Would you believe I’ve never canned?
Oh, I’ve had intentions of canning. I have a decent-sized garden and I even bought a couple books about canning. But quite frankly, I was a little overwhelmed. So many steps, so many things I needed (or so I thought), so many warnings such as “follow instructions exactly or your food could be contaminated and you could DIE and everyone who eats your food could DIE.” (Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the gist.)
I had one more post I needed to fill in for this series and deep down I knew I needed a post on canning. After all, this whole series is called Adventures in Homesteading, is it not? So I put on my big girl pants (er, apron?) and got down to business. And I was delightfully surprised to find I’d made the thing way more complicated in my head than it ever turned out to be.
I dusted off the canning book I bought on Amazon last year:
(If you’re interested, the book currently retails for about $15 on Amazon).
Now this seemed particularly fortuitous, but Tacoma Boys just so happened to have Fuji apples on sale for $0.50/lb this week or $10 for a half bushel. I’ve never purchased apples by the half bushel, but it sure sounds like a good amount to can, doesn’t it?
As far as equipment goes, for some reason I had it in my head that I’d have to spend at least $100 on stuff to get set up. There again, I was so wrong!
Here’s what I discovered: there are high-acid foods (fruits, tomatoes) and low-acid foods (think meats, vegetables). The high-acid foods? They only need what’s called a boiling-water canner. This is basically just a large pot with a rack inside. In some instances, a pot you have at home could work. You would just want to make sure that about 3-4 inches of water could cover the tops of the jars. (The low-acid foods do need a pressure canner, but that’s another post for another day.)
I didn’t have a boiling-water canner, so I picked this one up for just $24.95 at Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you head to the store, note that you might not find it or other canning supplies on the shelf. Just ask, they should have some in the back (or phone your location ahead of time). Even better if you have a coupon of some sort – and I noticed on my way out the door that they take competitor’s coupons, too.
(If you wanted to go the online route, the same canner is about $20 now on Amazon).
I also picked up this Ball Canning Kit for $9.95. I wasn’t sure how essential these items were, but they were all mentioned in my canning book. Turns out, I used EVERY item in this kit today and I highly recommend it!
(If you wanted to go the online route, this kit is $12 on Amazon today)
The jars I ended up paying $12 for 12 quart-size at Fred Meyer. Also note that we are not in the prime of canning season (late summer/early fall), so it’s possible we’ll see better deals and even coupons for these in a few months here.
The first step was to prep my apples. I started by rinsing them out in a bath of cold water.
I then peeled, cored, and quartered them.
Threw them in a deep pot with just enough water to keep them from burning on the bottom (about 1/3 cup) and a healthy splash of lemon juice to prevent them from browning.
I brought to a boil and let them cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Next, I pureed them in small batches using my Vitamix. You could also mash them by hand or use a food processor.
From here, you want to keep the sauce hot while you prep your jars, lids, and rims. I decided to keep my sauce unsweetened as I intend to use a fair amount of it in dairy-free baking recipes. I figure I can always heat, sweeten, and season a batch as I desire. But you could certainly add sugar and cinnamon or whatever else you wish at this point.
Next, you’ll want to process your jars. Separate the jars, lids, and rims and wash in hot soapy water. You don’t need to worry about drying them.
Now you’re going to want to place the jars in the boiling-water canner, fill each jar about 2/3 full of water and bring the level of water up in the canner to match. Simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes, but don’t boil. This will ready the glass for the processing.
While that’s happening, take the lids (which are just the round parts, not the bands), and simmer them in saucepan of hot water over the stove too. Here again – you don’t need to boil them, but the idea is to have all your elements hot before processing.
Funnel your sauce into the jars leaving just 1/2 inch of space at the top (also known as head space). My canning kit came with a funnel, or you could pick one up inexpensively to use. I do recommend this!
In my canning kit I also found this fantastic magnetic lid grabber stick (I’m sure that’s the technical name). I used it to pick up a lid after each jar was finished.
From here, put the bands on, and place back in the boiling-water canner for processing. Cover with water. Do follow the instructions for your recipe as different items will require different amounts of time to process. Applesauce only takes 20 minutes of boiling and then you let it sit for 5 minutes before removing.
Now probably the tool that was THE most helpful in my canning kit was this jar grabber tool. I couldn’t imagine how I would’ve otherwise pulled glass jars out of a pot of boiling water! Recommend.
Now you just let them cool. Make sure to just let them sit with plenty of space between them. Remember they’ve just been through a lot, so be gentle. Don’t toss or roll them, place them in a freezer, let your two-year old play with them, or stand them upside down. Not only could these things damage the jars, they could prevent the lids from sealing properly, and that would be sad indeed.
The next morning, test the seal by pressing down on the lid with your finger. If it does not pop back up at you and you cannot lift the lid up, congratulations! You successfully canned!
According to my books, you can safely store home canned food for up to one year. Your jars of yum will be best stored in a cool, dark place.
I know that this is a really long post, so I thought I’d sum up just a few key points for anyone wanting to can something for the first time:
- Read the instructions first. As in ALL of them. While canning is easy, there are a few steps and nothing should be omitted for safety’s sake.
- Give yourself plenty of time. The day you have several errands to run plus soccer practice and ballet is probably not the best day to can. I’m sure this will not take so much time in the future, but this project took me about three hours from start to finish.
- Make sure you have everything you need first. Gather all the supplies, equipment, and food you’ll need ahead of time so you don’t run into unexpected uh-ohs.
- Give it a try! Don’t be intimidated by canning. I promise, you CAN do it! I’m so proud of myself for doing this and I can’t wait for my next canning project!
Now I’m a bit bummed but I’d spend extra time and effort making a short video of my process yesterday, but my FlipCamera is erroring out and I have no idea what’s going on. If I can figure it out, I’ll make sure to come back and share it with you….wish me luck.
EDITED TO ADD: fixed the video! Enjoy!
For more resources, I recommend Ball’s website. I also adore the blog Food in Jars for stunning recipes and practical help.
Missed a post in this series? Head to my Adventures in Homesteading page to catch up!