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How to Can Your Own Food at Home

Last week at my dietetic internship, we learned how to can our own food at home — specifically salsa and blueberry jam!

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We’re teaching a series of canning classes in the next couple weeks and my co-intern Diana and I will be taking the lead in teaching them. This meant we got to spend a day last week practicing (aka playing) in the kitchen at work!

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If you’re going to can at home, you need to do some research first to make sure you’re doing it safely. This is one time when it’s NOT okay to tweak recipes! :)

There are two methods of canning:

  1. Pressure canning — Used to preserve low-acid foods, like vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood. In this method, your jars of food are placed in 2 to 3 inches of water in a special pressure cooker which is heated to a temperature of at least 240° F. The higher temperature is to kill any possible Clostridium botulinum spores!
  2. Boiling water bath canning — Used to preserve high-acid foods, like tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, and pickles. In this method, your jars of food are placed in a regular large pot, completely covered with boiling water (212°F at sea level), and cooked for a specified amount of time.

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We’ve canned green beans at work using a pressure canner before, but last week’s adventure featured high-acid foods, so we were able to use a regular boiling water bath canning process :)

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To get started with boiling water bath canning at home, you can use a large pot you already have, but you’ll want to buy an at-home canning kit. It will include jars, lids/rings, and some variation of the green rack you see in the photo below to lower the jars into the water on. You never want the jars directly on the bottom of your pot because the water needs to circulate! Ball has some great and inexpensive kits — here’s a link to one of their starter kits.

Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit

You’ll also want to buy a small accessory kit (if the accessories aren’t included in the main kit you buy) — here’s a link to a good one.

Ball Utensil Set

Accessories that you’ll need for canning are (pictured above) — a jar funnel, a jar lifter (so you don’t burn yourself), a lid lifter (that wand looking thing with a magnet on the end — genius), and a bubble remover and “headspace” measure tool (it has to be exact — this way you can measure!).

Buying an at-home canning book is a good idea, too, for recipe purposes. You really want to make sure the recipes you use are safe and tested!

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

And now — on to the good stuff :)

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First, we made our own salsa! Since it was a test run to get the procedure down and we didn’t have a ton of time, we used a packaged seasoning mix — but during the class we’ll be doing it all from scratch, don’t you worry.

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Did you know tomatoes are really easy to peel if you slice a little X in the end of them…

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…and then blanch them by putting them in boiling water for a minute and immediately removing them to ice water?

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I didn’t know that! It made peeling them no problem.

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Chopped up…

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And all ready to go!

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Once our salsa was ready, it was time to can it!

To do a boiling water canning, you need to have your pot of boiling water ready to go before you start preparing your jars. Your rack (like the green one I posted above, or the silver one below) should already be in the water, too, in the lifted position.

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You’ll also want your lids and jars sterilized — you can leave the jars and ring lids in the dishwasher on steam dry until you are ready, and your flat lids can go into a hot pan of water.

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There will be more details on this specific process in a canning book/recipe — don’t worry :)

So now we are ready to fill our jars! I recommend using a funnel to make it easier:

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Once your jar is filled, you check the amount of “headspace” (space in the top of the jar) to make sure it’s correct (the recipe will say how much you need). This gadget that comes with the canning kit is used to measure headspace (and can be used to get rid of air bubbles, too):

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Then, wipe the lid clean to make sure nothing will be in the way of creating a seal:

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Grab your lid wand and put the lid on top…

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And screw the ring on — just not too tight!

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After each jar is finished, it gets lifted into our pot:

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And when all the jars are in (make sure they aren’t touching each other)…

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…you lower them into the water and heat for however long the recipe says.

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The boiling water should cover the lids — more might need to be added!

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When the allotted time has passed, lift out your jars. You might hear some of the lids popping as they seal!

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The jars will need to sit still, untouched, for awhile (the recipe will say) until fully cooled. We left ours overnight.

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Once our salsa was done, we repeated a similar process for the blueberries to make jam.

Just mash them up (arm workout, holla):

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Add a whole lot of sugar, depending on the recipe (next time we want to try a lower sugar version!): 

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And heat until it starts to gel:

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Then can the same way, following the recipe instructions!

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Canning success :)

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I’ve already been enjoying the blueberry jam this week and can’t wait to bust out the salsa, too! :)

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We’re teaching 4 hands-on canning classes to adults this summer (and 1 more to kids, too!) — first up is green beans, then salsa, pickling, and jams. It should be fun — I love that I learned something so useful at my internship this summer! Can you believe I only have 2 weeks left of my public health dietetic summer internship?! It has gone by so fast!

Have you ever canned anything at home before? If not, do you think you’ll try? I was totally intimidated by it (and it probably seems super intense from this post) — but it’s really rather easy, if a little time consuming, once you learn how!

Disclaimer — please read a canning instructional guide/book before trying this at home yourself — don’t just rely on this post :) Have fun!

Comments

  1. 1

    Why have I never done this yet to my tomatoes? It’s on my to do list now!

    Is this your last rotation? I’m assuming community?

  2. 5

    I grew up canning and still love to do it in my tiny apartment! I always thought you had to can in GIANT batches and have a big production, but especially with water-bath canning, you can process just one or two jars at a time if that’s all you have. We’ll do that with tomatoes in the summer. When we have just enough that we can’t get through, we’ll peel them and chop them and can one or two jars a week. Then, by the end of the summer we have a nice full pantry.

    GREAT post! I wish more people were into canning. It is one of the only ways to enjoy truly local produce all year long.

  3. 7

    My mom has been canning for as long as I can remember. I don’t think she has a book though. She learned from her mom. I really need to learn her secrets someday soon so that I can carry on the tradition! I LOVE her homemade salsas, spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, green beans, among other things. All made with produce from her own garden.

  4. 8
    Kristel says:

    Yes, we started canning a few years ago. It is easy, but keeps us very busy throughout the summer.
    We can peaches, 3 kinds of pickles, relish, and TONS of salsa. Everything from our garden except the peaches.
    We try speghetti sauce year after year, without success. Please share if you have a great recipe!

  5. 9

    I have never tried canning before! I have always been scared of it. This post and recipe though has given me the inspriation to try. I need to have some of that salsa haha! looks sooo good :)

  6. 10

    i’ve helped my mom can lots of things before: salsa, jams, beans, pickles, and on and on – but i’ve never done it myself before! that’s awesome that you got to learn this through your internship.

  7. 11

    I love canning! I only started last summer (gooseberry jam was my first project), but I really like it. We just made blueberry jam too, but added a handful of chiffonaded basil right at the end before putting the jam in the jars — it adds a really nice herbaceous note!

  8. 13

    I’ve been interested in canning but I don’t think I have the patience. I’d rather just eat it all in a week than store any of it anyway, so it hasn’t been a problem yet.

  9. 15

    apparently tomatoes are now considered a borderline low acid food (http://www.pickyourown.org/tomato_acidity.php) , so if you’re not making salsa or tomato sauce or something that has added acid, you should can most tomatoes using a pressure canner.

    sometimes i wish that the time when everything becomes ripe and ready for preservation did not coincide with heat waves that make me really not want to have a giant pot of water boiling on my stove!

    • 16

      Yeah, we learned that, too! Apparently with salsa though you add enough acid that you’re good :) But you are right about plain tomatoes now! And totally agree re: heat waves. It was HOT in that kitchen!

  10. 17

    I took a canning class from our local 4H extension office last summer! I only have a hot water canner but love making jams and pickles!

    I have all those Ball products (starter kit, accessory kit and book) and love them. Another good resource is this website: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/

  11. 18

    I have been canning my whole life, I first learned from my Gammie. Don’t you just love it. I do boiling water bath and pressure. I can tomatoes, green beans, Vidalia onion release and just about everything from my garden. I love to can apple butter, peach preserves. I have never canned blueberries jam but it looks delicious. You are really learning a lot Anne. Good job.

  12. 21

    My mom always had canned fruit, salsa, and jam when I was growing up. We had a big garden and would eat it all the time. When I went to college was the first time I really noticed how much work my mom put into jam and salsa and how much better the stuff at home was than anything I could get from the market!

  13. 23

    This is fantastic! I grew up canning with my mother, but she stopped doing it and I am very, very rusty. I belong to a CSA and we get an armload of cucumbers and tomatoes, and I was thinking of attempting to can some tomatoes and pickles this summer. This gave me the motivation to give it a shot.

    I’m still pretty worried I’m going to give someone botulism, I’m not gonna lie. ;)

  14. 25
    Pat Elsberry says:

    I make my own strawberry, peach, blackberry and blueberry jams. It’s fun, makes a great gift and we enjoy it throughout the year!

  15. 26

    I’ve never tried myself. Heard the stories from my Grandmother on their massive assembly line (30 or so cousins) every year from her childhood: canning tomatoes, vegetables, making wine etc. The whole family would work together to make food for everyone for the year. Even the men had to work, no one got a free pass! ;)

    My friend gave away peach jam as her table favors for her wedding- cute and delicious too!

  16. 28

    My mother canned all the time, and the product was great! Super blog!

  17. 29

    I spent my whole childhood “helping” my abuela to can. Often tomatoes, usually peaches, and always jam! I don’t remember her using all the gear here way back then (however we used it when I made jam with a friend 2 years ago after picking our own blackberries- might want to do that again this year!) but I do remember running around giddy in the kitchen shouting each time a jar popped (we didn’t take the jars out unless they popped :))

  18. 31

    This is soo interesting! Hobby Lobby has an amazing deal on jars right now and I’ve been thinking about canning some things!! :) This is an awesome tutorial! :) Thanks for sharing.

  19. 32

    P.S. How’s the swimming, biking, and running training coming along? :-) Need a triathlon prep update!

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