Home Canning: Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Home Canning: Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Picture the scene!  Mom stumbles in at 10:00 am.  After a long shift, she’s wiped out.  Trudging up the stairs, she narrowly avoids a collapse that would send her sliding to ground level with her chin thudding on each step.

Wake me if the house is on fire…zzz…

Once in her room, she strips off, speed showers, and falls on the bed.  She’s still slightly damp and is wearing a t-shirt stolen from her husband (wrong-side out and backward).



Several hours later, she wakes with morning breath, Mad Madam Mimm hair, and four people asking, “What’s the dinner plan?” at regular intervals.

Have no fear!  The canned goods pantry comes to the rescue!  She pulls jars of home canned chicken, ‘rotel’, crushed tomatoes, broth, corn, carrots, and spicy beans from Harry’s room and dumps them in a pot.  She adds seasonings, home dehydrated garlic, shrooms, and peppers.  Soon, she plonks chicken enchilada soup on the table with sour cream, salsa, cheese, and tortilla chips to be added as desired.    In reward, she’s granted fifteen minutes of semi-silence while the kids slurp their soup, but refrain from bickering.

This is the wrong soup, but it can be made with canned ingredients too. Clearly, I need to post the enchilada soup recipe! It’s one of Sam’s favorites!

Home canned food is fast food…only healthy!  Seriously, canned meat, beans. and vegetables are what I reach for when the day gets out of control!  I didn’t grow up canning, but I had grandmothers who canned.  So, when I started wanting to raise my own food, buy in bulk to save money, and generally be more self-sufficient canning was a logical choice.  I only recently realized how alien the idea is to most people.  Among my acquaintance there seem to be three groups.

  1. “Those are such cute glasses for a themed BBQ!  Totes adorbs!!  My friend, KiKi, used them as candle holders on her patio!  What do you mean ‘canning’ jars?  These are MASON jars.  I mean, cans are made of metal, DUH!  These were invented for those ‘cookies in a jar’ teacher gifts our moms did back in the day.  Aren’t you supposed to know this stuff?  I mean, you’re totally my mom’s age.  Whaaa-uht?  Why are you growling and grumbling?   I’ll get you some water in one of these M-A-S-O-N JARS; you’ve turned a funny color…”

    I love this. But I save jars with nicked rims for stuff like this.
  2. “Oh, yes, I can!  I make strawberry jam and salsa.  I’m famous for my pickles!   You CAN chicken?!?  OMG!  I didn’t know it was possible to can meat!”

    Pickled asparagus is a family favorite around here!
  3. “I plan to can our garden produce and some meat this year.  I bought a terrific pressure canner.  It’s the best one I could find.  All the homestead blogs and podcasts say it’s the Cadillac of canners.  Well, it’s still in the box.  It makes me afraid I’ll blow up the house if I use it.  Honestly, I’m just too chicken to can chicken!”
Canned chicken (or turkey, I can’t remember), broth, and beans to fill up the empty spaces in the canner.

I wanted to give you a canning basics post, but there is just too much information to cover.  So, I’m going to split it into smaller bites.  Today, we’ll talk about the different types of canning.  The next time, we’ll try to make canning a little less scary.  Then, I want to walk you through a session of each type of canning.

If you read about home canning, you may hear oven and steam canning mentioned.  These are two older methods that are not considered safe for food preservation.  I occasionally use oven canning for foods that don’t spoil, but will lose quality.  For example, I oven can nuts.  It keeps them from going rancid as quickly.  Rancid nuts are gross, but they won’t make you sick.  Therefore, oven canning them is about maintaining quality, not preventing spoilage.

According to the FDA, there are only two accepted ways to preserve food by canning.  I considered writing a post about the science behind the two methods of canning, but decided it would be unnecessarily reinventing the wheel.  So, I’ll give you this link instead.  The article I linked to does a great job explaining the science in layman’s terms.  So, let’s discuss the two safe canning options:

First and easiest: water bath canning.

Water bath canning is the gateway method.  It requires little specialized equipment and produces tasty giftable jams and jellies.  It’s a nice safe starting point, but be warned!  It can start you down a path leading to mason jars under beds, in cupboards, filling the dishwasher, and appearing under the Christmas tree!

Pots of jam make great Christmas gifts. (Especially with a batch of scones!)

The only foods that can be water bath canned have high sugar content or are acidic.  So, this method is for jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, apple sauce, and tomato products.  Modern tomatoes have been bred to be sweeter and less acidic than many heirloom varieties.  So, it’s safer to add a little lemon juice or citric acid.  Non-iodized salt is also normally added, but that’s for flavoring and doesn’t play a part in the preservation of the food.

Apple sauce can be water bath canned!

Water bath canning is done in a tall open pot with a flat rack in the bottom.  The rack keeps the jars from being in direct contact with the bottom of the pan, which could crack them.  Hot jars are filled with hot food, topped with warm lids, and placed in boiling water.  The water should be two to three inches above the jars, but remember adding the jars adds volume.  When the jars go in, the water level will rise.

Method two: Pressure Canning

For foods that aren’t acidic or highly sugared, pressure canning is the only option!  It must be done precisely, but isn’t difficult.   Low acid foods must be canned at a temperature of 240-250 Fahrenheit.   The reason for this high temperature is Botulism.  Botulism isn’t visible and doesn’t make food smell ‘off’, however, it’s very dangerous.  The only way to reach temperatures that kill botulism, in a home kitchen, is with a pressure canner.

This is an All-American. They’re pricey, but awesome! We’ll discuss canners in more detail later. I’ll give a review of two of the big canner brands.
This is a Presto. Not as awesome as the All-American, but MUCH less expensive.

I’m planning to give you a detailed description of pressure canners and how they work next week. So, for today, let’s keep it brief.  You must have a pressure canner.  Pressure canners are very heavy duty pots.  They have lids that clamp on creating an air tight seal.  This seal allows the steam inside to build up causing pressure inside the canner.  A valve on top allows the pressure to be regulated ensuring the food is processed correctly.  There’s a gauge to double check the pressure and a rubber pop off to ensure safety. (I promise a thorough explanation of this process is coming soon!)

I love reading canning blogs and recipes online, but I’ve been canning long enough to recognize the abundance of dangerous misinformation.  People will say, “Well, my Great-Grandma Flora canned corn in a water bath and didn’t die, so I’m going to do it too!”  To me, that makes about as much sense as saying, “Well, as a kid I rode standing on the truck seat and didn’t die!  So, I’m not going to put my kids in car seats!”  When it comes to my family’s safety, I will always err on the side of caution!

Over the next few posts, I plan to give you a break down of canning equipment and processes.  I’m also going to give you a list of trusted sites with great information.  Learning to can is a lot like learning to drive.  It is fun, useful, and gives great independence!  It’s also a great responsibility.  Take the time to be sure you understand how it works and how to keep your family safe.  There is good news though: After you master the how-to’s of canning, there are no other stupid drivers on the road to trip you up!

Please leave a question or comment if you have the time!  If I don’t know the answer to your question, I will do my best to find out for you!  Have a great week y’all!

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About Anne in the Kitchen

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  1. I’ve only ever water bathed my preserves. I only learned of the existence of pressure canners, a very American thing, a year or two ago. These pressure canners have only recently become available in Australia and are very expensive. Given we now live in town I don’t feel the need for one. I really could have used one on the property but that’s looking back and I am happy to keep moving forward.
    I will be following along as I would like to understand this process a bit more.
    Love from the cow winning lady.

    1. I remember reading on Tania’s blog that pressure canning was pretty new to y’all. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. We butchered 25 chickens on Saturday, and I’ll be roasting and canning them all day tomorrow. I love canned chicken for soup. casseroles, nachos, etc… Plus, if the freezer goes out we still get to eat! Have a great week!

    1. Thanks, so much! I always think I can fit more into a post than is doable. I think there will have to be several canning posts to cover the basics. I enjoy your blog and have for a long time.

      I’m sorry for the delay in responding to you, I have the chance to work some overtime. We are hoping this will fund some homestead expansions! Have a wonderful week!

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