I CAN do it : Learning how to preserve foods

I’ve been wanting to learn how to can food for at least a couple of years now. I’ve done the freezing thing with veggies, soups, casseroles and spaghetti sauce, but I feel like my options are limited with freezing and it’s time to branch out. Oh, what I would give for a jar of delicious strawberry jam, made fresh at home, which is where, of course, canning comes in.

Mason jarsAbout two years ago some of my friends organized a “learn how to can” get together. We made grape jelly and each got to take a jar of it home. (Yum!) It was fun, but I really didn’t pay that close attention to the whole canning process (sorry, Nicole and Julie), and thus haven’t attempted it on my own yet knowing I still need to learn more about it.

I’d actually hoped I might get a one-on-one canning tutorial from my mom during our vacation to MI, but the blueberry farm that we hoped to visit didn’t open until the day we flew back home. Bugger.

A few months ago I started saving Mason jars from our spaghetti sauce, as well as jars from jam and other foods determined that this would be the year I would start canning. I have accumulated a pretty good collection of jars, but I still haven’t canned a thing. However, all of that is going to change this weekend!

strawberries.jpgWhile the organic strawberries I have growing in my little garden are great, or so I’m led to believe (my kids gobble them up just as soon as I pick them), I only had four plants to start out with this year and they aren’t nearly prolific enough yet. So when my friend Melissa said she and her family were planning on going to Berry Patch Farms to pick organic strawberries this weekend and wanted to know if anyone wanted to join them, I was chomping at the bit. I had hoped to visit that farm earlier in the season, but then a bad hail storm apparently wiped out their early crop. So now the plans have been made. The kids, Jody and I will be picking a slew of strawberries and I’m bound and determined to make them into jam. Lots of jam. (Oh, and they have raspberries and peaches too. Whee!)

Today or tomorrow I’m heading over to Ace Hardware where my canning goddess friend assures me they will have “everything I need” to get started. 🙂 Then, in preparation, I’ll be reading my new Ball Blue Book and about making jam.

I’m so excited! I hope the strawberry patch is full and ready for us Saturday morning (oh, and that I can get myself and my family out of the house at a decent time – that will be the real trick!). I’ll be sure to report back how the experience goes.

Have you done any canning? What are your favorite things to can? Have any tips for a newbie like me?

30 thoughts on “I CAN do it : Learning how to preserve foods”

  1. I wish I had the desire to can, but I just don’t. I think it is a great skill to have though. I’d rather just pay the extra $$$ for good jam and be done with it.

    We don’t eat a lot of jam, so it doesn’t seem worth the effort. When we go to MI, we usually buy a few jars of local jam there, that lasts us the year. It is really good, so I can imagine how good jam you make yourself must taste.

    But, I may be changing my tune soon. Hopefully if I can plant a giant garden next year, I will want to can some pickles and other goodies. So I will be eager to hear how it goes. 🙂

    Good luck!

  2. I don’t have a garden or even a place to put it but I would love to be able to make my own pasta sauce. I am waiting for my new fridge (any day now) to see how much room I will have to do the freezer method but until then I will stock up at my Farmer’s market with jams and jellies so I can have the jars.

  3. I am a newbie canner as well, so far just freezer jam and a bit of salsa and pasta sauce at the end of last year’s growing season. I hear the blue ball book is THE way to go, I can’t wait to hear how an update on how things go for you! Your family should have a ball picking berries. 🙂

  4. I started canning a few months ago and absolutely love it. I’ve done a dozen batches of different kinds of jams, pasta sauce, tomaotes, and several batches of veggie soup. I’m completely hooked!

    Although I save my jars from peanut butter and all, I would never use those to can. Stick with the ball/mason jars. You might scope out Craigslist, Goodwill, or some garage sales for cheaper than new jars.

    Most of all, have a blast! You’ll be a pro before you know it. I can’t believe I was nervous about it. Now I can whip something up, no problem. 🙂

  5. I love canning! Just be careful with used jars, especially if they are from store-bought sauces and jams – it can be hard to find the right fitting lid for these jars.

    Good luck!

  6. Happy canning!!! For years I wanted to learn to can and a couple of years ago I learned and I never turned back…beware, canning is addictive and it is sooo self-rewarding. To look at a pile of jars and say, “I made it ALL!” is great. I can’t wait to hear all about your canning. Make sure you use jars with the two-part lids (with new centers that have never been used before!!!) to can. That way they will seal and prevent air from entering the jar.

  7. I have only canned a few times but have enjoyed it. In the past I have done applesauce and just this week I did sliced peaches for the first time. We were given a huge bag from a friend so I said it was worth giving it a try. I have only done boiling water canning, but so far so good! We also don’t have a garden so I just buy stuff when it’s in season or do apple/strawberry/peach picking.

    You’ll probably want to at least get a nice pair of tongs specifically for canning so you can pull the cans in and out of the water. Other than that I just use my big stock pot. It doesn’t hold a lot but I haven’t taken the plunge of buying a bigger pot for the task yet.

    I agree about buying new ball/mason jars from the hardware or grocery store. You can reuse those from year to year by buying new lids for them pretty cheaply.

    Good luck!

  8. I do love canning!!! I’m still new at this but I love dill pickles, pickles onion, tomatoes, mustard pickles, bread and butter pickles, beets, fruits etc….

    I find that the Fanny farmers cookbook is an excellent tool for people who wants to learn cause it;s clean and easy!


    boiling your jars with everything in and lid on not too tight is the best way to sealed them!!!!

    I have some recipe on my blog if ever you want to try some


  9. I have more freezer space than pantry space, so I mostly freeze stuff. I make enough tomato sauce to last through the winter, and jam (with my bread machine!) from strawberries and it’s better than anything I ever bought in a store. I also slice ancf blanch a lot of veggies and freeze them in freezer bags.

    Sadly, it hasn’t been hot enough here this summer for good tomatoes!

  10. As a former fall fair canning convenor as well as canning judge and long time home canner I really must warn you about reusing commercial jars. The glass used in ‘spaghetti sauce’, ‘mayo’, and other from the store jars cannot be safely used to can. The glass is thinner and more likely to crack or burst in the canner.

    If the cost of new proper canning jars seems prohibitive please look at buying them used. Check with relatives and friends too. Let it be known you are in the market for them and you will be surprised. Many ladies whose families are getting smaller are cutting back on their canning and have jars they’d love to pass on to new canners.

    There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment seeing those shelves of full jars. Welcome to the club!

  11. Sounds like fun! My grandma used to can everything and I’ve often wondered about canning too. Be sure to take lots of pictures of your canning process. 🙂

  12. Funny…I just emailed said Canning Goddess with a canning question a few minutes ago. Maybe she’d be willing to do a class or something (hint hint). 🙂 I just started canning too (really, like, as of two days ago) so I have no advice. Good luck!

  13. Use pectin the first time around, because there’s nothing more discouraging than a jam that doesn’t set. Unless, of course, you use it to make strawberry sundaes!

    You don’t need to buy a new pot to sanitize the jars and process them if you already have a big pot. If you put a wire rack (like you use to cool cookies) in the bottom of it, you’ve got a water bath canner, no problem. You definately want to get a jar lifter, you could use tongs but it’s dangerous if you drop something!

    And be brave! It can be scary for you to can, and I’d keep the kids away from the boiling water and bubbling jam until you know what you’re doing. And don’t walk away from boiling jam! Any time you need to walk away is the precise time that it will boil over.

    Good luck!

  14. Good luck!
    I’d love to try my hand at canning. When I was a child we had a grape arbor in our yard and my mother and grandmother used to make homemade grape jelly that I adored. I hope to have an arbor someday also and can all sorts of jams and jellies when my kids are a touch older and I have more time. (ha!)
    I love making my own sauce and freezing it though. Baby steps.

  15. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences. I tried making freezer jam this year and it turned out more like a sauce, so I’m definitely planning to try canning next year. My kitchen is so small, though, that I might have to bribe a friend with some of the final product for use of her kitchen. 🙂

  16. My favorite things to can: peaches and nectarines! Although freezing is definitely a little easier, I think the taste is much better with canning. Spiced peaches (with cloves and cinnamon sticks) are amazing in the winter time- my grandmother always served them with cottage cheese. The smell of them alone is heavenly!

  17. I’ve made plum jam, fig jam, chutneys and pickles, preserved lemons, fejoas, plums and peaches.

    One good thing to have on hand is a spoon or heat proof jug that you can scoop out the mixture into the jars.

    I re-use commercial jam jars with no problem, but then I don’t seal them using the water bath method so they don’t risk busting. Never had an issue with stuff going off yet.

  18. I too have been desperately wanting to learn how to can. Of recent, time has been my enemy! Can’t wait to read about your canning adventure. Please post tips for wanna-bes like me! 🙂

  19. thanks for all of the tips, suggestions, info and cheers. i do have some ball mason jars (and may buy some more) so i will start with those. i certainly don’t want to risk having any jars shatter on me or anything like that! eep!
    i’m a little nervous, but hopefully it will all turn out just fine. 🙂

    crunchy domestic goddess

  20. Here’s a tip nobody mentioned for canning jam:
    You don’t need to hot water bath it for the jars to seal. Follow all the directions up to the point where you put the lids and rings on the full jars. Screw the rings on, and flip the jars upside down for about five minutes. Invert the jars after the five minutes (or ten, or when you remember), and they should seal immediately. I’ve been making jams that way for years, and have never had a problem with seals.

  21. Amy, I’m so glad to see a link to a strawberry farm! I didn’t think that there were any in the state! It will be a little hike for us, but I think we’ll try to make it up there sometime.

    I think there is something very rewarding about canning. And it isn’t nearly as difficult as some think. My only advice is on freezing strawberries. If you do, don’t wash them. Just slice off the tops. Washing them adds water and causes freezer burn.

  22. I highly recommend the book “Preserving the Harvest” – it is certainly my favorite! It is a Storey Publishing book and probably available on Amazon.com. It is very easy to read and understand and gives step my step instructions and little tips that you’d never think of. Good luck!

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