isn’t too bad I will try to grow some cold hardy plants on there.

I hope that soon I will have shelves that look close to Amber’s. Jar upon jar of goodness ready to be eaten.

My plan is to start with salsa. It’s something that we eat quite a bit of, is easy to make, and we don’t eat enough tomatoes to really take care of a plant any other way. After that I am looking at making some jams and jellies. After reading how easily Amy made homemade strawberry jam I can’t get the thought out of my mind. Plus it will be a great way to get out of the grape jelly rut Michael insists on sticking to.

So, now my question is this: any tips for a would-be canner? What books, recipes, products do you recommend for beginners? Fill me with your canning knowledge!

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4 Responses to “Canning Food For Beginners”

  1. Shannon Says:

    Summer, this was my first year canning. I felt really intimidated going into it, and decided to stick to the hot water bath canner (vs. the pressure canner), for the sake of both simplicity and frugality. I got the canner at my local hardware store for about $20. You can use a really big pot if you already have one, and can get your hands on a rack. You’ll also need a pair of canning tongs for pulling the jars out of the hot water. But it’s really an inexpensive proposition to get started, and you might be able to find a canner at a yard sale or from Craig’s list. You can do both salsa and jams in a water bath canner, and it’s actually really easy. There’s a lot of web pages with step by step canning instructions with photos which were really useful to me in getting started. The biggest problem I found with doing it in the summer was the length of time I had to keep my stove on to heat the water and process the food, and how much it heated up the house. For the sake of both energy use and comfort I eventually started trying to do the processing outside on the burner of my propane grill, and that helped some, but it made it more of a pain, coming in and out of the house with the hot jars, dodging the kid and the dogs…

    If you succeed in growing tomatoes indoors this winter I’d be really interested to hear just how you did it, and it what temperature, and with what kind of light. We have two tomato plants inside at about 69 degrees in front of a south facing window, but we’ve had so much rain and overcast skies this fall that they’re finally starting to fail. Plus, it seems that no matter what I bring into my house inevitably ends up with aphids, and I’m not sure what to do about that…

  2. Summer Says:

    Thanks for the tips Shannon! I was a bit intimidated to try a hot water bath, I assumed a pressure canner would be easier. I’ll see about a pot instead.

    So far my tomatoes are tiny babies. I’ve got them in the kitchen, which stays the warmest, with no problems. It hasn’t been cloudy here yet, but we’ll see in a few months how dark it gets.

  3. Tiffany @ NOH Says:

    Anything that has a high acidity can be canned in a water bath…everything else has to be pressure canned. Potatoes, green beans, okra, squash, etc all must be pressure canned. Salsas, jams, jellies, many soups, etc just need a water bath.

    I used a pressure cooker for my first time this year. Unfortunately the pressure cookers you get here in Germany are not nearly as huge as in the US (I guess no one is canning potatoes and other things from their harvests here…or I’m lookimg in the wrong place) but they are wickedly expensive in the US as well. Mine holds two 1 liter jars at a time…a painfully long process.

    Books I would recommend are the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine and The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. These are two I currently have and you can find recipes to use up just about anything you’ve got to can with those. They include tips for how to do everything from water baths to pressure cooking.

    As Shannon mentioned, tongs are a must…and a wide mouthed funnel is also very handy to keep mess to a minimum. I have a couple canning recipes on my blog but feel free to drop in and just ask me anything as well. Or on Twitter. I’m no expert but I’ve done a fair amount of canning thus far

  4. Summer Says:

    Thanks so much Tiffany. I wonder how people canned foods before pressure cookers were invented? Something to look up!

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