As the air starts to cool a bit and the daylight hours begin to dwindle, it’s clear that Autumn is almost here. Then comes the realization that it will be at least 6-7 months until fresh local produce will again be plentiful. In a panic, you harvest all that is left in your garden, and hit up the local farmers’ markets and produce stands. Meals for the next week tend to include cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and corn on the cob. I don’t know about you but I can only eat cucumbers for so many meals in a row before I start to feel as if I am, in fact, a cucumber.
Canning is a tried and true method of preserving your fruits and vegetables from the garden or the farmers’ market while they are in season and making your harvest last through winter when local and seasonal foods are scarce. Plus, canning saves you money, is eco-friendly and tastes better, and has no questionable additives. So whip out your vintage cookbooks or grandma’s recipe box; there will be a whole section with yummy recipes for all things pickled, fruit preserves and homemade tomato sauces.
Ok, now that you have chosen your recipes and picked up the ingredients, here’s a list of all the tools you will need to get the job done efficiently. Most of these items can be found all together in one isle at your local grocery store.
Canning Jars and Seals: use mason-style jars with sealed lids and rings, which can be found at most grocery stores
Wide-Mouth Funnel: makes filling jars with sauces or jams easier and less messy
Lid Wand: for easy removal of lids and rings from boiling water
Ladle: for filling jars
Large Pot: for boiling canned preserves and jams, fruits, tomatoes and pickled vegetables
Tongs or Jar Lifters: rubberized lifters make removing cans from their water bath less slippery, but a good pair of tongs can work just as well
Clean Cloths: used to wipe down jars, lids and rims of jars
A Friend: this process is so much easier with another set of hands
Ok, now that you have your mise en place ready….Let’s Can! YOU CAN DO THIS!
1. START BY STERILIZING YOUR JARS
Wash your lids and jars in hot soapy water. Then move them to a boiling water bath for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove jars from the water bath, but leave the lids in the hot water until you’re ready to use them to ensure they don’t come in contact with anything before you seal your jars.
2. SLICE, DICE, PICKLE AND POUR
The longer a fresh piece of produce sits, the more vitamins it loses so it’s important to use it as soon as you get it. Prepare fruits and vegetables by slicing and dicing; prepare your jams, picked veggies and sauces before placing in the jars.
3. FILL YOUR JARS
There are a few things to remember when filling your jars. First, be sure not to fill them completely. Produce expands during the boiling process, so leaving enough space at the top prevents the jar from leaking and making a mess. After filling the jar with your produce (unless canning jams, jellies or preserves) you’ll be pouring a liquid over the fruit or vegetables to submerge them in the jar. Pour the boiling water, pickling solution or juice to cover up to the top of your produce.
Make sure there are no air bubbles along the sides of the jar and that the produce is submerged in the liquid. Wipe the rims of the jars down with a clean cloth and cap with the flat, sterilized sealing lids and rims.
4. PROCESS YOUR JARS
Preheat water in your pot or pressure cooker. For hot produce, water should be preheated to 180º F, and for cold produce, it should be around 140º F. This will help prevent the jars from cracking when they are placed in the pot.
Water should be an inch or two above the top of the canning jar when they are placed in the pot for a water boiling process. Use a pressure canner according to the manufacturer’s directions to determine the amount of water needed in the bottom prior to adding the jars. Add the jars using your tongs or jar lifter, and place them in the vessel so they are not touching. Place the lid on your pot or pressure canner. With water bath canning, bring the water to a slow boil and then start your timer to process for the length of time dictated by which vegetable you’re canning and the altitude at which you live. For pressure cooking, you’ll want to check for the length and temperature needed for your region as well.
5. REMOVE YOUR JARS AND LET THEM COOL
Place your jars on a flat wood or cloth-covered solid surface to let them cool. Let them sit for a day to completely cool. While cooling, your jars will start to pop, creating the vacuum seal.
After they have cooled, press down on the center of your jars to ensure they have sealed completely. Any lids that spring back have not sealed and should be placed in the refrigerator and eaten first.
6. LABEL AND STORE YOUR PRESERVED FOOD
Label your jars with the contents and the date. You can write directly on the lid with a Sharpie or download and print or purchase specialty labels for your jars. Once you have them labeled and have wiped off any food pieces or water from the outside of the jar, store your food in a dark, dry place until you’re ready to enjoy.
It’s a 4-5 hour project but on a cold winter night when opening up a jar of fresh peaches to make a yummy cobbler you will realize it was totally worth it. Trust me having a friend help makes the process much smoother and of course a heck of a lot more fun. So open up a couple bottles of wine, put on some great tunes, and get your can on!!