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Home Canning 101 – Recipes, Supplies, Jars & Equipment

By Heather Levin

home canning jarLast summer, I fell in madly love with home canning. I made raspberry jam, pickled dilly beans, peach jam, homemade dill pickles, watermelon rind pickles, and more. I spent my summer afternoons sweating over a boiling stove, and I truly loved every minute of it.

Just this morning I cracked open a jar of strawberry jam, and it was like being back in June all over again.

Why Bother with Home Canning?

Home canning is the process of preserving fresh food yourself. Home canning is what allowed people to eat fruits and vegetables during the lean winter months hundreds of years ago.

Essentially, canning is the process of preserving food by first sterilizing it (using extremely hot water or high pressure), and then sealing it in an air-tight container. The food then stays edible for one to five years. With home canning, however, it’s usually one year.

Benefits of Home Canning

There are many important benefits to home canning. First, canning is a wonderful do it yourself life skill because it forces you to appreciate the food you’re eating. When you know how to prepare and preserve your own food, and you understand all the work that goes into it, you slow down. It’s not just jam; it’s jam made from strawberries you grew in your own home garden. They are strawberries that you washed, cooked, and canned yourself. That feels pretty darn good.

Home canning saves money, especially when you grow your own produce. After all, I haven’t bought jam or pickled vegetables since I started canning. Now I simply make my own! This helps offset my grocery bill, especially during the winter months. How much can you save? Well, Burpee Seed Company estimates that for every $50 spent on seed and fertilizer, a family can yield $1,250 worth of produce. Canning the extra you grow helps you save even more.

And the best part? Home canned food is much tastier and more nutritious than anything you can buy in a store. Canning food yourself means you avoid the salt and preservatives that many brands pump into their canned food. That’s a major benefit!

Canning Supplies You’ll Need

Although canning is relatively cheap to do, it does require some investment up front. And what you buy depends on the canning method you want to use.

There are two methods for home canning: boiling water bath canning (also called water baths), and pressure canning. I’ll discuss each method in more detail below.

In short, boiling water canning is the method most people use when they get into canning (I did). Essentially, boiling water canning is used for high-acid foods such as fruit, jams, and pickled vegetables.

For the boiling water method, you’ll need:

  • 21 qt. canning pot
  • Ball canning jars
  • Jar lifters
  • Funnel
  • Metallic lid lifting tool
  • Powdered or liquid pectin

For the other method, pressure canning, you’ll need a quality pressure canner (which usually costs $100 or more new) in addition to the basic supplies listed above for the boiling water method.

Home Canning Strategies

1. Water Baths

The boiling water method for canning works best for making jams, jellies and pickled vegetables. This is the easiest method to get into canning.

Here’s how the boiling water method works: you fill a gigantic pot with water, gently set your canning jars inside and set it to boil. You then prepare the fruit or vegetable you’ll be canning; this involves thoroughly cleaning the food, and then boiling it in a pot adding sugar or pectin.

Once the jars are in boiling you take them out of the boiling water and quickly ladle your food inside. You then put on the lids and set them back inside the boiling water for another ten minutes.

This process kills the bacteria on the jars, and in the food, so it can safely be stored for a year.

2. Pressure Canners

Pressure canning uses steam and pressure to preserve low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood, as well as various soups and stews. These foods require a temperature of 240 degrees in order to be canned safely. Pressure canning is required for these foods since the boiling water method can’t get this hot.

On this note, remember that canning low-acid foods using the traditional boiling water canning method instead of pressurization greatly increases the chances for food-borne botulism which can be fatal. So, don’t do it!

I haven’t gotten into pressure canning yet, mainly because I haven’t invested in a pressure canner. But this is my next step. The reason why most beginners don’t start off with pressure canning is because it’s more complex, and it often makes people nervous because they have more to pay attention to.

For instance, if you allow the pressure to fall during the canning process, and you don’t bring it back up where it needs to be, you run the risk of allowing dangerous bacteria into the jars, spoiling not only the food but you. Or, if you live at a higher altitude you have to adjust the pressure based on how many thousands of feet you are above sea level.

Pressure canning is also a bit more dangerous; if your pressure canner is old, you run the risk of explosion or burns from the steam.

For a beginner, this is usually just too much to think about! So usually people start with the boiling water method. Once they get comfortable with this technique, they usually move on to pressure canning. Now that I have some experience with canning under my belt, I’m moving on to pressure canning this year. I want to enjoy canned green beans, corn and tomatoes in addition to all my jam and pickled veggies!

I’d recommend starting with easy recipes using the water bath method. This way you keep your investment low, and you can make sure you actually like canning before you go further. If you catch the bug like me, you can invest in a pressure canner.

Saving Money on Supplies

One great thing about canning is that not a lot of people do it. This means that you can often go into thrift stores and find what you need. For instance, I was in my local thrift store recently and saw a home canning pot just like the one pictured for $8.

During summer, however, you’ll be hard pressed to find canning supplies at the thrift store. They’ll be snatched up. So it’s best to shop for used canning supplies during the winter and early spring.

You can also often find canning jars for 25 cents at a thrift store or garage sale. It’s much cheaper to buy these used – so when you see one, pick it up.

Important Note: If you buy used jars, make sure that there are no cracks or chips in the glass. Any jars that are less than perfect will let in bacteria, which will spoil your food or, even worse, give you food poisoning or botulism, which is a fatal, food-borne illness. Home canning is not an activity where you can cut corners or disregard the rules. Not to be a Stickly Stickerson, but really, you can die if you don’t do it right. Make sure there are zero chips or cracks in the glass.

My Favorite Home Canning Recipes

I’d highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving. This is the bible of home canning, and it taught me how to get started.

Here are some of my favorite canning recipes, all of which use the boiling water method:

1. Habanero Jam

I made this recipe for habanero jam over the summer, and it was amazing. The best part? It’s based on dried apricots and habanero chili peppers, both of which you can easily get any time of year. This makes for a wonderful jam during the winter months, and it serves as a wonderful holiday gift (if you can bear to part with it!).

The jam is incredible when paired with a hard cheese or pears. I made a ton of this stuff and it disappeared almost immdeiately; that’s how good it was. And I didn’t even give any away for gifts (yes, I hoarded it). The picture at the start of this post is what the Habanero Jam looks like.

Ingredients (makes about three 8 oz. jars)

  • 1/3 cup finely sliced dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped seeded red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped seeded habanero peppers
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin

Directions

  1. In a large, deep stainless steel saucepan, combine apricots and vinegar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least four hours, or overnight.
  2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  3. Add red onion, red pepper and habanero peppers to apricots. Stir in sugar. Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Stir in pectin. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for one minute. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.
  4. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
  5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove jars, cool and store.

Other Tips

  1. I used plastic gloves when I chopped and touched the habanero peppers. They’re extraordinarily hot, and you definitely don’t want it to touch your skin or eyes.
  2. To get an even distribution of peppers throughout the jar (like you can see in the picture), you need to gently tip the jars right after the lids have popped (which indicates a solid seal). And when I say gently, I mean it! Shaking the jar will disrupt the gelling process and ruin the jelly. So, tilt them right after it pops. Of course, you can always stir up the jelly once it’s opened, but this well help make the jar of jelly prettier before it’s opened.

2. Raspberry Wine Jelly

Raspberry wine jelly was another summer jam that I made and loved, but you can easily make it during fall and winter using frozen raspberries. The flavor is really interesting, and it is 100% divine when spread on an English Muffin with cream cheese. Really, this jam will turn your everyday breakfast into a subtle, sophisticated affair.

Ingredients (makes about six 4-ounce jars)

  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 2 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin

Directions

  1. In a large stainless steel saucepan or bowl, combine berries and wine. Crush berries and transfer them to a dampened jelly bag or a strainer lined with several layers of dampened cheesecloth set over a deep bowl. Let drip, undisturbed, for one hour. Measure 2 1/2 cups of berry wine.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.
  3. Transfer berry wine to a large, deep stainless steel saucepan. Stir in sugar. Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Stir in pectin. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.
  4. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
  5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove jars, cool and store.

3. Spiced Honey

This is a recipe that I’ll be making in the next week. It uses lemons, honey, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Again, this is another jam recipe that works year round. Yum!

Ingredients (makes around three 8-ounce jars)

  • 1 lemon, end pieces removed and cut into 6 even slices
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (each around 4 inches long)
  • 2 2/3 cup liquid honey

Directions

  1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  2. Stud the peel of each lemon slice with 2 cloves. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine lemon slices, cinnamon sticks and honey. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil gently for 2 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove lemon slices to hot jars, place 2 in each jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle hot honey into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistence is met, and then increase to fingertip tight.
  4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove  canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

4. Maple-Walnut Syrup

This is a great all-year canning recipe  that pairs maple syrup, sugar, and walnuts. I can only imagine how good this would be on Valentine’s Day pancakes.

Pro Tip: For this recipe, pick up a jar of maple syrup in your local farmer’s market. It’s MUCH cheaper than the grocery store, and much tastier as well!

Ingredients (makes about four 8-ounce jars)

  • 1 1/2 cups corn syrup
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups walnut pieces

Directions

  1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  2. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine corn syrup, maple syrup and water. Add sugar and heat over medium heat, stirring until dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring constantly, until syrup beings to thicken, about 15 minutes. Stir in walnuts and cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Ladle hot syrup into hot jars ,leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistence is met, and then increase to fingertip tight.
  4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove  canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Final Word

Canning  can seem like an intimidating hobby to get into, and I know a lot of people hesitate because they think they think they can’t do it. But canning truly isn’t that hard; I taught myself how to do it, and there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube to show you every stage of the process. You can even take a class! For a listing of canning classes, head over to the Ball Canning site; they have a comprehensive list organized by state.

Canning is more than worth the effort. It’s a great way to save money and ensure your family is eating healthier food. It will also give you an incredible sense of pride and satisfaction. Every time I hear those lids popping after a successful canning session I could just do cartwheels with pride and happiness. It’s amazing!

Do any of you can regularly? If so, what are you canning? I’d love some ideas!

If you’ve never canned before, do you think you’d like to try?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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Comments

  • http://firstgenamerican.com First Gen American

    This summer when berry season was in full swing, it was also extremely hot. I just couldn’t bear to make my jelly then. I waited until the fall instead and the heat from my canning baths was a welcome source of warmth. I think I’m going to freeze my berries from now on and can when it gets cooler. I think it’s much more pleasant that way.

    • Heather Levin

      That’s such a great idea! I made a ton of raspberry jam this summer and it was the same way…a sweltering experience. Freezing them to can in the fall or winter is brilliant. Thanks for writing in!

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