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5 Tips to Get Started Canning – Don’t Be Afraid!

Start Canning

When we used to visit my grandparents – on my dad’s side, in the country – I remember loving to play “store” in their pantry in the carport. Inside was shelf after shelf of things my grandmother had put up. Countless jars of delicious jams and beautiful canned veggies, along with a random dusty box of jar rings and bottles of soda (prized by us grandkids) created the perfect store set up and I was always the cashier.   There weren’t that many customers at my little shop -mostly Pancho (the dog with two different colored eyes – who slept more than he shopped) and some pretend “ladies from town” that I had fabulous and important gossipy conversations with while they made their selections.  I made gobs of pretend money and became independently wealthy every time I opened the door for business to sell my wares.  Those magical jars were priceless.

Years later, as desperately as I wanted to replicate my grandmother’s collection, I steered clear of canning, and for a perfectly good reason—I found it incredibly intimidating. Finally, I decided that I was tired of spending a fortune on little pots of fancy preserves just because they were “all natural.” And I knew could do better for my family than the less expensive versions of those sugary technicolor gels by making my own.  Fortunately, I have crazy easy access to fresh fruit  and other produce in my area in the summertime, and let’s be honest, nothing beats homemade.

There are a few things that I’ve learned along the way and I hope I can sway some of you “on the fence” people that canning is not as scary and weird as it might seem.

5 Tips to Get Started Canning

1. Always start with really fresh produce and remove any blemishes or bruised spots.   Microorganisms multiply so fast on decaying areas that the processing might not be able to destroy them all.

fresh strawberries

 

2. Always works in small batches. To keep it from being too overwhelming, I typically do around eight pints—that’s about four or five pounds of fresh produce at a time. I’m not usually looking for a weekend project!  I have trouble committing to chunks of time like that.  Besides, working in small batches also makes it easier to can a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Strawberries

3. Making jams and preserves can be riddled with anxiety: Will it set? Will it set enough? The trick is in the balance of fruit, sugar, and added pectin, a natural substance that’s found in varying degrees in fruits and that causes the cooked down mass to set, or gel. Older recipes use equal amounts of sugar and fruit, but I found that I’d wind up with something that was way too sweet. Living with a Free Range Diabetic, I try to cut back on sugar whenever I can. Sugar-free, however, requires so much cooking to ensure thickening that it’s just mush and not very fresh-tasting.  The key here is using a commercial pectin and just following the directions on the box. I use a low sugar pectin like this one.  Easy.  Breathe.

Peach Fig jam

4. The only pieces of specialty equipment required for canning high-acid foods are a boiling-water canner  (or simply use a large pot and a rack) and canning jars with lids and rings. The jars and rings may be used more than once, but you have to use a new lid each time. I also purchased a starter kit for canning that includes a wide canning funnel, a jar lifter and a magnetic lid lifter.

Canning-Lid-Lifter

5. Finally, get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning and Preserving, the canning bible. It’s like everything our moms and grandmothers and great-grandmothers know all in one handy dandy book. When in doubt, go to the Blue Book.

Strawberry-Jam

Still nervous?  Take your prized produce to a friend who is familiar with canning and put it up together.  Of course you’ll have to share the treasure, but once you get your feet wet, you’ll want to dive right in!

Jam Jars

Do any experienced canners have bits of wisdom to share? I can always use a few good good tips!