This entry has been a long time coming. Many times, I’ve sat at my computer, trying to figure out where to begin, what to say, how to write this one. I want to write something about home canning. i want to talk about how much I enjoy it, and why I think it is a great choice for our family. I do not, however, want to be so bold as to present myself as any kind of authority on the subject. I am a novice. Still learning the ropes, still not entirely sure I’m doing it right, and just hoping against hope that I don’t inadvertently poison my family. I mean, on the one hand, I remind myself, people have been doing this for generations ~ and there have continued to BE generations, so that’s a good sign, right? On the other hand, I keep reading all of these scary warnings about how careful you have to be to do it all just right. Doing everything just right is not my specialty. I excel at doing things so they are “good enough,” “not so bad from a distance” or “eh…it’ll have to do.” But “just right?” Ha. Yeah. THAT’S gonna happen.
For this reason, I don’t entirely trust myself. So, I have found a couple of helpful sources I DO trust, and I rely heavily on them. One is the Ball Blue Book guide to preserving. Seriously, if you plan to give canning your own foods a shot, buy this book. Refer to it often. Do what it says. It offers helpful information, step-by-step instructions, loads of recipes and lots of illustrations to help you through the process. Another source on which I rely rather heavily is the National Center for Food Preservation: http://nchfp.uga.edu/index.html On this website, you can find the answers to a lot of questions you might have about home canning, as well as instructions for canning and other methods of food preservation. I also highly recommend you thoroughly read the manual that came with your canner. read it more than once. Then, read it again. I still reread mine every time I use it.
While we’re on that subject, let’s talk a little bit about equipment. When I first decided to start canning, I ran out and bought a boiling water canner, thinking that was all I would need. A boiling water canner works very well for high acid foods, but, if you want to can lower acid foods ~ vegetables, beans and soups, for instance ~ you are going to need a pressure canner. I have both, now, and I do not regret that decision. However, my pressure canner can be used as a boiling water canner, so, if I had known then what I know now, I might have bought just the pressure canner, and saved myself a little money.
Acquiring all of the equipment you need to get started will require an initial investment. I recommend you shop around online to see if you can find a good deal. To get started, you will need whichever style of canner you choose, some canning jars with lids (you can buy these in cases of 1-dozen, in a variety of sizes ~ quart, pint & half-pint seem to be most popular), a jar lifter, jar funnel, magnetic lid-lifter thingy (for getting lids out of hot water without burning yourself) and one of those flat spatula-type things, to measure headspace and remove air bubbles. I bought mine in a set, like this: http://www.amazon.com/Ball-Utensil-Set-Colors-Vary/dp/B001NNJ42I (in fact, that’s exactly the set I got ~ hopefully, seeing it will make my descriptions a bit more clear, since I was super careful to use all those highly technical terms in describing them). You will probably also want to buy labels, so you can tell what’s in all of your jars. Dissolvable labels are great, because you want to be able to use your jars over and over, and removing sticky labels is more work than it’s worth, in my opinion ~ especially if there is a simple alternative.
I shopped around a lot before I bought my equipment, and I found that Walmart has pretty good prices on canning equipment. In fact, so far, I can get my jars cheaper there than anywhere else I have tried. I like to buy different styles of jars. I just think they look pretty. I have wide-mouth jars for chunky sauces and beans, regular jars for soups and smooth sauces, and cute little quilted half-pint jars for preserves and jams. You can choose to buy whatever is cheapest in the size you like, as long as they are good quality, mason-type jars with two part (lid and ring) lids, specifically intended for canning. It’s important that you use jars intended for canning, and that you use a new lid each time, to ensure a proper seal. However, you can reuse your jars and rings, as long as they remain in good condition.
I’m not going to walk you through all of the steps of canning here, because the sources to which I referred you can do that. I will say this: If you have ever wanted to give it a try, do. Why? Well, here are the best reasons I can think of, off the top of my head:
1. You know exactly what you are eating, because you made it.
2. You will feel so accomplished when you open your cupboards and they are stocked with beautiful jars of food that you prepared and canned.
3. By canning your own foods, you will save on the amount of waste that goes into landfills and energy that is consumed in the collection and processing of recyclable materials when you buy canned goods, as well as the fuel it takes to transport those goods to and from the stores from which you purchase them.
5. You can save yourself money by shopping for vegetables and fruits in season, looking for the best deals at your local stores, buying in bulk and/or growing your own.
Not sure you can handle it? Trust me, if you can read and follow directions, you can do this. Will it take some time to figure it all out and start feeling confident about it? Sure. Will you be glad you did it? I think so. I know that, when I open my cupboard and see this:
I feel pretty good.
I did that.
And, if I can, you can, too.