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Basics of Home Canning Your Own Food


Benefits of Home Canning

Home canning your own food offers many benefits over other methods to preserving your harvests. Though freezing is the easiest for a beginning preserver, home canning beats it in energy efficiency, in space availability, and reusable containers. You don’t have to worry about the power going out, and your jars make great gifts!

True, home canning your own food takes much more time and work than freezing it, but the benefits are worth the work. Home canning is a great hobby, and allows you to try unique recipes that you can’t find anywhere else. Once the jars are sealed, they can last twelve months or more in a cool dark place.

Freezing is faster, but your frozen food won’t last as long as your cans. Plus finding your frozen food once your freezer is packed can be difficult. It’s much easier to inventory shelves of canned food. Freezer space is finite, but you can always find room to store your jars!

Freezing does preserve more nutrients. However, some vegetables, like tomatoes, lose flavor while frozen. And some produce is just better tasting when canned, like peaches and green beans.

Try both freezing and home canning certain items, and decide for yourself which method you prefer. Or you can simply stick with water bath canning your fruits, tomatoes, and pickles, then freezing all the vegetables, instead of pressure canning them.

Home canning with reusable jars is also a big plus for me. I like to use reusable lids as well, so I can keep my waste footprint down!

Home canning will heat up your house, so if that’s a concern for you, try freezing foods in the heat of summer and canning them later when the temperatures have cooled off. Or you could always set up an outdoor kitchen or summer kitchen!

If you want to can a big batch of things at once, your freezer is your friend. Freeze up small portions until you have enough for canning, then can them.

And finally, it’s faster to pop open one of your home canned foods than it is to thaw and cook something from the freezer. All your canned foods will already be cooked.

Not everything can be canned, however. Some things require pickling first, and some foods require pressure canning rather than water bath canning. Some items, like dairy and cabbage, would be inedible if they were canned to a sufficient temperature to be safe.

History of Canning

Back in 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a prize of 12 thousand francs to anyone who could invent a new food preservation technique. In 1809, a French chef, Nicolas Appert, claimed the prize for himself. He had successfully canned the first foods.

Appert began with champagne bottles, then moved to glass jars, and ultimately used tin cans. His process worked, though Louis Pasteur’s theory of germ growth and sterilization wouldn’t be discovered for another 50 years.

In addition, the can opener was not invented until 30 years AFTER canned food was invented. The first cans were chiseled open or stabbed open with bayonets!

Mason jars were patented in 1858 and were available for home use by 1884. Home canning became more popular until it peaked in 1943, as home refrigeration began in 1945.

In the 1970s, a surge in interest in home canning occurred. However, there were also new spikes in poisonings, and the USDA began advising home canners on the safest methods for canning. Unfortunately, a 2005 USDA survey showed 57% of home canners are doing so unsafely.

But fear not, you can learn techniques and recipes and can your food safely!

Water Bath versus Pressure Canning

Water bath canning is easy to do, and only requires a few tools. You can water bath can foods that are acidic. So most fruits, tomatoes, jams, and pickles, are great to can in a water bath.

Water bath canning works by boiling foods all the way to the center, killing all the bacteria. Only high acid foods or those that have been acidified can be canned this way.

Anything that isn’t acidic must be pressure canned, to kill off clostridium botulinim. You can’t see, taste, or smell when your food is contaminated with botulism, but the botulism can kill you. The bacteria thrive in the absence of air, in the presence of moisture, and at room temperature. To kill them, you must cook your foods at temperatures higher than 240 Fahrenheit.

Pressure canning allows food to reach higher temperatures than 212 Fahrenheit. To can these low acid foods you need a properly calibrated pressure canner. Newer canners are lighter and safer than older models.

Using a pressure canner will allow you to can meat, poultry, seafood, stews and soups, along with low acid vegetables. You can also can acidic foods, and raw pack them rather than cooking them first.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for a beginning canner.

You can also find good, safe recipes at Fresh Preserving, or at Ball Home Canning.

How to Store Home Canned Foods

When your home canned foods have come out of the canner and cooled off, take off the bands and clean them and around the lids. Don’t dislodge the sealed lid!

When you store your jars, leave the bands off them. That way, if a jar spoils, the lid may pop off and you will be able to see quickly that something is wrong.

In addition, the canning bands rust. You will want to remove them so you can store them someplace dry.

Keep sealed jars in dark, cool places. Keep them away from heat, as it can cause loss of quality. You can stack jars, but not too high. It’s better if there is something between stacked jars like cardboard.

Keep your jars somewhere accessible so you can easily get to them and use them. You don’t want to forget about your food! Clearly mark jars with dates and contents, and keep them away from moisture, direct sunlight, and temperature extremes.

Sustainable Home Canning

Canning is a very sustainable practice, allowing you to reuse jars indefinitely, and to save your foods at the peak of freshness so you can enjoy them later. Home canning allows you to eat in season all year long without dealing with more unsustainable out of season foods.

Canning jars and bands can be reused until the jars break or bands rust. However, you can only use the conventional lids one time each. if you prefer reusable lids, Tattler makes them and they are safe to use.

I have used Tattler’s and liked them. They are a bit more complicated to use, and some report that they prefer using the regular lids.

If you prefer to stick with conventional lids, you can always reuse old lids on freezer jam, or when storing goods that don’t need to be sealed, like dried beans, coffee, etc.

Canning can really heat up your kitchen in the middle of summer. If you set up a simple outdoor kitchen, you can take that hot work outside and save your A/C! Alternatively, you could freeze your foods, and can them later in the fall.

Once you’ve canned your foods, they keep a long time. In the event of a power outage, you’ll know your canned foods are safe!

Using Home Canned Food

Before you begin your home canning journey, it’s good to figure out what you like to eat. Just like in gardening, don’t grow (or buy!) what you don’t like to eat.

If you find an interesting recipe, consider making a small batch of it so you can try it without canning eight quarts of it. If you don’t like it, you’ve saved yourself both time and money.

The easiest and quickest way to enjoy your home canned foods is to eat them as is! They may be great as side dishes, or main meals, depending on what you made. You can mix up your foods together to make easy slow cooker meals, or add home canned fruits to desserts, breakfasts, or smoothies.

Inventory your jars so you know what you have and are ready to use it. If you have a list in your kitchen, then you can meal plan without having to go find your foods if they are somewhere else.

If you have large amounts of canned fruit and find yourself not eating it fast enough, find some recipes to use it up. Make smoothies, baked goods, purees for sauces or to pour over pancakes. You can add them to yogurts, or oatmeal. Make cobblers and pies.

Made too much jam? There’s a baked good for that. Search up jam cookies, jam bars, jam whatever sounds interesting. Add leftover jam to smoothies, yogurt, or use as a sauce or marinade for chicken, fish, meat. Or give it away – your friends and family may love an extra jar of whatever goodness you canned up!

Have a plethora of vegetables? Try making vegetable soup, or casseroles. There are loads of soup recipes out there, and you are bound to find one that can use some of your canned veggies. Throw in some canned meat and you have a meal! Try chili, stews, soups.

In late winter and early spring, finish eating through your stores of food. Figure out what you really liked, and make a plan for the year to come. That way, you’ll know what you have, what you ate, and can be sure you can get the local foods you want and get them preserved for the year to come.

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