Learn to Can for Homegrown Flavor

Learn to can and save money while enjoying delicious “convenience” foods all winter.

| August/September 2005

  • 211-114-01i1
    Learn to can for homegrown flavor.
  • DIY Canning
    Fill the shelves of your pantry with food straight from your garden. Canning requires ust a few basic tools, including a water bath or pressure canner, empty jars and lids, and a jar lifter for removing jars from hot water.
    Photo courtesy RICK WETHERBEE
  • 211-114-01i3
    For low-acid foods, use a pressure canner to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Canning
    High-acid foods can be canned with the water bath method, which requires a less expensive canner.
    Photo courtesy LYNN KARLIN

  • 211-114-01i1
  • DIY Canning
  • 211-114-01i3
  • Canning

We all can agree that there is nothing like the flavor of a homegrown garden tomato. But did you also know that there is nothing like the flavor of home-canned tomatoes — or corn, peaches or salsa? After 20 years of putting up much of my own food, I took a year off because I was moving. During that year — even though I bought high-quality organic produce, canned goods and frozen foods — I was shocked to discover how much flavor and natural sweetness was missing from these store-bought products. I wondered about their nutritional value.

Since then, I have resumed growing and putting up much of my family’s food. I appreciate the quality now more than ever, and in these times of fuel-dependent food distribution systems, I find comfort in eating food that did not have to travel more than a few yards to my table.

Although canning is extra work in the summer and fall, I have come to think of canned goods as convenience foods. To walk into my pantry at the end of a long day and pull out a jar of tomato and pinto bean soup, or to pop open a jar of strawberry applesauce for dessert, is a luxury well worth the summer work. There are many items that cannot be found in the supermarket, such as my own organic ‘Orange Banana’ tomatoes or raspberry fruit butter for our toast. And there’s a great advantage to canning food from your own back yard: You will always get the best flavor and highest quality from picking food at its freshest and processing it the same day.

My approach to putting up food is to think about how I like to eat each vegetable: I eat beets pickled or steamed; I like carrots raw and peas fresh or frozen; and corn is good fresh, canned or frozen. There is no sense in canning 30 pints of peas or mustard pickles if nobody eats them. That’s why I tend to lean toward techniques that bring out the best in each fruit or vegetable, as well as toward those that require the least effort. Why can carrots, apples or beets when they store so well in a root cellar? The same goes for spinach and broccoli, which taste much better when frozen. Most fruits and vegetables can be canned, as well as many kinds of meat, but for me, canning usually works best for soups, sauces and salsas.

Increased shelf life is another reason to consider canning. While frozen fruits, vegetables and meats only last a few months before they begin to lose quality, properly canned food will last indefinitely. However, after about a year, chemical changes slowly occur that can affect flavor, color, texture or nutritional value. To get the most out of your canned goods, always date your jars and use the older stock first. If that batch of unpopular mustard pickles is still around in three or four years, empty the jars onto the compost pile and try something your family will like better.

Low- and High-Acid Foods

To begin canning, the two main tools you will need are a water bath canner and a pressure canner. Canner selection depends on the type of food you are preserving. Although bacteria won’t survive in high-acid foods such as fruits and tomatoes, they can thrive in low-acid foods including vegetables and meats. For low-acid foods, it’s necessary to use a pressure canner, which reaches temperatures higher than the boiling point.

Bonnie Moore
10/1/2008 11:15:36 AM

To: Susie Q, The "Dilly Beans" recipe given at the end of the article is for dilled green beans, in other words pickles. By adding vinegar the beans become acidic and no longer require pressure canning. Hope this helps, Old Canner in Illinois

9/14/2008 8:08:50 PM

I too found this article very informative. I am new to the art of canning and am hoping to plant a larger garden next year to help feed the family. Susie Q I believe the answer to your question is on the 2nd page of the article. The low acid green beans can be canned in a water bath canner because the added vinegar makes the product you are canning a high acid solution.

Susie Q
9/12/2008 2:37:07 PM

I enjoyed the article and it is very informative, but I am a bit confused. The recipe you gave at the end, for green beans, is a bit contradictory, isn't it? If green beans must be pressure canned, which is what I've been told by everyone for a long time, than how is that you can pickle them in a water bath canner? And for only 5 minutes? Is this safe?



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