Home Canning for Beginners: How to Can Your Food Year-Round

Save money by learning how to can food at home throughout the year, including tips for choosing jars, hot pack vs. cold pack, pressure canning, and more.

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    Before you start the actual canning process, think jars!
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    Pack the food you're canning into hot, sterilized jars before placing them in the boiling water bath.
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    The boiling water bath is the best method of canning low-acid foods, such as fruit.
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    Remember, this food is for you; there are no laws about what you can or cannot mix together.

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To many people, home canning sounds like too huge an undertaking to try alone. How could it not, with all the warnings going around about food poisoning, spoilage, exploding pressure canners, and malfunctioning pressure gauges? Still, I'm often surprised how few new-to-the-land people are willing to give it a go. It's a shame—not only do they miss out on a well-stocked pantry of convenient and nutritious "fast foods," but they also miss out on the sheer joy of preserving their garden bounty. That's what home canning is all about.

Also, many folks think that you only can food through one season, but let me assure you—canning is a year-round money-saver. It starts up in the spring with the first-crop abundance, and moves through autumn's garden harvest (a bit or truck-load at a time), and then through the hunting season with venison, steer, and poultry. Winter is much busier than you'd ever imagine between processing your stored produce (which may show signs of beginning to soften about now) and canning your own "convenience meals."

Another worry which stops people from canning is that they won't have enough of any one item to fill a canner—but don't let that stop you. Simply figure what else you have that requires the same amount of time in the canner, and add that in, too. It doesn't even have to be canned in the same size jars.

Remember, this food is for you; there are no laws about what you can or cannot mix together. So for example, if you are canning tomatoes in quarts that take 60 minutes, just figure out another vegetable that takes the same time and amount of pressure. (Helpful hint: most pressure-canned products have the same ten pound pressure requirement. Fruit, the only exception to this rule, is usually canned in a water bath, anyway).

Choosing Canning Jars

Before you start the actual canning process, think jars. Believe me, being cautious early on can save you a heck of a lot of frustration later. Most people use mason or Ball jars. They're often pint- or quart-sized, which is the size that most recipes refer to. You should always use jars approved for canning. Take the time to check each one for any cracks, and examine each rim for tiny chips. Using a cracked jar will almost always lead to a broken jar in your canner, and even the smallest chip can cause a failed seal, which can make for spoiled food. So throw those unsound jars right into the recycling bin. It is also a good idea to put hot foods into hot jars in order to keep sound jars from breaking. Keep the jars from touching anything cold, and only put boiling hot food jars into the boiling water bath. In canning, hot + cold = a broken jar.

A good way to collect low-cost jars is to put a few ads up here and there. You'll be surprised at the response. Not only will you find jars, but sometimes you can find a good canner. If you're lucky, you may find an "old-time" canner who is willing to share his knowledge and experience with you.

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