One of my fondest memories of my grandma was her standing in front of the stove over a pot of boiling water, filling jar after jar of green beans. I wasn’t very old when she stopped canning altogether, but I can still vividly see the rows of canned vegetables, jams, and other goodies lining the walls of my grandparents’ basement.
I also vividly remember the day one of the green bean cans blew up. We were sitting in the living room talking and suddenly heard a “BOOM” followed by a “CRASH”. Upon inspection, we realized what had happened. I think that moment made me never want to try home canning. I had a similar issue with pressure cookers, but that’s another story.
Alas, after decades of my grandma and mom’s homemade green beans and jams and relishes, I finally gave in and tried it for myself. That was really only about 4 years ago. When I told my dad what I had done over that first weekend, I think I shocked him speechless.
It’s really not all that hard, and it’s certainly something that women for many generations have relied on to stock pantries. Let’s face it, tin cans had a rocky start and putrid history until Heinz came along with canned beans in 1895.
Home cooks preserved food in a variety of ways and canning … or bottling … was among them.
Getting Started with Canning
To get started, you need a few key items:
Canner – pot to boil the water and seal the jars. These come in all sizes and include a jar rack. Mine is small, it holds 7 pint jars comfortably. If you plan on using large quart jars, you’ll need a large canner.
Canning funnel – these come in old fashion stainless or plastic, or you can get one of the newer collapsible kind. Just make sure the mouth is wide enough to fit the mouth of the jar.
Lid lifter – this is a long plastic rod with a magnet on the end. It’s great for snagging medal lids that sink to the bottom of a hot pot during sterilization.
Jar lifter – this will help you set the jars into the canning rack and later lift them without getting burned.
Jar wrench – this helps you tighten jar lids. I’ve never used mine.
Tongs – nice to have to help hold hot rack handles and other things.
Jars with lids and seals – I highly recommend Ball and suggest staying away from the generic brands in box box retailers. The generic seals don’t hold as well.
These are the basics. Once you figure out what you like to make, you may wish to invest in a pressure canner, strainers and other tools. I’ve found that farm supply stores offer the best variety at the lowest prices. Canning kits include most of the smaller items, so look for one of those to save money.
Basic Canning Instructions
If you’re completely new to this, you might want to try out some pickles and relishes before launching into jams and jellies. Pickles are nearly foolproof … once you start messing with sugar and pectin, you never know what can happen. I once boiled a pot of jelly over and it ran all over my stove. What a mess!
Here is a sweet pickle recipe from my family to get your started.
Sweet Pickles (yield 5 pints)
- About 3 1/2 pounds of pickling cucumbers (This recipe uses little ones, about 2-3″ long. Leave them whole.)
- 1/2 cup pickling salt (This is not the same as iodized table salt. Pickling salt comes in large bags, found near canning supplies)
- 6 cups cider vinegar
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon mixed pickling spice (You can buy this in the spice isle.)
Dissolve the salt in 4 cups of boiling water. This will create a brine. Place cucumbers in a large glass bowl, pour the brine over them. Make sure they are covered, make more brine if necessary. Keep cucumbers in brine until cool then drain. Combine vinegar, sugar, pickling spices and 2 cups of water in a saucepot. Bring to a boil. Pour this liquid over the cucumbers. Let stand for 24 hours.
Canning the Cucumbers
Fill canner with enough water to cover immersed pint jars. You may need to test this with empty jars. Bring water to a boil, then lower heat so water stays at a simmer. To sterilize the jars, place them along with loose seals and lids into the simmering water for a few minutes. Remove with tongs and the lid magnet and let stand on towels.
While canner is heating, place cucumbers and liquid in large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat then pack cucumbers with liquid into pint jars. Leave 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Place seals and lids on jars, place jars in canner rack and lower jars into the canner. You can keep the rack balanced by place a jar directly across from the previously placed jar, working in a clockwise pattern. This also helps keep the jars from tipping while you are trying to place them in the rack.
Process the jars in the water bath for 5 minutes. Remove to a dry towel. You will begin to here the seals “pop” lightly. This means the jars have sealed tight and are ready for storage. Once sealed, you will be able to see a slight indentation in the middle of the lid. If this does not happen, either redo or place in refrigerator for immediate eating.
Once you eat your pickles, you can reuse the jars and lids, but not the seals, when canning more items. The seals usually don’t hold a second time, so I just use them when I need a jar to store something in the refrigerator.
It’s best to store your canned items in a room temperature or cool dry place. Mine either go in my pantry if I know they won’t last long, or in the basement for longer keeping.
This is one of the best ways to keep excess in-season produce and you have tastes of spring and summer all year long!