Organic Gardening Series: Canning Basics for Preserving Summer Produce

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canning jars.jpg If you got your garden started off right, you may be harvesting lots of produce about this time. (If you live in the north country, like me, you’re still waiting on most things.) No garden yet? Sometimes it’s still less expensive to purchase a large quantity of produce from a local farmer, especially if it’s organic, and can your own.

Do the math: after I canned tomatoes for the first time last year, I figured I saved 50 cents for my six hours of work and was totally frustrated. Now that I read more about the BPA in the linings of tomato cans, however, I’m glad I did it. Not all rewards for labor are monetary, as those of us who cook from scratch mostly for nutrition’s sake understand.

Here’s the latest in the organic gardening series by Rene of Budget Saving Mom:

Hopefully your garden is producing lots of produce for you to enjoy. In addition to enjoying your produce fresh, you can also can your produce so that you can enjoy it year round. There are two types of canning. For canned goods that are acidic, you can use a boiling water bath to can. Acidic items include your tomato products, pickles, some fruit jams and some applesauces.

For all other produce, it must be canned using a pressure canner. It is very important to use a pressure canner for all other items canned so that all of the bacteria can be killed, and your produce is safe to eat.

Type Of Canner I Recommend

image The only type of canner that I personally use is an All-American Pressure Canner. I have young children, and safety is very important to me. All American Canners have safety features that other canners do not have. They are also really easy to use. For a video about how to can using an All American Canner, you can go here.

How To Can: The Basics

Here are a few instructions that should be helpful as you begin canning, but it is really easier to “see” how to can, so make sure to watch my video about how to can as well.

  1. Sterilize your jars and rings. We sterilize our jars and rings just by running them through the dishwasher.
  2. Fill each jar with the food that you wish to can. A canning funnel is helpful here to avoid getting the jar rims messy.
  3. Fill the jars with liquid within one inch of the top if needed. (This would not be needed for soups or jams.)
  4. Vegetables will need 1 tsp. of salt added to the top of the jar. (You can use canning salt or table salt. Canning salt will help to maintain the color.)
  5. Place the lids into a pot with water on the stove. You want to warm the lids, but not actually boil them.
  6. Make sure that the top of each jar is clean so that it will seal. (Wipe with a clean cloth.)
  7. Remove all air bubbles from the jar by running a plastic stick down the side of each jar.
  8. Add a ring and the lid to each of the jars. You want to twist the lids on, but not too tight. Basically twist the lid until it is closed and then twist it an extra half turn.
  9. Place the jars into the canner. The canner needs to be full. If you do not have enough jars full of food to fill the canner, you can use empty jars to finish filling the canner.
  10. Place the lid on the canner.
  11. Turn the heat on and wait until there is steam coming out of the vent on the top of the canner.
  12. Add the weight to the vent and allow the pressure to rise to the number of pounds that are needed.
  13. Once that pound of pressure is reached, you can set your timer for the amount of time needed to can the items.
  14. When the time is up, turn off the heat on your stove, and wait until the pressure reaches zero.
  15. Once the canner has zero pounds of pressure and has started to cool, you can remove the lid and then remove the jars, usually using jar lifters as part of a canning kit.
  16. Place the jars onto hot pads, and as they continue cooling they will seal. You will hear a popping sound as each jar seals. There will be a dip in the lid showing that the jar has sealed.
  17. If you have a jar that has not sealed, you will need to reprocess that jar in the canner to make it seal, or place the jar in the refrigerator and go ahead and eat that food.
  18. Label each of the jar’s lids with what you canned and the date.

For additional canning tips, click here.

How To Save Money Through Canning

Canners do cost money up front. However, I was able to quickly recoup my costs through using my canner year round to can produce, soups, pizza sauce, meats and any other canned items that I would have otherwise had to buy. (If you want to go cheap just to see if you can handle canning, tomato products are a pretty popular item to can, and for under $20 you can have a Water-Bath Canner to test your wings. That, so far, is all I have. – Katie)

Watch for ways to save money on jars when you decide to can. Each year there are coupons that you will find for jars. However, the best way to save money on jars is if you can buy them used. Every time that I go to a yard sale, I look for canning jars. Also, we have gone to estate sales and have been able to buy many jars. You can also look on Craigslist to see if anyone is selling or giving away jars.

Classico pasta sauce jars can be reused as canning jars. Anytime that there is a great sale on Classico sauces with coupons, I make sure to buy them so that I have the jars. I have gotten quite a few for only $.10-$.20 through those sales. Also, let your friends and family know that you can. They may have jars laying around from crafts or gifts.

What Can You Can?

You can really can just about anything. Anytime that I make soups or stews, I make a large amount, and can the rest of the soups for quick meals on the go so that we don’t have to eat out. You can also can most of the produce from your garden. If you are interested in a few of my favorite canning recipes, you can find recipes for the following:

Resources I Recommend

image If you are planning to begin canning, I would recommend buying the Ball Blue Canning Book (or maybe the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving? – Katie). This book will tell you how to can specific items. Also, there are recipes and instructions about how to can. For a list of additional items that can make canning easier, you can check out my post here.

If you’ve missed any, make sure you catch up on the rest of the  organic gardening series by Rene of Budget Saving Mom.

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37 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Natalie says

    Ball jars (lids) have BPA. What are you doing about this? Have you switched to Weck jars instead?

  2. says

    I always feel like I’m going to school when I read your posts :) This will be my first year canning and I’m so nervous! I’m not sure why and I’m sure I’ll laugh after my first canning batch. I have a steam canner and I’m still trying to figure what I should can with it. Tomatoes I plan on freezing whole (read this tip in Organic Gardening Magazine this month). Thanks for the great posts as always.
    .-= Sarah @ Mum In Bloom´s last blog ..Recipe- Baked Chicken with Peaches =-.

  3. says

    I’m loving a lot of canning this year too Katie! I have an older pressure canner from my late grandmother I’ll be using and also hot water/boil can preserves, etc.

    Natalie – Tattler has a line of canning lids that are BPA-free and made in the US and fit US-sized canning jars (Ball, Mason, Kerr) in both the regular and wide-mouth capacity. You can buy from them!

    I’m hoping to can a lot of tomatoes and pasta sauce, etc. this yer along with pie filling, green beans, etc. Can’t wait!


    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Giveaway – The Homestead Company =-.

  4. says

    I have been canning for several years now and LOVE it!! Yes, I could probably buy things cheaper on sale, but there is a satisfaction that goes beyond finished product, peace of mind knowing exactly what is in my food is one, and the freshness is another example. I just got my first pressure canner this year and am excited to read up and learn more about that technique. I freeze a lot too, tomatoes freeze great for a future sauce if you have so many there is no way to can them all (note to self, 8 tomato plants are too many!), berries freeze when I don’t have time to make jam or pie filling. If you get the Ball book of Compelete Home Preserving, try the Carrot Cake Jam, it is FANTASTIC on oatmeal!!!
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..Fried Rice =-.

  5. Heather says

    Kerr & Golden Harvest lids are BPA free. And Weck jars are expensive! Especially when Mason jars are free or very, very cheap acquired used through craigslist, freecycle, rummage sales, or auctions.

  6. Heather says

    I’ve been canning for many years, and am planning to switch over to the Tattler lids as soon as I can put in a big order–having to always buy lids has always been the “weak link” in canning.
    We have one of the big electric roasters, and will often make a ginormous batch of something–spaghetti sauce, soup, chili, etc., to can. That’s our “fast food”!

  7. Jill says

    Is canning really good for preserving foods? I thought I had read somewhere that canning isn’t good to preserve food because the high temps destroy the nutrients. Maybe this is just a myth???

    • Katie says

      Jill and Amy,
      Canning does destroy nutrients to a certain extent, but like Heather says below, it also has its place. Tomatoes and tomato products release more lycopene when cooked, and I cook my applesauce anyway, so canning doesn’t hurt it any. Yes, your green beans will be less nutritious than if steamed, but it all depends on your situation: if you’ve grown the food yourself and need to preserve it somehow or lose it, and what storage options you have otherwise. Uncooked jam, for example, would go bad in our house before we got through a jar, so I need to cook it, and might as well can it to save valuable freezer space. While lacto-fermented pickles are healthier than canned ones by far, they must be stored in the fridge. I don’t have a second fridge, so long-term storage of more than one jar of pickles is not possible for me. I’d rather can my own than buy them at the store. Canning is one option out of many, to be used as it works for you.
      Thanks for the good question!
      :) Katie

  8. says

    I have moved away from canning. I am either freezing or dehydrating now because of nutrients lost in canning. I thought pressure canning was worst then steam canning. Do you have any info on this?
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Lowering Our Impact =-.

  9. Heather says

    Canning is not the best for nutrient preservation, but it’s not the worst, either–microwaving gets that honor. Most of the things I can are things that would be cooked a long time normally, so I figure they probably don’t lose too many more nutrients. Freezing and dehydrating are better for preserving nutrients, but there are lots of things one might want to put up that are not suited to dehydrating (I’m thinking dried spaghetti sauce would be nasty, but it cans very well), and allocation of storage space sometimes makes canning something smarter than freezing it, as does the desire to preserve a LARGE bunch of something, such as a LOT of tomatoes or a big batch of homemade “convenience food”, such as spaghetti sauce (in my case, this is NOT anything like Ragu–mine has meat, veggies, mushrooms, etc.). Canning also comes in very handy for things for DH to take to work for lunch. The pint jar of ham and beans does get microwaved, but there’s not much to be done about that, and it’s still more nutrition, less junk, and less money than him grabbing a McBurger.
    In short, each method of food preservation has its place. I bought my pressure canner for $12 at an auction back in the early ’90’s, got an instruction book from the manufacturer, and taught myself how to use it–and I’ve never regretted doing so. There have been lean times in our lives (due to moves, unemployment, etc) when the canned plenty in my pantry from fatter times has made ALL the difference!

    • Katie says

      Heather – totally agree. I had wondered if anyone would bring up the nutritional aspect of canning. Tomatoes are actually MORE nutritious when canned, because cooking releases lycopene. I won’t can a lot of veggies other than that, but I would if I had a garden and couldn’t afford or fit a bigger freezer!
      Thanks – Katie

  10. says

    Great, great post. I love to can, and have been doing it for several years now! I am getting braver, venturing out and trying more things. The only red flag I saw in this post was about using Classico jars for canning….EVERY thing I have ever seen says ‘do not reuse any food jars (even glass) from the store, only use Ball/Kerr/Other brand canning specific jars’. Can you clarify on this, please? If it really is safe to use these, that would save me even more, and I’m always on the look out for that! Thank you!

    • Katie says

      I used all sorts of food jars from stores when I canned last year. I imagine it’s one of those “safety” reminders that professionals have to give. Maybe you risk cracking a jar more than with a “real” canning jar, but the bottom line for me: they work. I ran out of jars, and I could still finish my pickles. ? Hope that insight helps!
      :) Katie

      • Heather says

        Classico stuff does come in real canning jars–Atlas brand. I don’t think these are sold to at home canners anymore (you can’t go out & buy a dozen empty Atlas jars), but they used to be. You see them fairly often in batches of miscellaneous older canning jars. I even have a few blue ones. It is probably okay to water bath can in jars that aren’t really canning jars, provided the lids fit properly, but they are thinner, so I don’t think I’d want to subject them to the pressure canner. That said, I stick to regulation canning jars, myself.

      • says

        I was wondering about this too – I have TONS of Classico jars (my husband loves their sauce so that’s all I buy) – I have used them often for freezing broth but not actual canning since I “thought” you were suppose to replace lids every time and use new lids when canning, even if reusing jars. Any thoughts on lids?
        .-= Jen´s last blog ..Healthy Snacks E-book GIVEAWAY- =-.

        • Katie says

          I’m so bad with that – you are supposed to use new lids (not rings) and the small size canning lids DO fit Classico jars, that’s why they’re such a good find. But – I figured when I canned “if it seals, it’s all good!” I did use some old lids and even store lids, but I KNOW I’m not “supposed to”. :) Katie

            • Heather says

              If you want to re-use lids, got to and buy theirs. Re-using lids really is a crap-shoot–you want a good, tight, seal, and you may not realize that a “sealed” lid is not really sealed tightly enough to create the necessary vacuum. Re-using rings is fine. You don’t need to leave those on sealed jars, anyway.
              The jars Classico sauces come in are “real” canning jars–just not a brand they sell in the stores now, although they used to. I use them without hesitation, even for pressure canning (& I don’t can in non-canning jars as a rule)

  11. Gia says

    I have never canned before so this is why I ask. Are there benefits to canning not found in freezing? Is there anything you can’t freeze but can?

  12. Heather says

    The biggest benefit of canning is more efficient use of storage space. If I have 15 quarts of spaghetti sauce to preserve, it makes more sense to can them and store them on a pantry shelf, and save the freezer space for, say, a quarter of a grass-fed cow. Canned stuff also gives one heat and eat convenience, for really quick meals or lunches at work.
    And there are some things that one might want to make in quantity that can well but don’t freeze well–pickles, syrups, salsa, just to name a few off the top of my head.

  13. Erin says

    Just started canning this summer so I loved this post. Question, when it comes to saving money, do you know which fruits and veggies are cheaper to can when all is said and done? I made strawberry jam and realized after the fact that it really didn’t save us much, if any, money. I’m still glad I did it though because of the satisfaction I felt and the new appreciation I had for my pb+j sandwich!

    • Katie says

      I’m guessing you’d probably have to grow the produce yourself or get a great deal buying in bulk to make any canning more frugal than a sale in the store, ever. The caveat – if you’re canning organic produce that you bought in bulk, you’ll probably save every time. My reason? I can get almost organic produce without BPA, so even though it’s not cheaper, it’s safer for the fam. Make sense?
      :) Katie

    • Heather says

      Taste! Store strawberry jam does not come CLOSE to tasting like homemade! And it’s SO hard to find jam at any store besides Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods that isn’t made with HFCS.
      And, of course, if I can up soup or chili or spaghetti sauce, I’m using my own recipes–the ones we know are what we like to eat. It’s also handy to can up bite-sized pieces of chicken or beef in stock, as a quick base to many dishes, and we like to can already browned and seasoned taco meat, as this turns tacos into a quickie meal, too.

  14. says

    Well I am one of those people in the North Country, so we are just harvesting lettuces and radishes at this point. But we plan on canning a lot this year. Another important note about canning is that although it can lose nutrients in the process, it is a safer option for preparedness. If you lose electricity, all your freezer storage can be gone in matter of hours, but your jars of home grown, home canned produce will be safe and feeding you through the crisis (which around here is usually weather related).
    .-= Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen´s last blog ..Goose Egg Vanilla Custard =-.

  15. says

    My mom taught me canning with a pressure cooker. I have a boatload of tomatoes that I would love to can. Come winter I’ll regret it after reading this post. I already have the Classico jars too. :)

  16. says

    I use a steam canner! AND, I absolutley love it. I am getting another one this year. I have canned for over 50 years & would never have thought I would change. Surprise! It makes canning soooo easy. I still use my other canners (depends on what I am canning) I also now have a steam juicer. Love it! After all these years I need EASY!!!
    Hope this helps someone!

  17. Heather says

    Do you know if you are able to can dried beans. I’m looking all over and can’t seem to find any information on how to possibly do this?

  18. casey says

    I have an electric stove so the burner stays hot for a long time after i turn it off. Would I need to move the canner to a different burner after turning it off? It seems like if there is still some heat below it, the pressure wouldn’t go down.

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