Canning is simple and a great way to preserve the taste and nutrition of fruits and veggies at the peak of season. I love seeing my pantry stocked full by the time winter arrives. I like to can with friends; it turns the task into a social event with useful results.
Food Safety: Rule #1—Follow the proper canning steps and use a research-tested recipe. Many factors like food acidity, microbes, etc. have changed making old, untested recipes unsafe. Thousands of tested recipes exist. Use one of those and don’t become one of the 325,000 people who are hospitalized each year due to food borne illness.
I have listed the steps for hot-water bath canning. Not all foods can be processed using this method–just high-acid foods like pickled veggies and fruit preparations (jams, pie fillings, syrups, etc). Low-acid foods like green beans or corn, cannot be hot-water bath canned (unless of course they are pickled). They need pressure-canner processing. Even many tomato preparations do not have an acidity low enough to allow safe, hot-water bath canning. Be safe and not sorry. Boutulism emits no odor or taste or gas. You simply become very ill once you eat a food contaminated with the toxin.
Resources for Tested Recipes: Any university extension office or website including the University of Wisconsin Extension is a good resource. To find other state extension recipes, do a web search including the name of the recipe and the word “Extension.” From Oregon to Iowa, state extension offices publish only tested recipes. Other good sources include the Ball Blue Book of Preservation and The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich available at libraries and bookstores. The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, and The National Center for Home Food Preservation have detailed instructions on canning and many tested recipes.
Creating your own recipe for canning: Creating your own canned pickled vegetable recipe is possible but takes some work and time. For a fresh pack, not fermented pickle, use equal parts vinegar and water with salt and sugar to taste. I generally follow this formula:
- 1 cup water : 1 cup 5% acid vinegar: 1 - 3 t salt: (½ t – 1 cup sugar optional)
Prepare and process your pickle using the steps described below. Once canned, allow the pickle to cure for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks, test the pH level of one jar by blending all of the contents to a liquid puree then measuring acidity with either a pH meter found at a science supply store or litmus paper. The target is 4.6 pH or lower. You remember you pH scale from junior high, don’t you? The lower the number, the more acidic. 7 is neutral like water.
Another more simple method of creating your own recipe is simply through substitutions. Start with a tested recipe. If, for example, the recipes calls for 1 cup chopped peppers, you can substitue 1 cup chopped celery. It’s that simple. Just be sure to substitue acid foods for acid foods and low-acid foods for low-acid foods. Keep in mind, creating pickle recipes is easier than creating fruit preparations that require thickening and/or added pectin like jams or syrups.
How to Can Fruits, Pickles & (sometimes) Tomatoes–Steps for Boiling-Water Method Canning
- Prepare equipment
- Prepare food
- Pack food
- Place on lids
- Hot-water bath process
#1: Gather & Prepare Equipment
Canning equipment can be purchased on-line or from farm and houseware supply stores like Ace or Farm & Fleet. Most supermarkets carry canning jars as well as canning ingredients:
- Water bath canner
- Jars, lids, and screw bands designed for home canning—Ball or Kerr brand
- Slow cooker, large pot, electric roaster or dishwasher to keep jars warm
- Jar lifter for removing hot jars
- Chop stick or metal skewer
- Tea towels
#2: Prepare Jars, Lids & Screws
Clean jars and lids in hot soapy water; then keep them heated to 180°F for 10 minutes or more until they are ready to be used. Maintain the jars at the proper temperature by using one of these methods:
- Submerge jars in a pot of simmering water on the stove (lids in a smaller pan for easy access)
- Submerge jars and lids in water in a slow cooker/roaster set on simmer
- Wash jars in the dishwasher; keep washer door closed until ready to use.
Only wash and dry screw bands. Do not keep bands submerged in hot water or they will rust.
- Pack hot clean jars one at a time according to recipe instructions.
- Remove air bubbles with a skewer and wipe jar rim clean with a towel.
- Place on lid and screw. Tightening until finger-tip tight.
- Lower jars in the basket into the simmering water in the canner being sure all jars are submerged by 2 inches.
- Return canner lid and bring to a boil.
- Start counting processing-time only after the water comes to a rolling boil.
- When processing-time is complete, remove the lid and turn off heat. Let canner cool for 5 minutes.
- Remove jars with your jar lifter; keep jars upright. Do not touch lids or tighten screws, just set them on a tea towel and let them cool.
- After jars have cooled, check for a seal.
- Label sealed jars. Refrigerate any unsealed jars and eat or re-process in 24 hours.