How to Can Food {Home Canning Basics 101}

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Back in 2012, I suddenly found myself with more than 70 lbs of chicken that I needed to find a way to preserve. I had gone looking for new ways to save money on food and boy, did I hit the jackpot! What I hadn’t considered though was that we lived in a tiny apartment with only a regular freezer. It was that tiny apartment and the fact that I needed to keep the chicken from spoiling that made me search out how to can food for the first time. I will be completely honest and tell you that learning the home canning basics I did and actually processing that first batch scared me beyond belief. You hear so much about botulism and other nasty organisms that can grow in your jars that I was certain I was going to end up harming my family. I couldn’t have been more wrong though and now, canning is one of my favorite ways to preserve food.

 

Learning how to can food is a skill everyone should learn. Not only does it save money, but it provides food in case of an emergency. These home canning basics are just what you need to get started learning how to preserve food in jars!

Learning how to can food is one of those skills that I believe everyone should learn. It used to be that way and we were a much more self-sufficient society. Some of us already know and learned as young children. Every time I bring my canner out, Steve fills the conversation with memories of his Mom or Grandma canning. He never learned but those memories are good ones for him now that he is in his 40’s. Some of us, like me, learned as adults for one reason or another. Your reasons for wanting to learn these home canning basics doesn’t matter though; as long as you learn.

How to Can Food {Home Canning Basics 101}

The reason I say that we should all learn how to can food is because it really is a fantastic way to save money on groceries. There are quite a few different ways to preserve food, but canning, by far is one of the easiest and the method that usually will last the longest on the shelf. Plus, there really is something therapeutic about looking at a row of jars, filled with beautiful foods and knowing that you did that yourself.

Before you get started learning home canning basics, make sure that you’ve taken some time to brush up on home canning safety tips. These tips are there to keep both you and your family safe. As easy as learning how to can food is, it really can be dangerous if you’re not processing things correctly or if you’re ignoring the very tips that are there to keep you safe. You will likely hear things like “my Grandma never did that,” or “I’ve been doing it this way for years and never made anyone sick” as you venture out into finding more canning recipes for yourself. While that may be true for those folks, it only takes one bad jar to hurt someone so for me, that risk isn’t worth it.

With all of that said, don’t let learning how to can food scare you. You’d have to pretty blatantly not follow the safety tips to screw something up in my opinion. Also, the number of people who contract botulism each year is almost non-existent and to my knowledge, none are usually from home canned food.

When you first start learning home canning basics, you’ll need to make certain you have the correct canning supplies to can your food. This can include things such as a:

Yes, some of these canning supplies can be pretty expensive at first. The best way to look at it is that you’re both learning a new skill and you’re giving yourself a way to provide for your family. The investment that you’re making for the supplies has a far greater worth than allowing food to spoil or missing a deal time and time again because you can’t keep it fresh.

After you canning supplies arrive, take them out of the box and make sure you’re familiar with them. Most are pretty self-explanatory, but others-  such as your pressure canner – can be dangerous if they’re not used correctly. Make sure to read any manuals that came with your items and that you know them back to front before continuing.

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As I said, the main piece of equipment you’ll want to get to know when you’re learning how to can food is your pressure canner. You’ll notice that it has a lid that locks or clamps shut, a pressure gauge, a vent area and a pressure regulator. Your pressure gauge does exactly what it sounds like – it allows you to see how much pressure – or PSI – is inside the canner while it is cooking. The vent area is incredibly important and you should get to know it well. In fact, you should get into the habit of making sure your canner vent is clear of any debris or food before you place the lid on. If it is clogged, it could cause more pressure to build in your canner than you want. If yours gets clogged, a toothpick is usually enough to clean it out.

The pressure regulator also does exactly what it sounds like – it helps to regulate the pressure inside of your pressure canner when it is cooking. The pressure regulator is not supposed to sit still on the canner so you will notice that it seems loose. This is okay as it will rock back and forth to help maintain a healthy pressure as you’re processing jars.

The next piece of equipment you will want to have when you’re learning how to can food is a water bath – or boiling water canner. Yes, you are correct that a water bath canner is essentially just a large pot with a lid and a canning rack. In fact, if you have a stock pot with a tight fitting lid that is large enough to allow your jars to have enough room, you can buy a canning rack and use it instead. If you do opt to use one of your own pots though, never – and I mean never – try to process jars without a rack and with your jars directly on the bottom of the pot. They will break if you do so.

Another thing you’ll need to understand when you’re learning how to can food is that while rings are reusable, canning lids are not. The seals weaken after they have been sealed once so by reusing them, you increase your chances of failed jars and seals. As I said, rings can be reused as long as they aren’t rusty or otherwise damaged. If you really want to reuse lids, Tattler makes reusable canning lids like THESE. I have never personally used them though as they are pretty costly and I hear they have a rather large learning curve.

When you’re looking at different canning recipes, you’ll also need to make certain that it tells you which type of canner to use when you’re learning how to can food. Foods that are low in acid – such as when you can carrots at home –  can only be safely canned in a pressure canner while foods that are high in acid – such as my orange marmalade canning recipe may be water bath canned. To add to the confusion, some foods like canning tomatoes can be canned either way with just the addition of food grade citric acid If your canning recipe doesn’t tell you which canner to use, either skip it or go find the info somewhere else. When you’re first figuring out how to can food, it is important to have proper directions and that you follow them to the letter.

Side note: Another thing any canning recipe you’re following should have  processing time included. If they don’t, please don’t try to guess. Go find that specific part of your basics of home canning elsewhere. Jars that aren’t processed long enough have a huge risk of becoming tainted with botulism spores, mold and more.

The process for learning how to can is pretty simple – sterilize your lids, fill your jars, pop any air bubbles that have formed, add a lid, add a ring and tighten. Once that is done, you can process them according to what your recipe says. As far as sterilizing your jars, running them through the dishwasher is plenty enough. The heat that your canner will reach during processing combined with a good wash will kill any bacteria that might be on them. Lids and rings should still be sterilized as normal though in boiling water. When you place a ring on a jar, make sure you don’t over tighten it. Your rings should be “finger tip tight” as they will most likely tighten during processing.

Finally, the last step to learning how to can food is to actually process your jars. Place them in your canner inside of your canning rack, add your lid and bring it to a boil. If you’re using a pressure canner, make sure to watch for it to get up to pressure. Once you’ve reached pressure or your water is at a heavy boil for water bath canners, start your timer. Do not start timing until you are either at the proper PSI for what you’re canning if using a pressure canner or until your water is at a rolling boil for a water bath canner.

Side Note: If your pressure drops below the proper PSI needed or your water stops boiling, you must start your timer over. There is no way to guarantee the safety of your product if you don’t.

Once your jars have been processed for the proper amount of time, turn off the heat. If you’re using a pressure canner, allow the pressure to drop naturally. Do not – and I repeat do not – attempt to remove the lid while it is under pressure. It is extremely dangerous to do so. For a water bath canner, simply remove the lid. Use your jar lifter to remove the jars from your canner and set them on your kitchen counter – or some other place where they won’t be disturbed – for 24 hours. Listen for the jars to “ping” as they cool. Pings are good and mean your jar has a good seal. If a jar doesn’t seal, either reprocess immediately or put them in the fridge and use within 1 week.

Finally, the biggest thing when learning how to can food is to understand that you will be a little afraid even if you think you won’t be. You’ll be afraid of the tools involved. You’ll be afraid of processing something incorrectly. You’ll be afraid of making someone sick. Don’t allow this fear to stop you from learning how to can food. Instead, follow the recipe to the letter, follow all canning safety tips and you’ll be a pro in no time!

 

Learning to can your own foods doesn't have to be scary! This canning 101 post walks you through most of the basics that you'll need to know to get started!



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Stacy Ott is the face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family.By the age of 30, Stacy had overcome an alcohol addiction, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Stacy is passionate about homeless advocacy and addiction education.  Her first book, also called Six Dollar Family is available on Amazon.

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