One of my goals this year was to turn my gardening hobby into something more. While it’s definitely fun to grow your own edibles, it’s even more fun to find ways to store those edibles to last you well past summer.
Last year, I bought a couple canning books on Amazon with good intentions, but was quickly overwhelmed and intimidated by all the steps and warnings. Maybe canning just wasn’t for me, I thought, so I tucked the books in the back of my cookbook shelf. In the spring, I ran a series called Adventures in Homesteading and I decided I simply could not run the series without a post on canning. It was time to get over my fears. Not only have I conquered my fear of canning this year, I’ve found I enjoy it. REALLY enjoy it.
Today I wanted to share with you what some of my misconceptions of canning were in hopes that if you’ve been on the fence, you’ll get off and join me!
Misconception #1: It’s too Expensive to Get Started.
I had this notion in my head that canning equipment was really, really expensive. The truth is, some canning equipment may be expensive, but what you need to get started is surprisingly inexpensive!
If you plan on canning items like jams, jellies, and fruits (think high acid products), a boiling-water canner like the one pictured above is suitable. I paid about $20 for mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond. If you already have a big pot like this? Great! All you need is a metal rack you can insert into the pot. (Here’s one on Amazon for about $13.)
I did buy the above utensil kit for about $10 as well, and am glad I did. I regularly use each of the four items included: a jar lifter, spatula for removing air bubbles, magnetic lid lifter and funnel. You could perhaps make due with similar items you already have in your kitchen or home.
All told, I spent about $30 on my canning equipment! Now there are ways you can save on the pressure canners, too, which are necessary for canning low-acid foods such as beans, corn, and meat. Fred Meyer, for instance, has these on clearance right now for 50%, plus you can use extra bonus coupons they have in their ad. This is a good time to watch for additional clearance sales as many stores are looking to move out canning supplies to make way for holiday displays.
As far as jars go, you will end up spending a bit more if you buy new, but you can also look for used jars on sites such as Craiglist or at garage sales and just buy the lids (which are just a couple bucks at the grocery store – and NOTE, you CANNOT reuse lids, so you will need these). I started small, just buying a case of quart-sized and a case of pint-sized jars. This is another way you can help watch your costs. (Refer to my post on Saving on Canning Supplies & Jars for more thoughts on this topic.)
If you’re not sure canning is for you? Chances are you have a friend or family member who has a boiling-water canner you could borrow and give it a try!
Misconception #2: Canning is too tricky
The truth is if you can follow a recipe, you can can!
It’s important to follow each of the steps in a trusty recipe (such as found in this Ball Book of Preserving) to the “t.” However, none of the steps are that tricky. It’s just making sure to do each of them! I’ve found I like to read a recipe, then read it a second time, then start.
The first few times it took me awhile to work through each step, but after you’ve gotten used to the process of prepping your canner and jars and you know how to heat the lids and remove the air bubbles, you’ll find these extra steps to the recipe aren’t very difficult or time consuming.
Misconception #3: Canning is only for people with very large gardens
Another idea I had is that canning was really only for people who had acres and acres of stuff growing or orchards of fruit trees. Guess what? Here again I was wrong!
Canning is an excellent way to preserve produce that may be found at a good sale at the store. Here are some $1 pineapples I canned a couple weeks ago:
I also canned plenty of blackberry jam from FREE wild blackberries I found in my neighborhood over the summer!
I was also surprised that my ONE garden tomato plant made up a batch of 5 quarts of tomatoes recently, too!
Cooking in small batches like this has helped me get the hang of the process involved. There’s no need to start by buying 200 pounds of tomatoes or 12 boxes of apples. Starting small has also helped me determine what we’ll actually use and like to eat – a good thing before you make tons of pear sauce only to discover no one likes it.
Misconception #4: Canning will take a lot of time
Sure, it could take a lot of time! But I’ve preferred to work in small batches (as mentioned above) on simple recipes that I can easily accomplish in the space of an evening or Saturday morning.
Canning tomatoes probably took me about a couple hours, and about the same for most of my jams. A good portion of this time was spent processing the jars in the water bath, too.
I do think it would be fun once I’ve really got this down to spend a weekend with girlfriends canning quarts and quarts of good food, but for right now, I really just enjoy spending a couple hours here and there on a single recipe. It does not have to be a huge time zapper.
Misconception #5: Canning doesn’t offer much benefit over buying at the store
From a cost standpoint, you could probably save money by buying cans of veggies and fruits in the store on sale and with coupons. But what took me completely by surprise?
The pride I feel when I look at all the lovely food I’ve canned this year! My husband got this awesome sturdy, storage unit for FREE recently and let me use it out in the garage to keep some of my stockpile. I decided it would be perfect to store (and display!) my canned food as well as keep some of my produce cold. (I keep my garden-grown onions out in a box on top, too.)
I love knowing the quality of the produce that’s in these jars. See those tomatoes? I bought that plant, cared for it all summer, didn’t use any chemicals, let the tomatoes ripen on the vine, and canned them within hours of being picked. I don’t have to worry about BPA, either, which I know is a growing concern for some. There’s value to that.
If you’re looking to get started? Here are a few items I’d recommend (please note these are Amazon links and prices & selection there may change at any time):
- Ball Book of Preserving (about $12 now on Amazon)
- Granite Ware Boiling-Water Canner (about $18 now on Amazon)
- Ball Utensil Set (about $11 now on Amazon)
And here are a few related posts you might want to read:
- Canning applesauce
- Canning tomatoes
- Canning kiwi jam & ambrosia
- Saving on canning supplies
- Wild blackberry picking & preserving
- Reflecting on the harvest
- How to grow garlic
I’d love to hear your thoughts whether you’re an old pro at canning or a newbie like myself! What excites you about canning your own food? Or, do you think this activity is not worth the time and effort involved? Sound off.