All About Canning: Why you should can, what to can, and how to do it!

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So you’re interested in learning about canning, or you know about canning but just want to learn more about it…..

Then we have some great information for you!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a:

  • Farmer
  • Homesteader
  • Living Off the Grid Type
  • Everyday Gardener

Canning can be a fantastic tool for you to save your harvest.

Now if you’re a homesteader or especially someone living off the grid, canning is a MUST.

You will rely on your canned goods in the winter time, unless say you have a nice greenhouse to be able to grow vegetables all year round.

Importantly, no matter what way it goes you want to save all of those excess vegetables and fruits you got from harvest time so they’re not wasted.

Canned jelly surrounded by fresh peaches

But What is Canning?

Canning is the act or process of preserving cooked food by sealing them in jars or cans.

Yes, the definition is extremely simple, but in a nutshell that’s all you’re doing. You are preserving foods in jars for later use.

That’s exactly why you NEED to can!

Why waste perfectly good food that you worked so hard to grow, when instead you can SAVE that food for later use.

Why Should I Can?

If you’re able to sell or eat all of your harvest very quickly then you may not need to can.

Many people though end up with so much excess that they can’t get rid of in time.

Or on the other hand they know that they will need and rely on the excess for the winter months.

That is when canning comes in to play.

The benefit to it is, you are able to grow as many vegetables and fruits as you like and not have to worry about them being wasted.

Even if it’s just to save food for emergency use like a bad snow storm when you cannot get to a store. It would be the perfect time to have canned goods.

Canning may not be your thing. That is perfectly fine, but there are many that WILL absolutely rely on having canned goods to help them survive through the winter months.

How does it preserve your food though?

Jar full of cucumbers being turned into pickles through the canning process

How Canning Preserves Your Food

An important note to talk about is HOW the canning method preserves your food.

Fresh fruits and vegetables tend to go bad very fast because of their high water content.

Nature at its works basically.

The high water content makes them very prone to: microorganisms like bacterias, yeast and molds, moisture loss, reactions to oxygen, and food enzyme activity.

Food naturally cannot preserve itself.

When you are canning (and canning properly) there are multiple things that happen:

  • Hot packing many foods
  • Peeling some fresh foods
  • Processing jars in boiling water or pressure cookers
  • Adding acids to some foods
  • Using suggested jars and lids
  • Selecting good goods and washing them

Proper canning will help: remove oxygen from the jars, prevent growth from bad microorganisms like bacteria-yeast-mold, make a high vacuum seal, and destroy enzymes.

Safe canning is a MUST! Botulism is no fun and it is SUPER dangerous.

What Foods Can I Can?

The fantastic thing about this question is……you can can pretty much ANYTHING you grow in your garden!

Basically all fruits and vegetables can be canned.

Depending on the acidity of the food determines the main difference on what equipment you will need to can.

Here is a list of the foods that can be canned:

  • Fruits and Fruit Products
  • Tomatoes and Tomato Products
  • Nuts and Nut Products
  • Salsa
  • Vegetables and Vegetable Products
  • Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafood

Yes, even meats can be canned!

SO what is Needed for canning?

Wicker basket full of fresh vegetables

Equipment for Canning

As stated, depending on the acidity of the foods you are canning, will depend on whether you can use a normal canning system, or if you need to use a pressure cooker.

Normal Canning Equipment

Most of the fruits and vegetables can be canned normally. You will just need a simple canning system.

Buying as a set like this is helpful, or you can buy your items separately. It is totally up to you and what you prefer.

Pressure Cooker

For more acidic foods you will need a pressure cooker to properly can and seal them.

**Things like green tomatoes are actually extremely acidic compared to vine ripened tomatoes.

Some may feel safer using a pressure cooker period. That is completely fine. All that matters is that the food is properly canned.

There are guidelines and steps on how to do canning either way, even with tomatoes.

Canning Jars and Lids

Of course everyone knows about Ball Jars.

Ball jars, are the most well-known canning jars around. Personally I love them and that’s what I buy the brand, but there are other options as well such as Kerr. Kerr is basically the second most known canning jar today. Both are great options.

Metal tins can be used, but they can only be used ONCE. Glass jars can be used more than once which makes them necessarily a long term win.

New lids are sold on their own so that you can use the same jars again and again, but have a new lid so it seals properly for the next canning season.

Jar Sizes

Glass canning jars are available in different sizes:

  • 4 oz
  • 1/2 pint
  • Pint
  • 1 1/2 pint
  • Quart
  • Half Gallon

There are plenty on sizes to choose from. Typically the much smaller sizes such as the 4 oz or the 1/2 pint, are used for jams, jellies, and spreads.

It tends to be cheaper to buy them in bulk. You can buy them online, or watch out for sales.

Quart and Pint sizes are the most common used when canning vegetables.

Please DO NOT use Conventional ovens, Dishwashers, or Microwaves for canning purposes. They do not safely prevent all risks of spoilage.

Canned pickles and tomatoes

The Canning Process

Alright now time for the nitty gritty.

We’ve talked about WHY you should can, WHAT FOODS to can, and WHAT EQUIPMENT you need.

Now for the real deal…..HOW to can.

NOTE: If you are like me and you live at a HIGH altitude, our canning process is somewhat different. It more means we have to do a longer processing time since water boils faster at a high altitude.

General Information and Processing Notes

More processing time is also needed for raw foods, and quart sized jars. They need longer to process compared to hot packed foods or smaller jars.

Processing time is EXTREMELY important since of course, you want to kill all microorganisms and make it to where your jars properly seal. I mean isn’t that the whole point of why we’re canning? YES yes it is!

In general, there are different recipes you can go about doing. Different foods require different amounts of acid or salt for instance.

  • With all of your fruits and vegetables, of course you need to prep and wash them. That can mean cutting off any bad parts of the food, slicing them, etc..

For instance: Green beans: you will want to snap the ends and possible even cut them into sections (just like how they come in the can from the store).

  • An acid is also needed such as Vinegar or Lemon Juice. Canning salt is incredibly important as well.

Once all your fruits, vegetables, etc. are prepped and ready to go, then you can go about your canning process. The recipe you use will depend on if you have to partially cook your foods or not. Recipes can be found almost anywhere.

Important Needed Information:

Jars and lids need to be prepped before use. Typically you want to pre boil them in a big pot:

  • Fill the jars halfway with water
  • Put water halfway in the pot
  • Place lids in the bottom of the pot as well
  • Let everything get hot

Foods are packed into HOT canning jars when you’re in the midst of the canning process.

  • Fill your jars leave about 1/2 inch of space for the sealing process.
  • Clean the rims of the jars, then place the lids on them and hand tighten.
  • Once jars are ready, filled, and hand tightened they can then be processed.

Processing time depends on what you are canning, and what altitude you are at. Here is a great guideline on processing times. They cover the different canning processes as well to help you ensure you’re choosing the right amount of time.

After the jars are processed you will then set them to cool on a counter. During the cooling time the jars will seal themselves. You will hear a pop as they are sealing.

So don’t worry, a POP sound is a good thing.

Canning jars filled with salsa sitting around a basket full of fresh vegetables

Storing Your Canned Goods

Ah yes, another very important topic. How to store your canned goods. No one wants all their hard work to go to waste by improperly storing.

First and foremost, you always always want to test your seals before storing. Jars do not always seal correctly. In the event of this happening you will want to reprocess those specific jars.

If a jar is not properly sealed, it WILL spoil while it is being stored. Say if reprocessing a jar or two just doesn’t work you will want to use that jar of food. You can place it in your fridge.

Properly Sealed Jars

Properly sealed jars can and should be cleaned for storage. You can remove the twist band and rinse the top of the jar, and the band to make sure that all food residue is gone. Let dry, then retighten the twist band.

As a note you actually CAN leave the band off when storing and save the band for when you are using your canned goods in the fridge. This also allows you to be able to randomly check for Vacuum seals that may have come undone.

Store your canned goods in a dark cool place such as a cellar or even your pantry. 50-70 degrees is the perfect storage temperature.

There are actually many homesteaders or off the grid people who make outdoor storage cellars for food! Of course half of it is underground since it tends to stay cool and dark. How nifty is that!

Canning Can Be a Very Important Tool to Learn, Especially as a Homesteader or Off the Grid Type of Person

Canning is seriously such an important skill to learn when you NEED to have food stored such as fruits and vegetables. As I said, if you know your crops will get wasted by not being quickly eaten in time, canning is a great option.

Even if you have kids, they can help with some of the parts of the canning process. Of course children do not need to be messing with boiling water or a pressure cooker. But more the prepping the foods for canning etc..

They can learn about canning if you are wanting to pass it down to them, and you can make it a fun learning process.

Anything that I do that I feel my kids need to know in life when it comes to self sustaining I make sure they are taught. We are determined to teach our kids how to self sustain.

One of our important things we tell them is you cannot bank on the fact of stores always being available. Storms, natural disasters and such DO happen.

Safety is always the number one concern though hence why they don’t get to mess around with the actual processing of the canned goods.

Canning has been done for years and years, well before any of us were born. It is typically passed down through the family and taught to the next generation. In general, I feel it is a skill that is being lost with time and it shouldn’t.

Just like gardening, growing your own food is something everyone should know how to do. Gardening is also extremely healthy for YOU.

Good Luck with your canning journey and enjoy your saved and stored crops!

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