Say it with me: "Canning is fun. Canning is easy. Yes, I CAN!" For those of you who are new to canning or have never canned before, I wanted to share some canning tips I've found by trial and sometimes, error. I'm not going to run through the whole process, because the Pick Your Own website already does that, and I don't want to reinvent the wheel. So here we go...
1. Heat your jars gradually when you sterilize them and keep them hot until you're ready to pack them. This will avoid breakage. You can sterilize jars either by boiling them for 10 minutes or running them through the sterilize cycle in the dishwasher. With the dishwasher, you'll need to time it so you're ready to pack the food while it's on heated dry.
2. Wipe the rims before you place the lids on the jars in order to ensure a proper seal.
3. When packing tomatoes, use a spatula to gently push them down toward the bottom of the jar. You'll be able to pack more in that way.
4. When making jams and jellies, Pomona's Universal Pectin is more economical and requires less sugar than the Surejell, etc. It can be ordered online through Amazon or sometimes found in country stores. No, I don't mean Cracker Barrel. Most of that stuff was probably made in China.
5. I boil the rims, too, when I sterilize the jars, but the lids should not be boiled. I wash them and then place them in the hot water I've boiled the jars in. Leave the lids in the hot water for a few minutes; this will soften the sealant a bit.
6. I have packed fruit with the skins on (though I don't recommend that for peaches because of the texture) and without ascorbic acid. The fruit gets a bit discolored, but this doesn't bother me and I was in a hurry the first time I tried it and got tired of searching for ascorbic acid.
7. You know those packs they sell for around $8 that include a funnel, tongs, magnet, etc? Buy it. It's worth its weight in gold and you'll eventually recoup the cost because you won't be using as many bandaids to covers the burns you get from trying to fish lids out of hot water.
8. Be sure to check the altitude chart before you time how long the packed jars will be in the canner. Processing time increases with altitude.
9. Boiling water canning versus pressure canning: Pressure canning is a newer process that brings the temp of the food up to 220 degrees, I believe. The USDA claims it lessens the problem of botulism. Well, the USDA says a lot of things and is more paranoid than Howard Hughes. Boiling water canning is fine, and ironically, some things - such as jams, jellies, applebutter - cannot be pressure canned because the "food quality would be unacceptable." Huh. Go figure. I pressure can my quart jars because my canner is too small to use that size jar with the boiling water method, as there needs to be 1" of water above the top of the can. Seriously, either way is most likely going to be fine. The chances of getting sick from restaurant food are probably greater than getting sick from home cooked food. And I don't know about you, but I don't have an industrial kitchen. We've never gotten sick from anything I've made.
10. Plan out your canning session, and get some help the first time if possible. Like good theatre, it's all in the timing.
Be encouraged! Here are some photos of canning amidst the chaos...
My friend Jen scored some awesome tomatoes at a farmer's market and hooked me up with some. These are just a few of them because I forgot to take photos before I started canning!
Army of cans. The tomatoes on the front line are homeless at the moment. Behind are pears, pear butter, and pear jam. I'm not a pear fanatic, though I do like them. We just happen to have a couple prolific trees.
More pears and pear sauce. We're going to be peared out this winter.