For a little while now I’ve been kicking around the idea of a homemaking 101 series here. More than one woman of my own age or younger has said (enthusiastically, even) she’d love to come across such a thing, however politically and culturally incorrect it is for an American woman to say she has an interest in serious homemaking anymore—and it is incorrect, terribly—so how many would like to know more but are ashamed to speak of it? A sad state of affairs indeed. Homemaking is something I consider important for reasons I’ll discuss in a future, introductory post, but let’s skip ahead a little bit and talk about canning—it is the season, after all, and that’s what I spent most of my Wednesday doing!
Of course, canning can be done any time of year, no matter where one lives, but autumn seems to be the season people’s minds turn to it. Perhaps this is a throwback to a much earlier age when we had to put up food for the winter lest our family starve, or it’s because many of us recall our mothers or grandmothers steaming up the kitchen while canning seemingly countless jars of tomatoes, applesauce, and sliced pears, but either way, there is plenty of
produce to choose from in the fall—the last gasp of glory before winter sweeps in. Preserving is one way to enjoy summer year-round—to say nothing of knowing exactly what it is in the food you’re eating and always having gifts on hand to give. The response I get from handing someone a jar of home-canned anything is quite possibly more rewarding than eating whatever it is myself!
Many people seem intimidated by the idea of canning, but it’s very easy to learn, really; most recipes, such as this one (for which I’m hoping I can find a few last local raspberries), give you step-by-step instructions that probably sound simplistic to novices. What seems to unnerve people most is the possibility of Death By Home-Canned Goods, followed by the process itself. Today I’m going to kill, or at least scare, two birds with one stone by showing you how I set things up for a day of putting things up. Actually preserving is another post altogether, but I think if people know how to get started and how to set up their assembly line, they’re much more likely to go for it. Feel free to ask any questions, I’m very happy to share and help!
Keep It Clean
Cleanliness is obviously very important. I’m a bit paranoid about this, running everything I can through the dishwasher on the highest setting in order to disinfect it. Everything else, wash in the hottest soapy water possible (this is a good reason to have thick dishwashing gloves so you don’t burn yourself). Don’t wash your fresh new lids in the dishwasher (you’ll lose the gum!) but aside from your canner, lid lifter, a chopstick for removing bubbles and wooden spoons, I can’t think of anything else you can’t sterilize in this fashion.
Once things are clean, just leave them in the dishwasher until you’re ready to go—then lay everything out on clean dishtowels or cloth napkins. I have old cloth napkins I keep in my canner for just this purpose—they come in handy for canning (and throwing them out would have been silly).
The first time you can, you may find yourself a bit discombobulated, but it will not take long for you to come up with the ideal setup for a good workflow in your kitchen. After a few seasons of canning here, mine is down to a science!
All of the slicing and dicing is best done beside the sink, of course. One thing I’ve found helpful is keeping a large bowl near my cutting board for all of the seeds, tops, tails, and other things that pile up during the prep stage; once I’m done, it all gets dumped into the compost pile (which usually results in a bunch of volunteers the following spring—not a bad deal!). A few additional towels for drying tomato-juice soaked hands and a slick cutting board will come in handy, too, as will a separate one on which to place your knives. I like to use a paring knife, a Santoku, a serrated knife for tomatoes, and of course my chef’s knife, but if you only have a serrated knife and good chef’s or Santoku, you’re in good shape.
This may just be me, but I set a drink with a long straw here too. Why? For easy sipping without having to worry about dropping my “fuel” from slippery wet fingers! I drink coffee for your protection, after all. It’s a must!
I’m truly blessed to have lots of space beside the stove. Immediately next to the burner with the canner I set a Pyrex bowl into which I throw the lids (when you pull your first jar out of the boiling canner, dump the hot water into this bowl to soften the gum so you get a good seal) and a lid lifter. Next to this I set a pair of thick oven mitts, because I’ll be placing my large, heavy-bottomed pan in this spot once the food is done cooking.
A few of those old napkins are laid down near the front edge of the counter to keep jars from moving around too much and to place implements on, and I put an additional pair on the back end to place filled and processed jars onto. Oven mitts for handling your hot preserving pan, a few stacks of rings, your jar lifter, and kitchen tongs at the far end and you are good to go.
Getting Things Started
Before doing anything else, fill your canner with water, drop in a jar rack and empty jars, and blast the heat beneath it; the water, even if hot when put into the canner, will take a while to get boiling in such volume. What size jars? Most recipes will tell you, but even then there’s leeway. For instance, the candied jalapeno recipe I used from Rebecca Gagnon’s book measured things in half-pints, but I used a couple of those and the rest in four-ounce jars. Don’t ever worry about having too many jars prepared…those, at least, are easy to re-sterilize!
You know to wash your veggies or fruits, and you know to wear gloves when slicing things like hot peppers, and you may even know which books to stack so you are at the correct slicing height at your too-tall counters (or is that only me?). So grab your recipe, slice and dice and chop, properly measuring or weighing things as necessary. In short…follow the directions!
I do not recommend whipping up your own canning recipes until you are very experienced…and to tell you the truth, there are so many I’d like to make that may never be a concern for me. You need to be sure the pH value is correct so that the food does not spoil, which can indeed result in Death By Home-Canned Goods. But if you follow your recipes scrupulously using sterilized tools, you are going to be fine. Just…again: Follow the directions. Really. That’s it, you’ll be fine!
- A canning funnel will make filling your jars much, much easier.
- Before placing the lid onto your newly-filled jar, wipe the rim with a cloth dipped into boiling water.
- You’ll be washing dishes a LOT if you’re canning multiple things on the same day. Just be warned.
- When removing jars from or placing them into the canner, full or empty, put the shortest ones in first. You’re a little less likely to burn your fingertips in the boiling water that way!
- Look at Craigslist for a canner, jar rack, and other canning supplies. You may even wish to place an ad asking for supplies (including jars). This is what I did upon getting started, and a woman was only too happy to give me a tote full of jars, a big canner, and a jar lifter…for free (I gave her some home-baked cookies)!
- Make sure you have every single thing you need before beginning. The last thing you’ll want to do after starting to can is figuring out how to shut the line down to run to the market!
Once your jars are processed, carefully remove them from the canner and place them on the back-of-the-counter towels and don’t disturb them. Admire but don’t touch! Soon you will hear music: little pops as each jar seals. After an hour or so, carefully check each lid with a tentative finger to see if it has sealed; if not, throw it into the fridge right away and eat within a couple of weeks, but otherwise, just let them sit for 24 hours. After labelling the jars as you please (preferably including the name of the contents and the date canned), you’re done!
Pour yourself a cocktail and get to work, dear. 😉
My Favourite Canning Books* & Recipe Sites:
Put ’em Up! Dilly Beans, Szechuan Green Beans, Black Forest Sauce, several fig preserves, Mushroom Confit, and bunches of other goodies. This is a good book for a beginner, with illustrations for each of the several ways to can and recipes printed in large, easy-to-read letters. That’s important when trying to read while putting up in a steamy kitchen!
Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry The Red Onion Marmalade is a hit with family and friends (it’s excellent for making a sauce used on game), a variation on Dilly Beans, Pineapple Jam with Five-Spice, Tomato-Basil Jam with Sherry…Some really fascinating flavours here I’ve yet to exhaust!
The Little Book of Home Preserving This is new to my collection, but I’ve just whipped up the Candied Jalapenos & have many recipes tabbed to try—this would be great for a beginner (plus it’s small, cute, and easy to carry around at the farmer’s market).
I have a canning-related board on Pinterest which is regularly added to. My favourites thus far are this tomato chutney from Oregon Cottage and Rachel Tayse’s recipe for thick salsa, which I made this week.
Supplies* Mentioned In This Post:
I finally sprang $15 for this canning rack and am very happy I did! It fits into my smaller canning processors and holds the jars snugly. You don’t want your jars touching the bottom of your canner lest they break, so something along these lines is a worthwhile investment.
To process your filled jars, you’ll want something like this stockpot (though I have an enormous old-school black-with-white-speckles one, I picked up a taller stainless one such as that up at our local Meijer). Just make sure it’s tall enough to accommodate your jars plus 1″ of boiling water above them before beginning canning—otherwise you’ll have water splashing onto your burner, which is unsafe (and unhelpful). If you’re only doing four-ounce jars, half-pints, and quarts you should have no trouble finding the right pot; hardware stores carry them, too, especially this time of year! You’ll find your jar lifter, lid lifters, lids with rings, jars, and wide-mouth funnels in the same spot. I use this Ball funnel; it is collapsible and thus great for small kitchens, but mostly I like that it’s dishwasher-safe and works perfectly.
Should you become a truly passionate canner (not difficult to do), you may wish to spring for a large seven- or eight-quart preserving pan, something like this. It’ll be easy to clean, the heavy bottom heats evenly without burning your food, and give you a large surface area that results in quicker cooking. You’ll also find it’s useful for all sorts of kitchen applications—my husband gave one to me for Christmas a few years ago, and it has gotten a great deal of use, canning and otherwise, since! If you often cook for crowds, you probably already have one.
Any questions? Worries? Fears? Feel free to share. 😉
* Any Amazon links on this site, including in this post, are affiliate links that throw a few pennies into my book addiction coffer. It doesn’t cost you anything extra. I only recommend products I use & recommend myself (as you know, I don’t really pull punches).