It’s canning season! July is when the garden is fulfilling its promise (a little earlier in the South and a little later in the far North). Maybe you are a first-time gardener who didn’t know exactly how many vegetable seeds to plant or an experienced gardener who has decided to expand the garden to feed your family throughout the year. You planted more bean seeds than before and now are harvesting more than you can eat fresh. Or maybe you expanded your garden to make room to plant corn seeds or even a perennial bed of asparagus seeds. So, this is the time to decide how you will preserve your surplus to use all winter long.
Let’s be honest, this is when the garden takes the most work. Besides harvesting the vegetables, they must be cleaned, prepared and preserved. Hang in there! You will not regret the work when you make a pot of chili with your own tomatoes. You planted the tomato seeds and now picked the tomatoes at the peak of ripeness and flavor. When you serve the green beans, carrots or broccoli, the flavor is so superior to the fresh produce in the store that you will know it was worth the work in the summer. Enlist family to help. Even small children can pull carrots or do the initial cleaning with a garden hose.
There are two ways to can food: a hot water bath or with a pressure canner. The hot water bath is only used for high sugar and high acid produce. This includes fruits, jams and jellies, tomatoes, pickles and relishes. Pressure canning is necessary for all other low acid vegetables. It is the only method that will reach the high temperature needed to safely preserve most vegetables.
What will you need to can?
- A modern canning book. These are usually printed by the companies that make the jars and lids. They will include how to prepare the vegetables and how long they need to be processed. The timing will vary depending on the type of vegetable and the way it is prepared. These are up to date for processing today’s varieties. Don’t use information from grandma. Use her recipes, but process according to today’s knowledge.
- Canning jars. Only use actual canning jars. Many people try to use old mayo jars, etc. These can shatter even in a hot water bath and certainly in a pressure canner. Canning jars have the company name embossed on the side of the jar. Ball and Kerr are common jar brands. Jars come in quart size, pint-size and jelly jar size.
- Canning lids. Canning lids are two-part lids. There is the flat lid that covers the jar opening and the ring that holds the lid on during processing. There are two sizes: regular and wide mouth. Wide mouth jars have a larger opening on the jar. This makes them easier to use when packing a jar with pickles or large fruits. The flat lid is only used once and then thrown away. The rings can be used over and over, and the processed jars should always be stored without the rings. Keeping the rings on can disguise a failed seal. Canning lids can be bought in packages that include both the rings and the flat lid or in boxes that only have the flat lids.
- Hot water bath kettle. This is a pot that is tall enough to allow the jars to be immersed in water when processing. There should always be about an inch of water covering the jars during processing. That hot water bath kettle usually includes a wire holder that keeps your jars from touching each other during processing and also allows you to raise and lower the jars all at one time.
- Pressure canner. A pressure canner will include everything you need to safely use the pressure canner, including the gauge that you need to regulate the pressure during processing.
- Wide mouth funnel. While not essential, this tool is worth its weight in gold when filling jars with tomatoes, applesauce or any fruit or vegetable that isn’t solid. It also keeps your jars clean when adding the brine or liquid to the vegetables.
- Canning tongs. This tool is made for picking up hot jars. It fits around the neck of the jar and allows you to move hot, wet jars from the canner to the cooling area. It is much easier than using a hot pad or mitt that the boiling water can soak through.
Once you have all the equipment, you are ready to go. Just follow the instructions on the canning booklet once you’ve harvested and cleaned your produce. It won’t be long before your pantry shelves will be filled with jars of food you grew in your garden.