Learning how to get started canning is easy! Just follow these few steps, and you’re off and ready to preserve your own food!
The process of canning has been around since the 1800s when a French confectioner and brewer named Nicolas Appert found that food cooked inside a jar didn’t spoil unless the seals leaked. He developed a method of sealing food in glass jars, called it “thermal processing,” and the canning revolution began! Canning really hit its stride during major wars when rations would be canned and shipped to troops overseas and on ships. Fresh food tended to spoil too quickly in the field, so canned foods were substituted.
Continuing the tradition today, lots of homesteaders and gardeners can their excess crops to ensure home grown food through the winter and reduce waste. It’s also a great way to put food in your pantry if you find a great deal at your local farmer’s market, butcher or grocery store.
It’s a shame to let all the fruits of your labor spoil, right? But if you don’t know the first thing about canning, where do you start? You start here!
What is Canning?
Canning is the method of preserving food by placing it into jars, putting on a lid, and processing those jars in boiling water, steam, or under pressure. The processing seals the lids onto the jars, and your food is preserved.
When you process the jars by boiling water, steam or pressure canning methods, it kills molds, microorganisms and bacteria. This also eliminates any oxygen from inside the jar. When the food cools, it creates a vacuum seal preventing any air from entering.
Have you ever heated something in the microwave in a plastic container with a lid? Naturally you open the lid a little to let it vent so it doesn’t explode. When you pull it out of the microwave, if you don’t take off the lid, it will pull itself tightly onto the container and start to sink in a bit. It’s the same concept as canning.
But don’t try to can anything using a microwave!
The canning process makes food shelf stable. That means you can safely store it in your pantry without needing to refrigerate it (at least until you open it). Think of all the fresh food that won’t go bad and the mass amounts of space in your freezer you’ll save as well!
Ways to Can Food
There are three basic ways of canning foods, though we’ve only tried two of these ways.
Water Bath Canning
This is the method of submerging your jars of food in a pot filled with water and boiling them for a certain amount of time. This method is to be used for canning high acid foods including pickles, jams and jellies.
We’ve done this time and time again with pickles and jams.
- Lip-Smacking Kosher Dill Pickle Recipe (with Canning Instructions)
- The Ultimate Bacon Bourbon Jam Recipe
This method processes your jars by using temperatures higher than boiling. The pressure canner is specifically designed to hit 240ºF, which kills microorganisms and botulism spores.
If you are going to can meats, vegetables, or beans, you must use this method. Chili, stews, soups, and any other food that is deemed “low acidity” are all candidates for pressure canning.
This method has quickly become the most fun to us because of the sheer variety of foods you can preserve.
This method uses a shallow pan, a fitted rack and a high-domed cover. It works by trapping steam and releasing it in a controlled manner. Since steam is naturally higher in temperature than boiling water, steam canning fits snugly between the water bath and pressure canning methods and is used mainly for naturally acidic foods.
A steam canner is definitely on our wish list!
Why Should I Can?
Still not convinced you should be canning food? Let’s take a look at a few more reasons why you should learn how to get started canning.
Canning is Economical
In many cases, canning your own food is definitely a money saver! If you grow lots of fruits and veggies – more than your family can eat in one season – there’s no need to let it go to waste. Plus, if you’re making a pot of chili, soup, or stew, you could make double the amount and can half of it.
Canning is Healthier
For example, store-bought canned soups are laden with sodium and other chemicals and preservatives to make them taste good and last longer. If you can your own soups, you know exactly what goes into them and won’t have to worry about all that added junk.
Canning is Good Emergency Back-Up
Some of my audience is from the prepping community, so this suggestion is no shock. The more canned food you have put up, the better off you are in case of an emergency. Whether it’s a power outage, a winter storm, or a medical emergency, having a good supply of home-canned foods is a good idea. It’s wise to be always moving more towards self-sufficiency – and canning your own food is a great way to do that!
Canning is Fun!
What could be more fun than giving away cute little jars of jellies and jams to friends and family? Canned goods make especially nice gifts… it’s straight from the heart!
How to Get Started Canning: What Do I Need?
While canning is fairly simple, you still need some basic equipment. Some of it you may already have.
If you plan to only can pickles, fruits, jams, and other high acid foods, buying a water bath canner will meet all your canning needs. You can buy one for anywhere from $40 to $100. If you already have a large stock/soup pot, that will work as well. The two water bath canners we have are this granite ware covered model (which is also great for cooking large batches of chicken stock).
This is for canning meats and vegetables. However, most pressure canners can be used for water bath canning as well – just leave the gasket off the lid and don’t lock it down. Most pressure canners sell new for around $170. This is more expensive than the $80 they were running 8 to 10 years ago, but they will pay for themselves in the long run.
A lot of homesteaders are in love with the All-American Canner, and it does look cool. However, our budget suggested this Presto model, and it’s worked great for us. If you can afford a pressure canner, get what you want. They’re all nice to have.
Again, this is for your higher acidity foods like pickles and jams. If you’re wanting to can meats and lower acidity foods, stick with the pressure canner.
These steam canners will run you around $60 for a steam canner that will hold a total of seven quart jars at a time. The good thing about a steam canner is that you don’t use much water at all in the canning process.
This depends on what size jars in which you want to can. The typical sizes used are quart, pint, and half pint, but you can find jars of all sizes and shapes. Also, along with your canning jars, make sure you have plenty of lids (flats) and rings (bands).
It’s helpful to purchase this group of canning accessories, as they provide a lot of help when you’re actually doing the canning.
- The jar lifter helps you put jars into and remove them from hot water.
- The funnel and headspace measure are a must.
- The silicone spatula is a great way to remove bubbles from jars.
- The magnetic lid lifter will help you place lids on your jars without getting any food on them.
As with anything else you do in the kitchen, there are safety precautions. Aside from just the basic food safety issues, there are also concerns with the equipment. If you follow procedures and pay close attention to food preparation, there isn’t anything to worry about. Common sense will help you get through it all.
- Never add cold liquids to hot jars as it may crack the jar.
- Always lift the canner lid away from your face so you don’t get burned by the steam.
- Always use an oven mitt or hand towel to remove the lid from your water bath canner so you don’t burn your hand.
- Never leave your pressure canner unattended. Keep a constant check on it to be sure the correct pressure is maintained.
I’m sure you get the picture, here. If there’s a safety precaution I didn’t list here, leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the list.
How to Get Started Canning Now
There’s never a wrong time to get your gear and get organized. You should always have everything ready to go so that when your crops start coming in, or you find a great deal at your local farmer’s market, you’re prepared to can all of it.
Once you have everything you need, give it a try! Get yourself a copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, find a good recipe, and try it out! Start with a small recipe so on the off handed chance that things go south, you won’t have lost much food.
Helpful Tips for Beginner Canners
Still looking for a few tips before you feel like you know how to get started canning? Don’t worry. You’re almost ready!
Get all of your canning tools and ingredients out and ready to go before you start your canning day. You don’t want to find out halfway through your canning day that you’re out or almost out of an ingredient that you needed (pectin, pickling salt, etc.), or you can’t find your jar lifter, and everything is ready to come out of the canner.
Plan Your Canning Day
You’re going to need plenty of time for canning. It is definitely a labor of love that takes a good bit of time. When you’re in a time crunch, the fun fades away and stress sets in. Plan an entire day to prep your work area, can what needs to be canned, and clean up your mess afterwards.
Food Safety Matters
Most canning recipes are written with food safety in mind. There’s a science behind canning to make sure there is enough acidity in the food or enough temperature built up to keep bacteria from spoiling your food. The last thing you need is to deviate from a recipe and end up serving your canned goodies with a side of botulism.
Find a Canning Friend
No matter how fun canning is, it’s also a lot of work. Washing, skinning and chopping produce, cooking it and canning it. It goes by faster when you have someone to keep you company. Also, learn from someone with more experience than you if you know someone that’s a seasoned canning vet.
Learn Your Altitude
Canning takes different amounts of time and pressure at different altitudes. Each recipe will tell you how much pressure (if you’re pressure canning) and time for both pints and quarts based on 1,000 feet of elevation. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (I’m telling you – you’re going to want to get a copy of this book) has a chart in the front that tells you how to adjust each for your elevation.
Learning How to Get Started Canning is Easy!
With the right tools, equipment, and a good recipe, you should be able to can just about anything your heart desires. From meats, veggies, and fruits to pie fillings, soups, and sauces, nothing is impossible!
Leave me a comment below and tell me what the first thing you ever canned was… and if you haven’t started canning yet, let me know what the first thing you want to can is!
Patrick & Jessie homestead in Middle Georgia with two of their four children and their three dogs. They love gardening, food preservation, and keeping their family prepared for any disaster that may come.