Canning and preserving your own fruits and vegetables seems old-fashioned in our modern age. But home canning is contemporary, too. It’s a technology, constantly evolving with better equipment and the applied kitchen science needed to safely preserve a food supply that’s evolving as well.
Preserving the harvest in jars connects us with the generations that have gathered in kitchens over the years — thank-you, grandma! — to can produce and other foods. As it seems to do sometime with each generation, canning today is enjoying growing popularity among millennials.
Whether pickling, making jam or putting up fresh garden produce, Planet Natural has the canning supplies you’ll need — jars, caps, lids, pickling spice — to keep the harvest through the winter and beyond.
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Canning is a necessary skill for those looking to feed their families healthy, home-grown foods. The process requires perfect sanitation and attention to details. When canning, our kitchen becomes a laboratory. We use specialized equipment, even if it’s as mundane as new canning jar lids. We’re required to measure ingredients and monitor temperatures and air pressure. It’s not a time for “close enough” or “whatever.” Your family’s health is at stake.
Despite its critical demands and precautions, canning is easy as long as procedures and recipes are followed to the letter. It’s one of the most satisfying things you can do in your kitchen. Putting up jars of applesauce, homemade salsa, or canned green beans from your own garden is a reward that keeps giving well into the next growing season.
Careful attention while processing and when opening canned foods before use is your best safety precaution. Don’t serve any canned food that shows leakage at the lid, discoloration, or harbors an off-smell. Err on the side of caution.
A food’s pH reading — whether it’s acidic enough or not– determines which type of canning process we use. Water-bath canning is strictly for ingredients that have a high-acid content (pH reading 4.6 and below). It’s being used less and less for tomatoes and other produce formerly considered acidic. Pressure canning (PDF) allows for a significant temperature increase above boiling, reaching as much as 240˚F. Why such high temperatures? Because botulism can survive at 212 degrees.
Home canned food can be safer than store-bought cans in one important way. The plastic lining inside commercial cans of fruits and vegetables may contain bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disruptor. “Even miniscule exposure to BPA, “says the Breast Cancer Fund, “increase risks for breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty, metabolic disorders and type-2 diabetes.” How widespread is its use? Mother Jones names names here and it’s a surprisingly long list of products with many familiar products.
Tips for Successful Home Canning
Beginners should consult one of the complete references below and then get an old hand, say a friend, neighbor, or relative, who know what they’re doing to allow you to watch and help. It’s time well spent.
- Not sure which canning method — water-bath or pressure canning — to use? Here’s a chart (scroll down) to guide you. If in doubt, use the pressure canner. Some foods will be safe for water-bath canning if extra acid (lemon juice or ascorbic acid) is added.
- Your canning results will only be as good as the produce you’re canning. Use organic fruits and vegetables if you’re buying what you’ll be canning and don’t use anything that is bruised, damaged, tough in texture, or out-and-out tasteless. Canning, no matter what the recipe, won’t make it better.
- Inspect both new and used jars for cracks, chips, or other small damage. Jars not in perfect condition can leak food and break further under pressure.
- Save and keep handy the manufacturer’s directions to a new pressure canner. This can be your best source of detailed information on its proper operation.
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- Have the pressure dial gauge checked regularly as recommended by your manufacturer’s directions. This can often be done at your friendly university extension office. Replace the sealing ring and over-pressure plug at least every three years.
- Still using grandma’s old pressure canner? Pressure canners have become more sophisticated over the years. If your canner is one of those thick-walled kettles that dates back to the ’70s and before, replace it. Never use an old canner that you found in the attic or bought at a yard sale without replacing all valves, vents, pressure plugs and gauges.
- Always avoid gimmick canning techniques that you may see online, including canning in the dishwasher, oven or microwave; basically any canning methods that do not heat foods and containers to the required high and consistent temperature.
- Smooth or ceramic stove tops aren’t usually suitable for canning because of their small heating area and the uneven contact they make with the canner’s bottom. The weight of both water-bath and pressure canners can also be hard on these types of cook top surfaces and can leave scratches (that can become cracks) if moved.
- Use only recipes from trusted sources specifically designed for canning. Such recipes consider type, size, pH content, and other important variables of what’s being canned. Avoid the urge to be creative when you can. Canning recipes are less art and more science.
- Be sure to give your pressure canner plenty of time –a minimum of ten minutes of steaming — to bleed air from the container through the petcock before closing the petcock or attaching the weighted gauge. Failure to do this may result in less than microbe-killing temperatures.
- Canning at elevation, starting as low as 2,000 feet, can require more boiling time and pressure. Here’s a chart from the fine folks at Colorado State University Extension listing pressure readings to use at different altitudes.
- Use ascorbic acid to prevent discoloration of apples, apricots, peaches, pears, and other fruits. Follow directions that come with ascorbic acid sold for canning purposes. Vitamin C tablets can also be used. Crush the equivalent of 3,000 milligrams (six five-hundred milligram tablets) in a gallon of water for treating fruits. Ascorbic acid should also be used when canning grapes and cherries.
These suggestions are only tips on various parts of the canning process. Successful canning requires familiarity with all the steps and practices as well as knowledge of the equipment. Where to find more details? The University of Missouri Extension Service takes you through all the steps here. The University of Minnesota has a comprehensive canning site that includes recipes here.
The University of Washington Extension narrows it down to five canning tips (PDF) with an emphasis on food safety. The clearing house for the latest canning methods and information is the National Center For Home Food Preservation hosted by the University of Georgia.
Wide Mouth Jars (12)
A great choice for larger items like vegetables, pickles, whole fruits and more!$14.95Read more
Regular Mouth Jars (12)
The trusted brand for keeping your summer's labor fresh and ready to eat.$11.50Read more
Handle design allows rack to rest on pot rims and then fold up for easy storage.$21.95Read more
Lids w/ Bands
Your home preserving process is only as good as the seal. Trust only the best!$6.50Read more