Learn the basics of canning your own fruits and vegetables with this practical guide for the beginner.
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An Introduction to Home Canning

Part 1 of "How to Can Fruits and Vegetables From Your Garden."

An Introduction to Home Canning
Congratulations! You must have had a successful gardening year if you have arrived at this page. Now you are thinking of what to do with all of those fruits and vegetables you grew this summer. What can you do with them all? You can completely gorge yourselves on fresh fruits and vegetables until you swear you will never eat another one, or you can try giving them all to friends and neighbors. But you are here, so you have made the smart decision of canning your bountiful supply. This is wise because by canning, you can enjoy your garden all year long. In the dead of winter, you will be eating your delicious supply of homecanned fruits and vegetables.

Never canned before? Don't worry. I'll walk you through it, and if you have any questions, just e-mail me from the provided link available at the bottom of each page in this series. I'll try to answer your questions in a timely fashion.

The Canning Process

Have you wondered how canning works? Well, it's really very simple. When you can food, you must heat the food to a certain temperature. At this temperature, food-spoiling germs are killed. The heat also forces air to leave the jar, and as the jar cools, it will "seal" for you. Once the jar is sealed, no bacteria can enter the jar, and your jar of food will keep for many years until you are ready to eat it.

Equipment You Will Need

A boiling-water canner is basically just a big , big pot. This kettle has to be large enough to allow you to completely cover each jar with water. A boiling-water canner is mainly used for cnning fruits and pickles, although in the old days, when pressure canners were not available, our ancestors canned vegetables this way. Canning vegetables in a boiling-water canner is not as save as canning them in a pressure canner, because temperatures do not get hot enough to kill all bacteria inside the jar, no matter how long you cook it. The reason it is okay to can fruits in a boiling-water canner is because fruits contain natural acids which keep bacteria from growing inside the jar.

A pressure canner is mainly used for canning vegetables. The lid locks down tight to prevent the escape of steam. Very high temperatures can be achieved this way. Obtaining the right temperature that will kill bacteria in your food is done through weights, dials or both. I'm sure everyone who cans with a pressure canner have heard horror stories of pressure canners exploding, because the pressure inside got too high. In fact, this senario has even prevented many people from canning in a pressure canner because the thought scares them to death. Rest assured, modern day canners have a saftey valve that will pop off, releasing pressure, before this happens. You still must be cautious, however, especially around small children. If a pressure canner is opened before all the pressure has been released, or if it should somehow become knocked off of the stove, serious or fatal injuries could result. Of course you will know when it is safe to open your pressure canner when you have "run a batch through" because you will have read all of the instructions on your pressure canner before you started. Right?

Canning jars are jars that can be fitted with a jar lid and band. The mouth of the jar has to fit the lid and band perfectly to allow the jar to seal. The threads on the jar rim have to fit the band perfectly. The easiest way to obtain a canning jar is to just go buy some. They are sold by the dozen, and come in all sizes but can be pricey. I just buy either quarts or pints at garage sales or auctions.Many older people don't can anymore and will gladly give away their old canning equipment. I have found that older people like giving away their canning equipment to a younger person. They feel they are passing on the tradition. If you obtain jars from a sale or someone gives them to you, you may notice that some of them are not actual "canning" jars. By "canning" jars, I mean that they do not have a manufacturer's name or a fancy pattern blown into the glass (this is what you want.) You may find out that you have been given some other type of "recycled" jar such as a mayonnaise jar. Well, all I can say about canning in mayonnaise jars is that I have done it before, and it works.However,the jars do break sometimes inside the pressure canner, because the glass is not as thick as the regular canning jars and cannot withstand the heat. Save the mayonnaise jars for canning at lower temperatures, like fruits and jellies. Even so, you will still have a certain amount of breakage. You can try "tempering" the mayonnaise jars before canning in them. Boil them for about 15 minutes before using them. This supposively hardens the glass.

Some people ask me about canning with real old jars--the kind with zinc lids,wire clamps, and jar rubbers. If you have obtained these types of jars, you can still use them, but you will have to purchase new jar rubbers, and these are not easy to find. You will more-than-likely have to order them through mail-order.Using this type of jar is not as safe, because there is no way of knowing if your jar of food has actually sealed. Use caution when canning in this type of jar.

Lids and bands are a must for modern day canning. Lids, sometimes known as "flats," should be new. I would not reuse lids, because they may not seal the second time, and why go to all of the trouble in canning your food, when it isn't even going to seal. Right? I know some people who have reused lids, but I would never do it. You can reuse the bands. The band is sometimes called the "ring." Just wash the ring off in hot, soapy water and reuse it.

Canning salt is optional. I always use canning salt in my vegetables because I think it makes them taste better. Never use regular table salt though. It will make your vegetables soagy. If you don't have any canning salt, it is better to not use any salt at all.

Before You Start

Some Things You Should Know:

Leave a headspace at the top of each jar before you seal it. This small amount of empty space will allow room for the food to expand while it is cooking.

Wipe the jar rim before you seal it because food debris or salt left behind will prevent it from sealing.

Heat the jar lids before you place them on the jars. Just bring them to a simmer and turn off the heat. If you boil the lids (flats,) it may damage the rubber seal and prevent it from sealing. Keep the lids in hot water until you are ready to use them. The heat from the actual processing will kill any bacteria left behind.

Remove air bubbles from the jar of food before you seal it. This can be done by slipping a nonmetallic spatula between the food and the jar. You will see air bubbles being released when you do this. If you do not release air bubbles now, they will be released during the processing, and you will lose liquid from the jars. Thus, some of your food will be left without liquid coverage. This will not hurt your food;it will just be not as appealing. You don't want to use metal because it may scratch your jar, resulting in breakage later.

Check jar rimsto make sure they are free from nicks and cracks. A jar lid will not seal if your jar rim has a nick in it.

Check the gauge on your pressure cannerto make sure it is working properly. You can have the gauge on your canner checked at your local extension office. This ensures that your gauge is reading properly.

Check the rubber gasket on your pressure cannerto make sure it is not cracked or too loose. If it is damaged, steam will escapre from under the lid, and the canner will not pressurize properly. You can buy replacement rubber gaskets anywhere where pressure canners are sold, and they are easily replaced. Just follow the directions on the box.

Know your pressure canner.Read all of the operating instructions included with your pressure canner.

Other Links You May Find Helpful

Introduction on Canning Fruits and VegetablesPage 1 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page talks about what you should know before you begin to can.

How to Can Vegetables Using a Pressure CannerPage 2 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This talks about canning vegetables using a pressure canner.

How to Can Vegetables Using a Boiling Water CannerPage 3 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden. This page talks about canning vegetables using a boiling water canner.

How to Can FruitPage 4 of "How to Can Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page talks about canning fruit.

How to Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden.Page 5 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page talks about freezing basics and "how-to's."

How to Make Jams and Jellies Page 6 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page talks about the tips and tricks of making homemade jams and jellies.

How to Make Pickles and RelishPage 7 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page talks about pickling.

How to Dehydrate Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden.Page 8 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetabes frm Your Garden." This page talks about drying and lists dtying times for fruits and vegetables.

How to Make lye Soap and Other Homemade Concoctions Page 9 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page talks about making lye soap and other old-fashioned, homemade concoctions and remedies.

Home Processing Troubleshooting GuidePage 10 of "How to Can and Freeze Fruits and Vegetables from Your Garden." This page answers your questions about canning and freezing garden produce.

Other Home Canning Links This site lists other links that you may find helpful.