Canning Food

Canning food is a wonderful way to preserve summer's bounty. It is so nice to pull out a jar of home-canned peaches when winter hits with full force!

Whatever your reason is for wanting to learn the skill of canning, you can be sure that your efforts will pay off in the end - canning food is an activity that is well-worth the time you put into it.

How to can

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1. Prepare the jars

The first step is to prepare your jars by washing and sanitizing them. Eliminating all the bacteria and dust particles from the jars before you begin canning food is vital to safe preservation. So even if you washed your jars before you put them into storage last, you still need to wash them again!

Boiling your jars in a large pot of water is probably the most effective way to sanitize them. You can also boil your rims; however, do not boil your lids! Canning lids are very sensitive to heat, and by boiling them you could destroy their ability to seal before they are even canned. To clean your lids, you can gently wash them by hand in slightly warm water.

Another way to clean your jars is by running them through the dishwasher, and while this is a perfectly fine way to do it, be aware that some detergents will leave an un-rinsed film that may discolor or flavor your canned food. Of course you can always wash your jars by hand, too - just make sure they are well rinsed.

2. Fill your jars with food

Depending on what you are canning, you need to determine whether you will be using the hot pack or cold pack method. Using your canning funnel, pour or pack the food into your jars. Pause several times during this process and gently shake the jar up and down to settle the contents. When canning food like jam or soup, however, this is not needed; simply stir the contents gently with a rubber spatula (never a metal utensil).

Once your jars are full, measure the headspace. Headspace is the distance between the top of the food to the lid. Although most recipes will give you specific measurements, 1/4 inch is a good rule of thumb to go by.

If you are canning fruits or vegetables, than you will need to fill your jars with water or syrup. If you are simply canning jams, soups, butters, or other liquified foods, however, no liquid is needed.

Make sure you leave at least 1/4 inch headspace at the top. Headspace is the distance from the food to the top of the jar. Headspace is important because it will affect the quality of the seal. If you fill your jars to the very top, brimming full of food, this will interfere with the lid as it tries to seal during processing. The top of the jar should be clear of food or liquid to ensure proper sealing.

canning food

When your jars are filled and headspace has been properly measured, use a spatula to stir and poke around inside the jar. This gets rid of any air bubbles that may be lurking around down there. Never use a metal spoon for this step; always use a rubber spatula.

3. Wipe rims of jars

With a damp paper towel, wip the rims of your jars. After filling your jars, tiny food particles or sticky/greasy bits of food will have gotten on the rims. This is especially true when you are canning food like jam or meats. If you do not wipe your rims clean, these food particles could affect the quality of your seal. A slippery or sticky rim will not make for a good quality seal.

4. Place lids and bands on the jar

Place lids on the jar and the screw on bands (also called rims or rings). The bands should be finger tight - but not too tight, or the lids may have trouble sealing! However, if they are too loose, the lids may not stay in place during the canning process. Just screw on the bands gently; when they begin to resist more pressure, they are just about right.

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5. Fill canner with water

If you are water bath canning, then you should fill your canner with enough water to completely submerge your jars, plus two more inches. If you choose to use your own soup or stock pot, make sure that you have a rack at the bottom of the pot for your jars to sit on. Failure to do so may result in broken or shattered jars; however, many have skipped this step and never had a problem with jar breakage, so it is really a matter of personal preference here.

Although we use our pressure canner for water bath canning now, in the early days, we used our own soup pot and never used a rack - we never had a jar break! When pressure canning, you should look at your owner's manual that came with your pressure canner for directions on how full to fill your canner. Since there are different kinds and brands of pressure canners, each one will be different and will required different amounts of water.

6. Begin the canning process!

Place your jars into your pressure or water bath canner. Most pressure canners will hold a six to eight jars. Never try to stuff jars in your canner than it will hold, since this could cause jar breakage or improper preservation. If you are using a soup or stock pot for water bath canning, than three to four jars will probably be the maximum amount of jars it will hold.

Turn your burner onto high heat, and let the water come to a rolling boil. Don't begin measuring the processing time until the water has come to a rolling boil.

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7. Remove jars from canner and test seals

Using your canning tongs, remove your jars from the canner and set them on a towel or a cooling rack on the counter. Now that they are cooling down, the vacuum sealing process begins, and you will hear each jar lid "pop" as the lids seal. This can happen anywhere from five minutes to one or more hours.

After seven or eight hours, you need to test the seals. Do this by pressing down on the lids gently but firmly. If they lid has sealed, it will remain firm and won't move when you press on it. If it hasn't sealed, the lid will "pop" up and down when pressed.

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8. Store your jars in a cool, dry place

Jars should be stored in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight. A pantry or storage shelves are ideal for this purpose. When storing your jars, you can remove the bands.

Always avoid storing your jars in a place where freezing may occur. When food freezes, it expands - and when that happens with a packed jar of food, the jar is going to break! This will obviously result in spoilage. If such a situation is un-avoidable, wrap your jars in newspaper and cover with towels and blankets.

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Home canned goods can last for up to three years. Make sure that you label your jar lids with the date they were canned before putting them in storage. You can do this with a permanent marker or a sharpie.

Canning food may well be one of the most important things you spend your time on. There are great advantages to it that you may not be able to see right now. For example, what if a bad storm sets in that prevents you from going to the store for a week? This is where all your hard work will really pay off.

There are some really great benefits to being prepared by canning food! Canning food also provides a great oppertunity to teach others your skill. Know some friends who want to learn how to can? Consider hosting a canning class or party. Canning food at home is fast becoming a much sought after skill, and you may be surprised at the interest you receive.

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