Canning 101

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

For people of a self-reliant nature who raise a good portion of their own food, home canning is a great way to store the harvest, resulting in healthy, homegrown food, sometimes years down the road. In the freezer, food only stays good for one year before it loses flavour. Canning allows you to enjoy tasty, homegrown fruits, vegetables, pickles, preserves, jams and jellies for longer. It’s not hard to do and it is inexpensive to begin.

You can start with a water canner available from most hardware stores for around $20. These big, blue metal pots come with lids and wire racks; you are probably already familiar with them. It’s a good idea to pick up a pair of canning tongs at the same time. Canning jars don’t have to be purchased new, although they are not expensive and they’re available at most grocery stores. Canning jars also often go for a song at yard sales and can last generations.

This processing method is safe for all high acid foods, jams, jellies, preserves, nut meats, pickles, chili sauce, catsup, relish, tomatoes and tomato sauce (without mushrooms or meat) and fruit and fruit products, such as butters and conserves. Note: Don’t double or alter recipes. Pick up a canning booklet with instructions on recommended processing times for different fruits and vegetables.

Canning basics

Wash Mason (canning) jars in warm, soapy water, rinse and put into a saucepan of boiling water to sterilize. Leave jars in hot water until they are needed so they are hot when hot syrup is poured into them. Place canning lids in a small saucepan of boiling water and leave them there until they are needed. Lids should be new because rubber is only good for one use. An improperly sealed jar allows food to spoil, which is not worth risking.

Using jars with chips or small cracks results in broken jars or incomplete seals. Before filling, check jars carefully for cracks. A combination of hot food and cold glass or cold food and hot glass results in the jars cracking. Put hot food into hot jars and cold into cooled jars. Don’t put hot jars onto cold surfaces and keep them out of cool drafts.

It’s easier to fill the jars using a funnel. Fill to within one-half inch of the rim. If syrup does get on the rim of the jar, wipe it with a hot cloth to make a good seal with the lid. I preserve fruit in a light honey syrup, which accentuates the natural flavour without excess sweetness.

Light Honey Syrup:

1 part light honey: to 4 parts water

Fill a water canner 3⁄4-full and bring to a boil. Use the wire rack to load jars in and out of the canner. Wire racks prevent the bottoms of the jars from cracking and stop the jars bumping together. If boiling water does not cover the jars by at least one inch, add more water and bring back to a boil. Processing is done at a steady rolling boil; too furious a boil may crack jars during processing.

At the end of the recommended processing time, carefully lift jars out of the canner, using long-handled tongs. Place jars on a wooden board (out of cool drafts) where a seal will happen as the jar cools. Leave jars alone until they have sealed; usually, you’ll hear a satisfying ping when this happens. After the jars have cooled, remove the rings, wipe the jars and store in a cool, dark place. Always check seals before you store jars; the lids should be indented in the middle, with no give. If not sealed, either reprocess using a new lid or store in the fridge and eat soon. Mark lids with the contents and the date to make rotation in storage possible. Bon Appetit!

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food is now available (Harbour Publishing).

canning photo © Dragon_Fang |