Getting Started with Canning

Lots of my friends are always impressed with my canning creations.  But I have a secret: canning is really REALLY easy.  Seriously, I did not grow up in a house where canning existed.  Hell, my mom barely cooks and doesn’t bake at all.  Canning wasn’t happening!

But, that doesn’t mean canning is for everyone.  Personally, I think it’s fun and relaxing to can, but I know for some of my friends, it would be pretty hellish.

I think the way to decide if canning might be something you want to try, is consider if you enjoy baking or cooking.  What I mean is – cooking it pretty free-form, in my opinion.  You can taste and tinker as you go along, adding different spices and seasoning until it’s just right.  Baking, on the other hand, is more like chemistry.  You can’t just decide to double the flour and leave out the baking powder.  You can play around with the recipe some, but there’s only so much you can do before you severely (and probably negatively) affect what you’re making.

Canning takes baking to the next level, especially if you’re like me and afraid of killing someone haha.  Botulism is serious and not something you want to mess with, and the best way to prevent it is to follow tried and true canning recipes, and don’t deviate from them unless you really know what you’re doing.  I don’t, so I don’t deviate.

The Ball Canning site has great recipes, plus lots of tips and tricks to help you get started.  There are also tons of blogs.  Try poking around, but remember that not all recipes you find online will necessarily be well tested.  I’ve had problems with jams not setting up properly or other issues.  There are also tons of canning recipe books – I swear every time I look on Amazon, there are more that I want to buy!  If in doubt, check your local library to try some recipes before committing to a book.

The other thing to consider is equipment.  For me, the absolutely necessary objects for canning are:

  • A good quality, large stock pot
  • A rack (to place in the pot and keep the jars from touching the hot pot bottom)
  • A funnel
  • A jar lifter
  • A lid lifter (a long stick with a magnet on the end)
  • A bubble remover or spatula
  • A head space tool
  • A digital timer

I’ve acquired these tools over time, and I’ve upgraded some over time as well.  I found my stock pot wasn’t big enough for some of the batches I wanted to do, so last year I bought a big canner, which came with a nice metal rack to replace my cheap polypropylene rack.  I didn’t have a head space tool originally and just kind of tried to eyeball my head space (NOT recommended).  I now have two different head space tools.  And I could definitely use the timer on my stove, but I have to reach over my burners to get to it, and I much prefer to be able to have the timer on the counter where I can get it without burning myself.  But really, you probably have a lot of these things in your kitchen already, and you can mostly make do without many unless (until!) you start canning regularly.

So what goes into canning?  It’s pretty easy.  You can definitely teach yourself – I did!  It’s mostly a matter of going step-by-step.  And whenever possible, use fresh and locally grown produce!  I swear the reason last summer’s strawberry jam was such a hit was because I used strawberries we picked ourselves that morning and not ones from the supermarket.  But, I’ll admit that there’s probably at least one ingredient in all my recipes that are store bought, just because it can be hard or even impossible to find everything local sometimes!  Just do your best.  Make friends with the sellers at your farmer’s market and they’ll totally set aside a huge bunch of garlic scapes or whatever for you.  Or join a CSA – yummy veggies all season long!

Have you tried canning yourself?  What would you recommend to a new canner?

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