I have never been more scared of anything then I have been canning! Ok, maybe that is a little exageration, since anyone who knows me will tell you I am scared of EVERYTHING, but canning definatly ranks up there on the list. I have memories of my mom recounting stories of canning with my granmother and great-aunt, listening for the lids to pop, fear of food-bourne illness,-the list goes on. So needless to say, I stayed as FAR away from anything having to do with it as I could.
But then things changed. I have been making a Green Tomato-Red Raspberry Jam for a few years. This year I took it to a private class I did to let them try it. The group loved it and wanted to order some. Normally when I made it for friends and family, I just made it and froze it in jars. Now I had to find a way to jar it and make sure it was sealed and shelf stable for a longer period of time. Canning was in my future.
This coincided with another fun fall event. Keegan’s preschool went to the apple orchard about a week after I purchased a bushel of apples myself. We had LOTS of apples. I was looking for ways to make Apple Butter in the crockpot, and came across a great, easy recipe on the internet. The website also had really simple, easy, picture directions for canning. Taking a deep breath, I read on, and was pleasantly surprised by the thought “Hey, maybe this isn’t so hard!” Sending a text message to my husband asking him if he would help my be “crafty” over the weeknd, I was committed.
Now, I will explain it all to you in the simpliest way I can, in case there are some of you out there that are like I was:SCARED! There are a couple things I recommend for first time canners.
1) CLEAR YOUR COUNTER!- You want to give yourself room, since canning is a step-by-step process. I found it was better for me, and I kept all the steps clear in my head, if the counter was clear and my equipment was out and ready to go. Also, some of the things you are canning(jams, jellies) can get sticky and messy, so you don’t want anything to get ruined if you spill(which is a possibility!)
2) Set out your equipment- Get your jars ready, pot ready, everything you will need to get the canning done, start to finish. As you progress in your canning ability, this is not as important, but for first timers it is handy to have everything at hand. We will cover everything you need in a minute.
3) READ YOUR RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH- This is important in any recipe, but definatly in canning. You will be working with hot sometimes sugary liquid, that needs things done at specific times, so you need to make sure your clear as to what the recipe says. Also, make sure, if you are using a canning recipe, you check the processing times. This will come into play later.
4) Take your time- Don’t rush through it. Your working with hot water and glass here, not to mention hot liquid. Anyone who has every made caramel, knows how hot sugar can get when melted. Take your time. You’ll have a better result in the end.
Now, on to equipment! There are a few items that I have found really helpful. I found a kit by Ball (the jar people) Called the Ball Utensil Kit, that included these four items:
1) Jar Funnel: This tool is placed in the moth of the jar to fill the jars without spilling over the sides. My hubby also made me a funnel out of a small plastic jar that can be used for canning, by cutting off the bottom, and it fit right in the jars.
2)Jar Lifter: This helps safely lift jars out of hot water with blue gripping ends (works like tongs)
3) Lid Lifter: This tool uses its magnetic end to lift lids out of hot water to rest them on top of the jars
4) Bubble Remover and Headspace Tool: Slide this tool into the side of filled jars to release air bubbles and measure headspace(the amount of room between the top of the food to be canned and the rim of the jar)
The cost on this kit was $9.99 and it was worth every penny!
Now, onto the hard part! I promise, it’s not so hard!
Once you have prepared your jar filling, (mine was the Apple Butter), here is how to get things ready for canning. Place a large dish cloth in the bottom of large pot. I used my largest stock pot, but they also make large canning pots ($19.99-$24.99 for this).
Just make sure you have a well fitting lid. Place canning jars on top of dish cloth. This will prevent the jars from having direct contact with the bottom of the pot. Fill with cold tap water to cover the jars. Bring to a boil, this will sterilize your jars so you can fill them with your cooked mixture. After water comes to a boil turn off heat and remove jars with tongs and a hot pad. Be careful they are very hot. Place on a dish towel on the counter(This dish towle also helps keep the sticky foods off of your counter). Do not place on cold counter. (If placed on a cold counter, the hot jars have potential to shatter.) Add some boiling water to a separate bowl that contains the lids and rings(I used my 4-cup or 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup).
Your jars are ready to fill. Add hot preserve mixture to jars you can use a funnel or a ladle.
Take a damp paper towel or cloth and wipe around the top of the jar and remove any preserve mixture from the jars. Using your tongs, remove a lid from the scalding water. Blot the lid on the towel and then place on top of your jar, pressing down gently. Screw on your bands snugly but don’t over tighten them. Your jars are going to be hot so pick them up with the tongs and place them carefully back into your pot, on top of the towel in the bottom. Make sure there is enough water to cover them by at least one inch. Bring the pot of water to a rolling boil again. Once it boils your processing time begins. Put the lid on the pot and process half pint jars for 5 minutes and pint jars for 10 minutes. When the time is up remove lid and remove jars carefully. Use tongs and a hot pad. Place jars back on the dish towel to cool on the counter. Let your jars sit on the counter overnight. In the morning press down on the lids to make sure they are sealed properly, the lid should not pop up when you press it. You may hear the jars popping as your taking them out of the water, and as they cool, but be sure to check them in 24 hours. Any that aren’t sealed can be reprocessed, but know that not every recipe can take the heat of boiling more than once. I have worked with a recipe that uses Jell-o to make a jam, and it does fine with the first processing, but if the jars don’t seal, a second processing breaks down the Jell-o. If you have jars that didn’t seal, they can be placed in the refrigerator and used in the next few days.
A few things to consider when canning:
1) Check out this website when you have questions, they have most of the answers: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general.html
2) If you open any jars, and they have a funny odor or the texture has changed, discard it. Never take a chance where your health is concerned!
3) Look to other canners for advice. Canning has been done for 100’s of years, so look to family members and friends for advice.
Canning and I have become fast friends, and I think I will be doing way more canning in the future! I am loving the idea of being able to can my salsa and tomatoes in the summer, and jams and jellies all winter. It feels very homespun to me, but has so many endless possibilities! Try it for yourself!