In this How To Guide we are going to cover the beginning steps of understanding Canning. The process is not extremely difficult but you need to be careful to follow the canning procedures and a specific recipe that has been tested for canning.
The first thing you are probably saying is I don’t want to follow someone else’s recipe but the thing is canning recipes are specifically designed so that when the food is processed you won’t have problems with bacteria growth or other things that can make you sick. Its just not worth saving a basket of strawberries by making a jam or sauce just to end up sick.
On the other hand canning has been safe for millions of people for many many decades. Its not just something that Farmers or people with large gardens use to process and save produce and food for the winter it is used by chefs to create a variety of foods that require the canning process.
So what items can you can? Pretty much anything that you can buy in a store in a can may be processed by you at home. The major exceptions are meats and products like stews that contain meat or fish or other perishable goods. Although it really is possible to can meat and stews its not something that you want to start with. You need to understand the basics of canning before you can jump into products that need more exacting procedures to be safe for storage.
Another thing is some items don’t can well because the canning liquid can’t process them fully. Some vegetables are that way and even something like juice can be difficult.
For these reasons before you start you need to find a good guide that will give you all the steps and recipes. I will not be covering that because it is just too important so I suggest that you visit the Ball Website who makes and sells different canning jars and preservatives and also has an online and a book full of canning recipes.
Pressure Cooker vs Water Bath Canning
To continue the basics there are two types of Canning
Water Bath Canning involves placing full jars of your recipe in a large pot and covering them with boiling water for a specific time until they are processed. This is the easiest method and is where you should start. You will be limited on the number of things that you can process but you will be able to process pickles which I suggest you try first and tomato sauce and other things that are high in acid content or that require lots of vinegar such as pickles.
The second method of canning is Pressure Canning. This is where you use a pressure cooker to process the food to a much higher temperature. Instead of just boiling temperature as in Water Bath Canning the pressure cooker can reach temperatures over boiling because it does so under pressure. Yes this is a somewhat dangerous process so you want to use good equipment or a lid could come off the pot during processing and that can be very dangerous.
The final method is not really canning it is Quick Canning where a chef may quickly process pickles or other items for somewhat immediate consumption. We aren’t going to talk about that today but it might be something you are interested in.
Jar Sizes are Important
The size of the jar you use is very important. It will vary your recipe and processing time because the amount of product in the jar as it gets larger means the center of the jar is colder than the outside. Its kinda like burning a steak on a grill and cutting into it and its raw vs placing it in a smoker for an extended period at a much lower temperature.
Jars come in a variety of sizes from small preserve jars that are just a few ounces to Pint and Quart jars that are the standard for most caners and then the very large half and full gallon jars that really should not be used by anyone but a professional or someone with a lot of experience. Gallon jars are just too large for most people to process and I don’t even understand why they make them. Maybe for decorative reasons but not for the average consumer…. UNLESS you are quick canning a large batch of pickles or some other food for immediate eating and not using the process for preservation of food.
Preserving Your Canned Foods
The process of canning and using heat is to remove or kill the bacteria that can lead to food spoilage. After canning the product will be under a slight vacuum and the additives combined with the special recipes will keep the product fresh for quite a long time.
This is one thing about canning the time that food will stay fresh or consumable after processing is not something that is normally listed. I found this to be a problem for my planning but the rule of thumb that other canners use is that the product should be used in under a year. On the other hand some products can last much longer if processed correctly. I will leave this up to you to find out on your own but if you ever see the tops of your jars pop up you should never use them even if they look and smell good and you will boil the product like tomato sauce for an extended time. Once the seal is broken or there is gas forming in the jar never use it just throw it away. A few dollars of food is not worth a trip to the emergency room.
Most recipes will tell you to add a specific amount of preservative to your product. You should follow this to the exact amount. Always measure your preservatives exactly and this includes the dilution of vinegar if your recipe requires it.
You may also be told to chop vegetables and meats to a specific size. this is because if you tried to can something like a whole potato the preservative would never get to the center of it and during canning the temperature required to heat the inside would ruin the outside. You would end up with soggy overcooked vegetables and pickles that are mushy instead of crisp.
Finding Help on Canning
As I suggested it is important to follow tested methods when canning foods for this reason you should only take recommendations from known sources. Manufacturers of canning products are the best choice. A second choice may be professional recipes or even the Federal Government has a few website resources for people who want to learn to can.
Canning will seem very easy after you have processed your 500’th jar but until then you are likely to burn your fingers more than a few times and have some mistakes.
Remember when canning product that will be stored at room temperature you must follow know quality sources for your recipe and methods.. don’t be getting recipes off some random website.
Always work clean and if you have doubt about any of the canned product you just made then stick it in the refrigerator and use it in a very short time just like you would an open jar of pasta sauce. You know a week or two max .. or freeze it if the product allows that.