The Gentle Art of Canning Food

Every wonder about canning food?

Summer is coming to an end, and everyone's thoughts automatically turn to . . . . canning.  Well, they do, don't they?

Facetiousness aside, many people have been asking me what to do with their leftover produce, or in other words, how to go about canning food so you get those delicious summer flavors to burst in your mouth during the long, cold and dreary winter months?

To be honest, I had no idea. I love to cook, especially outdoors - at home or when out camping. But my kind of cooking has to do with roughing it in the outdoors - nothing to do with food canning or preserving. On the other hand, come to think of it, a great little jar of homemade preserves can make all the difference to a meal in the wilderness - or even your backyard for that matter.

Long story short, people were asking, so I decided to get the answer. Research wasn't too difficult - a short visit to my Mom paid dividends. She's a renowned conserver of international caliber, and in a short while after she taught me all about food canning I had everything down straight.

So, no need for huge quantities - I know you're busy. But if you'd like to reward your family with anything from traditional raspberry jam to jazzed-up jalapeno mint jelly, you'll find everything is simple - and in your reach. Just read on, and soon you'll be canning food and preserving like a pro.

A history lesson on food canning and preserving foods

Some basic history to start: Home-canning jars for canning food are commonly referred to as Ball or Mason jars. This is due to the fact that:

1) They were developed by American inventor John H. Mason back in the 1850s


2) The best known manufacturer of these home-canning jars was The Ball Corporation, which spun off its home-canning products division to Jarden Home Brands in the 1990s.

Nowadays, even the newest home-canning jars for canning food have the names "Ball" or "Mason" molded on them.

Is that more history than you care for? Well, I hope I didn't bore you too much, but I'm a bit of a history buff. Anyway, the home-canning process boils down to filling clean hot jars with food, and then boiling them to sterilize the contents. Sometimes, depending on what your preserving, you need to sterilize the jars before you use them. During the cooling-down process, the food shrinks and creates a vacuum that seals the lid to the jar.

Voila! There you have it - easy as pie.

The canning food preserving technique is really quite simple, and once you've got the hang of it, you'll find it's a breeze.

Clean and hot are the key words in this process. Both are necessary to prevent bacteria from forming, thereby allowing us to preserve the contents for long periods. This same process is used for all the different types of food you'll be wanting to preserve - jams, pickles, chutneys, fruits and relishes.

Here's the canning food method my mom uses. I've broken it down into 10 simple steps to make it easy.

Quick, easy and simple 10 STEP canning process

1 Before canning food, ensure your jars are sparkling clean. You can't be too careful here. Mom always washes them first by hand and then runs them through the dishwasher.
Once they're clean, the jars must usually be sterilized before use. Some recipes will require that you boil the jars for ten minutes or less, some for longer periods. Do not stray from the recipe. If you are going to be boiling your preserves for less than ten minutes, the jar must be sterilized first. You do this by placing them open and right side up in the sterilizing pot or canner you are using, filling it (and the jars) with hot but not quite boiling water to a level about one inch above the rims of the jars. With the lid closed, boil the jars for ten minutes, and then continue to simmer on low heat until you need them.

If your recipe calls for a longer boiling periods, the sterilization process is not necessary, as the boiling process is sufficient to do away with the bacteria.

Keep a pot or kettle of boiling water handy nearby. You may need extra water to top off the water in the canner, if required.
Wash and sterilize the canning jar lids, in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Leave the lids in the hot water until ready for use.
Prepare your recipe of choice for canning food, and when you're ready to can it, remove one of the jars from the canner, empty the water and place on your working surface. This should preferably be a wooden board or some other surface that is not cold, to prevent the jar form cracking due to the difference ion temperature.

Pack the food into the jar up to about one half inch from the top, ensuring that you keep the rim clean.
Stir the contents of the jar with the handle of a wooden baking spoon or other nonmetallic rod to remove any air bubbles from the jar. If this reduces the height of the food in the jar, add some more so the level remains at one half inch below the rim.

Wipe the jar's rim and screw-threads of any residue, and remove a lid from the hot water and place it on the top of the jar. Place a screw band over the lid and tighten it gently. Be sure not to make it extremely tight.
Unless stated otherwise in the recipe, return the jar to the simmering water in the canner, and repeat the filling process with the remainder of the jars.
Once you have filled all the jars, if necessary (and it probably will be) add boiling water from the kettle until you have covered the rims of the jars by one inch, and increase the heat to high.
When the water returns to a full rolling boil, adjust the heat so you maintain a gentle boil, and continue the process for the time specified in the recipes. No shortcuts here, please.

The water must continue boiling throughout the process. If it does not, you must return it to a boil and repeat the process for the full specified time, from the beginning. As this may cause a change in the flavor of the food, my mom recommends that you keep a watchful eye open.
Once you have completed the process, remove the jars from the canner and place on a dry board or other suitable surface. Allow the jars to cool for 24 hours. Do not touch the lids during this time, even if the bands are loose. Ignore any popping sounds caused by the vacuum sucking the lids down.

Check the seals at the end of the cooling down period. Remove the screw bands, and check each seal by pressing on the center of the lid. Properly sealed lids should be slightly concave. If the center pops down when you press it, it should be ok. If it pops back up, the seal is probably broken and the jar should be refrigerated for normal use.

You're done! Now, just label the jars with the content description and processing date, and store in a cool, dark place for future use.

You're now armed with enough knowledge to start canning foods. The only thing left is for you to get in the kitchen and start canning and preserving.