I have been being asked if I would be posting more about home canning. It has been on my mind to do so, but life happens and I haven’t made any new entries on canning. I am wanting to change that. It is as much of a help to me to have my recipes on here as it (hopefully) is to those who try them out.
Before I get started, I want to state that this will likely become a series of entries. Sort of like the ones you see on other blogs, such as the “Throw Back Thursday” type posts. In this case, it will be all about canning. There are a few things that I want to state about home canning. First, ALWAYS check the instructions for your own canner before trying any of these recipes. I will purposely be leaving the exact canning instructions out of the recipes. To state that I process a canner load at 10 lbs of pressure may be accurate for those living at the same elevation as I do. For those who live at an elevation that needs 5 lbs or 15 lbs of pressure, it would be a problem if you used my pressure levels. To give the time amounts would also be wrong for me to do. One of the best and most current resources that I have used is the National Center for Home Food Preservation which teaches in detail how to home can, dry, freeze, and pickle just about anything. It also has great information for those new to home food preservation, including basic information on how to use home canners. I strongly recommend that you print the pressure and time charts for each type of food or recipe that you will be home canning. This will make a quick reference for you to follow later on.
In starting from the basics, you will need a few items to do home canning. The first is your canner. For fruits and tomatoes, you will need a waterbath canner. This is a very large kettle with a wire rack inside. It is deep enough to allow you to fully submerge quart size jars under water. In this canner, jars are processed through boiling them for the amount of time listed in the instructions from the above website. Foods processed in a waterbath canner are high acid foods. Tomatoes and some fruits contain citric acid naturally. Others require that you add citric acid to prevent browning. This acid level is enough to allow you to safely process the foods by boiling the jars. These are the ONLY foods that are processed by waterbath method.
A pressure canner is required for low acid foods such as vegetables and meat. These foods must reach a very high internal temperature in order to kill off any natural bacteria that can become harmful during storage. A pressure canner is a large, deep kettle with a locking lid. Some have a gauge to help you regulate the pressure, others have a weighted gauge. I use a weighted gauge style and find it far easier to work with. Modern pressure canners have a venting system that helps to prevent accidents. On mine, there is a vent that pops up once the pressure is above 10 lbs. which is the amount needed for our elevation. As a safety measure, there is also a small rubber plug in the lid that will completely pop out should the pressure become dangerously high. I have never had that one pop out. I find that once my canner has reached just enough pressure to make the vent lift up, I turn down the heat just enough to keep that vent slightly open. This allows me to be certain that the pressure in the canner is high enough without worry that it will over pressurize.
The next thing you need are your canning jars. I have to admit that I am a jar snob. I only buy Ball or Kerr brands. Ball was one of the oldest canning jar manufacturers and have been around for ages. Kerr eventually bought the Ball company and now makes both brands. I have tried lesser known brands and every time have had a percentage of the jars break in the pressure canner. That jar breakage causes not only the loss of the money used for buying the jars, but the food as well.
I am developing a routine with the jars that I use. Food items, such as when I can up homemade stews, meat, or other chunky and large items always are done up in wide mouth jars. This is for two reasons. First, the food is easier to remove later on than it is with the regular mouth size jars. Secondly, in the case of canning meats, if there is any grease from the meat, the wide mouth are much easier to clean thoroughly.
Regular mouth size jars are used for liquid items, such as tomato soup, juices, and small vegetables. Cut up green beans, shelled peas, and baby carrots are some examples of the small vegetables I use the regular mouth jars for. I use this method for all the foods that I home can. Gradually, I will be using only the wide mouth jars in all my canning. This will make it easier all around.
Some tools that are extremely useful and that I highly recommend are the following. A jar lifter is used for lifting the hot jars out of the canner. They look like a large pair of tongs that have a rubber coating on the portion that grips the jar neck. Of all the tools, this in one of two that I couldn’t do without. The second tool is a canning jar funnel. This funnel has a large bowl with the funnel portion being just small enough to fit inside the regular mouth jars. Using this, you are able to fill the jars with messy food items without getting food residue on the jar rims. It makes filling the jars faster and easier as well. The third item that I use each time I home can would be my kitchen timer. With kids in the home, I cannot trust myself to use a clock to track the processing times. I get interrupted or distracted way too often. It is just good practice to have a timer for canning anyways. The last items are ones that many use on a consistent basis, but I don’t personally use. One is the magnetic flat lid wand which is used to lift the flat lids from a pan of hot water, The other is a similar product, a little rack that you stand the flat lids in while they are being heated in a pan of water. This process is important in that it helps to insure a good seal on the jars. I just use a pair of metal tongs to lift the lids. It is what I grew up seeing done and seems to work just fine for me.
When you buy a case of new canning jars, they always come with the rings and flat lids. I always keep at least 4-6 boxes of replacement flat lids on hand in the pantry. There are times when a new lid will fail during processing and you will need a replacement lid before you can re-process the jar. Reusing the flat lids are a good way to risk the jars not sealing properly. The last thing you want to risk is a jar lid popping open while on the pantry shelf and food spoiling.
Before you start canning, you need to take a hard look at how your family eats. While there are a lot of yummy recipes out there to tempt you, the mainstay of your canning should reflect your family’s typical diet. For example, in the cold months our family eats a lot of homemade soups and stews. These are eaten on nearly a daily basis in the coldest months especially. So, when I do the home canning, I will be sure to stock our shelves with a good supply of these types of meals. I began by looking at what our favorite stews and soups were. Then, whenever I made them, I would make a double or triple size batch. As we sat eating dinner, the canner would be processing the extras for stocking the pantry.
Another great use for the canner was when my husband was a truck driver and away from home for up to 8 weeks at a time. I would home can meals in pint size jars for him to take on the truck with him. Using a cooker powered by the 12 volt plug in the truck, he was able to cook the food for his meals. One pint size jar gave him a good sized serving. Doing this saved us a fortune in food expenses on the road. When we first began doing this, he was spending $600 a month on his meals and drinks on the road. When he took a month’s supply of meals on the truck with him, he only spent $150 a month on drinks and snacks. That was an instant $450 savings each month! Not to mention that he ate far more healthy meals that way.
One of my favorite meals to home can is beef stew. It is SO easy to do that it doesn’t take long to have a nice supply of it on hand in your pantry. I like making this when I find a good sale on stew meat. I buy a large package of the meat then cut it into bite sized pieces. In a large roasting pan, I place enough vegetables for one meal and all of the meat. I oven roast the stew as I normally would in preparing a meal. About a half hour before the stew is done roasting, I start preparing my jars but filling them 2/3 full of the same mixture of vegetables as I am cooking with the meat. These vegetables are placed into the canning jars while they are raw to prevent them from being over cooked once the jars are processed. Potatoes, for example, would completely turn to mush if they were roasted before canning. If I get the jars ready too soon, I fill them with water to prevent the vegetables from browning if necessary. Once the stew is done, I remove the cooked vegetables and just enough meat for that night’s meal. The remaining meat is divided up between the prepared jars. (NOTE: if you out water in any of the jars, the should be drained off before adding the meat.) I then divide up the broth from the roasting process between the jars as well. If necessary, I will add some beef broth to top off the jars. The jars should be filled to 1/2″ from the rim. Wipe off the rims to make sure there is no juice or drippings from the meat on the rims. Any residue can prevent the lid from getting a proper seal. Next, add the ring to the jar to hold the lid in place during processing. Load up your pressure canner and then process the jars while enjoying your dinner. By the time you are done eating and dinner dishes are being cleared away, the canner will be done processing in most cases.
I don’t have a specific recipe for making this. My beef stew is different each time I make it, depending on what vegetables I have on hand at the moment. Use you own favorite recipe. If you have a recipe that your family enjoys that comes from a favorite cookbook, use it. Just double the recipe for a canner of pint jars or triple the recipe if using quart jars.
In future posts, I will be sharing some recipes that our family enjoys. I hope that this series will be one that will bless you in your efforts in building your pantry with healthy wholesome meals for your family.