This post contains affiliate links. Read disclosure here.
Late summer in Iowa means gardens and orchards are about to burst with produce. It’s an exciting time! Last year’s produce is just about gone. It’s such a joy to open up that jar of preserved sunshine in January.
Canning Season 2018 is just about to begin.
This article is a basic primer on home canning your produce. While home canning is simple, instructions for canning your own produce must be followed exactly to ensure your food is safe to eat when it is served months or even years later. There are no shortcuts.
The Bible of Home Canning
In my opinion, if it isn’t in this book, it can’t be safely preserved. Period. This is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It contains over 400 recipes for basic and creative home canning recipes and instructions. This is your most important tool in all your home canning equipment.
Get this book before you begin canning. If you already do home canning and don’t have this book, get it anyway. It contains the most up-to-date information on canning safety and equipment. It also contains great recipes with a modern appeal like Chocolate Raspberry Sundae Topper and recipes from around the world such as Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickles and Tamarind Chutney.
Pinterest and Home Canning
If you’ve explored Pinterest at all, you’ve probably seen the pins with links to articles with instructions on canning things like butter, milk, and bacon.
Yes, meats can be canned safely provided the instructions in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving are followed carefully. I have chicken, pork, and beef as well as soups containing them in the storage room. But anything high in fat and any dairy products CANNOT be safely canned at home.
It is impossible for home canning equipment to get hot enough to kill bacteria and spores in these products.
Stay safe: Follow the instructions in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. You won’t find instructions for preserving butter, milk, and bacon there.
Look, I understand wanting to have food items like butter and milk stored away for an emergency. But instead of risking your health by trying to preserve them yourself, buy them at the store or online. Ghee is a clarified Asian-style butter that can be purchased at Amazon if you are unable to find it at your local grocery store.
It’s pricey, but if you someone who likes to be prepared and wants butter in your emergency stockpile, this ghee keeps at room temperature and is safe to consume. As for milk, I always keep cans of evaporated milk in the pantry. I like to use it to make sauces and gravy because it doesn’t break down when cooked like fresh milk sometimes will and if I keep the stock rotated I always have some on hand. As for bacon, is it really that important to have in an emergency?
What is Water-Bath Canning?
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s start with the most basic form of home preserving: water-bath canning.
If you are brand-new to home preserving, start here. Make a jam, preserve peaches, or make and can applesauce. These are simple and will give you success and confidence in your first canning efforts.
The water-bath canning method is simply boiling the product you want to preserve in its jar in a canner at a rolling boil for a set amount of time to kill spores and bacteria present in the food and create a vacuum-seal with the lid that will prevent their entry into the food.
There is no seal on the lid, no pressure gauge, or pressure relief valve in the lid. It is a large pot with a rack to lift the jars in and out. Please keep reading for my concerns about jar-lifting racks like the one shown in the photo of the water-bath canner.
Only foods considered acidic can be safely canned with the water-bath method. Acidic foods are fruit and the jams and jellies and spreads made from them. The sugar used to create the fruit spreads and the syrup is acidic. Any produce that is pickled using vinegar or fermented foods such a sauerkraut are high acid foods.
Some produce, such as tomatoes, is on the border of being acidic, so an acid product is added to ensure they are safe for water-bath canning. That acid product can be lemon juice or powdered citric acid that is purchased in the store. The addition of an acidifier will always be included in the recipe.
Lemon juice and powdered citric acid can be interchanged at a ratio of 1 teaspoon of citric acid to ¼ cup of lemon juice.
What is Pressure Canning?
The pressure canning method is used to preserve foods low in acid. Green beans, carrots, peas, meats, soups – anything not pickled, fermented, or sweetened with sugar. Only the presence of pressure combined with high heat will remove the bacteria and spores present in low-acid food.
A pressure canner IS NOT the same thing as a pressure cooker. It isn’t possible to preserve food in a pressure cooker or an instant pot. You MUST have a pressure canner.
There is a pressure gauge and relief valve in the lid, a rubber seal under the edge of the lid, and the lid locks onto the pot. There will be a porous metal lift in the bottom of the pressure canner to keep jars off the very bottom of the canner to ensure water is all around the jars as they process.
If you plan to only make jams, jellies, applesauce, pickles, and canned fruit, you will be fine with just using a water-bath canner. But if you want to preserve green beans, carrots, soups, and meats, get a pressure canner. It can be used as a water-bath canner as well so it works for all your home canning needs.
Other Equipment Needed
What Jars Do You Want to Use?
There are decorative versions of Mason jars that are tall, thinner, and have a quilted design imprinted in them that are usually used for jams and jellies. Some are short, squat, and wide and are used for salsa and other dips.
There are regular-mouth and wide-mouth Mason jars. I prefer to use wide-mouth for everything because I can get my hand down inside them to clean them.
If you’re canning for a family, quart jars are great. If for just two people, pints are a good size. I use half-gallon sizes for storing dry foods like flour, cornmeal, sugar, etc. Half-pint sized jars are good for jellies, jams, and salsas.
Kerr and Ball are makers of quality Mason jars. Their jars have a rim on the shoulder that makes lifting the jars easier. They are able to handle the high heat and pressure of canning after years of use.
Caution: Avoid Mason jars made in China. They are of lower quality and more likely to break. They also lack the rim on the shoulder making it hard to lift them.
I use both Mason and Weck jars. Weck jars are made by a German company and used throughout Europe. They are gaining in popularity here in the US. I like Weck jars because they’re pretty, they seal very well, and every part is reusable. With Mason jars, the lids have to be replaced after each use.
Get THIS Jar Lifter
There are home canning kits that contain funnels, magnetic lid lifters, and jar lifters. But the jar lifter in the kits is a lower quality lifter with straight tongs. I’ve dropped jars with this lifter because it doesn’t get a good grip. Spend a little extra and get the Ball Secure-Grip Jar Lifter with the curved tongs that will fit both Mason and Weck jars. I haven’t dropped any jars using this lifter:
This Kit Has What You Need
The Norpro Canning Essentials Boxed Set of basic canning tools will last you for years at a good price. You’ll get tongs, a lid-tightener, a magnetic lid lifter (you’ll use the tongs to lift Weck jar lids because they’re glass), a utensil for removing bubbles in the food you’re preserving prior to putting it in the canner, a funnel to help put hot food into the jars, and a jar lifter. But notice the straight tongs on the jar lifter: See above and get the Ball Secure-Grip Jar Lifter. You’ll be glad you did.
There are jar lifting racks available that allow you to lift all your jars in and out of the canner at one time. Some people like them. I prefer to lift my jars in and out of the canner one jar at a time. I think its safer. Those hot jars are HEAVY when filled. It would be a disaster to drop all of them at once, not to mention you could get hurt. I really struggle with the product description saying its safe to use the jar lifter to support all those heavy jars on the edge of the canner. If you tip that canner and all that boiling water spills on you, you will end up in the emergency room with terrible burns. So be safe and lift your jars one at a time using the lifter I recommend above.
VERY IMPORTANT: Check the Elevation of the Location Where You Are Canning
If you are canning at an elevation of 1,000 feet or above, you’ll need to adjust the processing time when canning. Be sure to check this even if you live in the Midwest or nowhere near any mountains. Did you know the elevation of Mankato, Minnesota is 1.020 feet? If you live in Minnesota, you’ll need to add 5 minutes to your processing time whether you’re water-bath or pressure canning. If you live in or near Chadron, Nebraska, you’ll need to add 10 minutes to your processing time because the elevation of Chadron is 3,297 feet.
The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has a chart in the back listing the elevation of various cities and towns and how much to add to the processing time if you live above 1,000 feet. The Midwest prairie may be relatively flat, but it sits high. That’s why it’s called the High Plains.
Before beginning, just ask Siri or Google to look up your location’s elevation, and check the chart to see if and how much time you need to add to processing.
- Get the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It has all the detailed information you need to preserve food safely and the recipes are great.
- Decide whether you want to preserve food that can be water-bath canned only, or if you want to preserve foods that need to be pressure-canned. Then purchase the appropriate canner for your needs. If you want to do both kinds of preserving, get a pressure canner. It doubles as a water-bath canner.
- Decide if you want to use Mason jars, Weck jars, or a combination of both and what sizes work best for your needs.
- Get the Ball Secure-Grip Jar Lifter.
- Get a kit of canning tools.
- Check the elevation of the location where you will be canning and check the chart in the back of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to see if you’ll need to add any time to the processing.
- Look up some recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving you would like to try, or start with Amazing Homemade Strawberry Jam right here at Loving the Home Life.
- Pick the fresh produce from your garden or orchard, or enjoy shopping at your local farmer’s market for produce you would like to preserve.
- Give it a try! It’s incredibly satisfying to stand back and admire the results of your efforts at home canning. Knowing you did it yourself is incredible. It’s empowering.
What are you going to preserve at home this summer? I’d love to hear your plans! 🙂
Happy Canning 2018!