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Back to basics: Canning for rookies

I have always admired people who were able to preserve all of the yummy produce that is plentiful in the summer.  Making delicious jellies and pickled…well…everything, stocking up to last all winter.  What a fun way to make all natural food at a fraction of the cost!

This season I set out to learn how to can.  I was intimidated, to say the least.  But after watching some “how to” you tube videos (which of-course makes me an expert) and reading a few articles, I decided to roll up my sleeves and give it a go. 

My first experience was when I made strawberry jam.  In “typical me” fashion I got a little too overzealous and tried to make it sugar-free using low or no sugar pectin.  This is possible but a little tricky so I don’t recommend it unless you know what you are doing…which of course I did not.  The jam wasn’t a complete waste however, we can still use it, but it taste much better with a little added honey and it didn’t “jell”  very well. 

My next experience was WAY more successful.  And now I am a canning addict!  I have made scuppernong jelly, pickles, salsa, pear preserves, and pear sauce (the pickles didn’t make the picture because we already ate them already!).

How to get lots of FREE and or CHEAP produce

  1. Pick your own.  Many farms offer pick your own produce and the cost is MUCH less than retail. 
  2. Check out the “reduced table” at the produce stand.  Many produce stands move their fruit and veggies that are getting old, or have blemishes to the reduced table.  This is the perfect place to get produce for canning because it all needs to be cut up anyway so it is easy to cut out the blemishes.  The only trick is be ready to can that day because the fruit needs to be preserved quickly! 
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask.  My sweet neighbor was the one generous enough to let me pick off her scuppernong grape vine for the jelly.  Most people who have fruit trees are happy to share their abundant crop.  You just have to ask. 

What do you need?

The only things you REALLY need are a large pot, jars and lids for canning, clean clothes, a ladle, and something to get the hot jars out of the boiling water. 

Although you can do without it, a canning funnel makes the job easier and less messy. 

Making the recipe to can

  1. Decide what to can.  If you already have a favorite homemade recipe then you are already half way there!  There are tons of great ones to choose from here and here.
  2. Have no idea where to start?  Almost anything can be canned.  What is your favorite summer fruit or veggie?  What do you buy the most of and could make your own instead?  If you need a good place to start I would suggest a pickling recipe as your first canning experience.  Tomato recipes need added lemon juice or citric acid to get the right pH and jellies are a little more tricky making sure they “jell”.

We made these pickles (without the peppers) YUM!

Fill and process

Once your recipe is made, fill the jars (leaving 1/2 inch space at the top for expansion).
Place lid and ring around the jar and tighten.  Then place jars in the boiling water bath.  There are all kinds of instructions of how long to let them boil depending on your elevation and what you are canning.

I am way too lazy to do all those calculations and I read most sources suggest boiling way too long…so I just boiled everything for 5-7 minutes with success every time!

Remove from hot bath and let cool on the counter. As the jars cool you may have to re-tighten as they can become loose with heat. 

In the next few hours you should hear all your jars POP.  This is the sign of a job well done!  If for some reason one of your jars didn’t seal (you can still press the center up and down) then store in the refrigerator or eat that one first. 

***Update!  Reader, Sabrina, added:

Don’t forget, once your jars are processed and cooled, remove the rings from the jar.  That way if there is ever a jar that goes bad, the lid can dislodge itself instead of the jar exploding.

Good to know!  Thanks Sabrina!

Now all you have to do is label, and enjoy! 

Have you ever canned?  Do you want to?  What are your thoughts? 

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Category: Frugal, Simple living

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