When I was growing up, June, July, and August always included snapping beans and the sound of the pressure canner buzzing in the kitchen. Sometimes daily! My dad would harvest green beans or corn first thing in the morning and then wake us kids up to “snap beans” or “shuck corn” sometimes for hours at the peak of harvest! Then he and/or Mom would prepare, cut, and can the beans. Then we started over the next day and did it all again.
If Mom and Dad weren’t canning beans, they were canning blackberry or raspberry jelly, freezing corn, or making strawberry freezer jam, or applesauce from Dad’s apple trees. Gardening, canning, and preserving food was and is their way of life. And we surely benefitted! During the fall and winter months, our family of seven would go through quart after quart of green beans and bag after bag of frozen corn. It was a huge blessing to Mom’s grocery budget and a whole lot of hard work on my parents’ part.
I recently went home during the hot month of July with my kids and they were actually excited to help shuck corn! This makes me laugh. But it was the first corn of the season, and oh my was it good. And you know what? My dad worked hard all day on a particularly big corn harvest while we were there and sent me home with twenty bags of frozen corn for my family. It’s an amazing gift we cherish year after year.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to get started canning food. I had not really paid attention to the actual process of canning when I lived at home (as soon as the beans were snapped I buried myself in a good book and disappeared). But now, it has suddenly become important that I know how. Just for my own personal satisfaction. I started looking for a good price on a canner and jars. It took a few years, but over time I have gathered a few dozen jars, a pressure canner and water bath canner, lids and rings, and the other supplies necessary to safely can food. But I still didn’t do anything.
Last year, my kids and I picked a whole bunch of apples. Grandma helped the kids make some apple pies but there was just no way we were eating all those apples. And I had on my mind to make applesauce and get it canned. So we did! With Grandma’s help and direction, the kids and I peeled and chopped and cooked and seasoned and ended up with eight quart jars or so of canned applesauce. It wasn’t much, but we sure enjoyed that applesauce for as long as we could! Something about the process of working together to make the food made it oh so much more special.
I’ve talked to friends about canning food, and the truth is we are all scared of it. What if a jar breaks in the canner? What if it doesn’t seal? What if we get botulism? What if a whole batch doesn’t seal and we have three days to eat 8 quarts of green beans? And there is some risk, which is why a good book about canning and high-quality supplies are a must. I recommend reading the book’s instructions through carefully a few times to make sure you know what to expect before you begin your first canning project. Of course, I also recommend doing your first few canning sessions with someone who has had experience.
A fun place to start is by making jelly or jam. Pick your favorite fruit, find a jam or jelly recipe (Sure-Jell has recipes right on the box) and give it a try. You need some half-pint glass jars and tongs that will allow you to grab hot jars out of boiling water. Preferably, you will need to use a water bath canner with an insert to keep the jars from rattling around. Follow the recipes and directions and you’ll do fine. Jelly jars will seal after they are canned. Any jars that don’t seal properly should go in the fridge and be used right away.
A good “second” project is basic vegetable canning. Canning green beans is very simple and you can use the beans throughout the year in any dishes where you would have used store-bought canned beans. Clean, cut, and blanch your green beans to get them ready for canning. Then follow canning instructions to make sure you cook them long enough and get them to a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria and create a good seal. As with any type of canned good you should store jars that didn’t completely seal in the fridge and use them within the next couple of days.
A great third project is pickles. If you have a bunch of cucumbers growing in the garden, or want to try your hand at some sort of other pickled vegetable (like cauliflower, peppers, or okra for example), give a recipe for canned pickles a try. The vinegar solution already does a great job preserving the food. Canning adds even more time to this method of preservation.
Stay away from canning meats or high acid produce like tomatoes in the beginning of your canning career. Those can be a little trickier to can successfully. Get a few batches of canning under your belt, and invest in some good canning gear (including thermometers and proper canning pots), before giving these types of canned goods a try.