It’s June and my local farm just opened their pick your own strawberry fields. For me, this signals the start of canning season.
Preserving locally grown food is an easy way to save the taste of summer for the dead of winter when we would otherwise be eating a mix of frozen vegetables and bland fruits shipped from hundreds of miles away. It’s also environmentally friendly because the food travels a short distance (for me, it’s five miles from the farm to my house) and you can reuse the same jars year after year.
There are also some health concerns around eating canned foods that can be avoided when you do your own canning. A recent study found that canned foods such as peaches, soup and pasta, can expose people to dangerous levels of BPA. To avoid ingesting BPA from canned foods, you can do your own canning or buy canned food in glass jars or safe plastics (numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5).
To start canning you need a few tools which are often available in the seasonal or produce section of your grocery store and you need to understand the simple but very important steps to properly sterilizing and sealing your jars.
If you’re planning to make preserves, jams and butters, you will be canning highly acidic fruits and can use hot water baths to seal your jars. This means you do not have to buy a pressure canner which is the only safe way to can vegetables, meat, poultry and fish.
To can fruit, you will need:
Choose foods that are at their peak and full of flavor. Also choose foods that are in good condition, which means there are no bad spots or mold.
If you have a garden, you can harvest your food from your own backyard. That’s the least expensive way to do it. You can also get your food from local farms. I like to get involved in the process so I usually go to pick your own fields. Or you can buy from the grocery store, but that is often the most expensive option.
Wash your food well before turning it into a canned good. I usually use a fruit and vegetable wash for a little extra cleaning power. This is especially important if you obtain your fruit from the grocery store since it may have been dipped in wax to add shine.
Choose a recipe from a current canning guide, book or trustworthy web site. Why is this important? Different foods require different processing times and techniques and safety guidelines have changed over the years. So you should always start with a good recipe.
Below are a few of my favorite recipes. However, I find the amount of sugar in nearly all canning recipes excessive so I start with 25% of the recommended sugar and add more to taste.
Strawberry preserves – Process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Apple butter – The key to good apple butter is to use cooking apples, which means tart apples like Granny Smiths. I made a few changes to this recipe – I used a food processor because I didn’t have a food mill and rather than boiling the apples in a pot, which requires constant stirring for a few hours, I put the apples in a crock pot on low and let it sit for several hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the timing but you should let it cook until the butter is the consistency you’re looking for.
These are the steps for hot-packed jars, which means that the food, jars and water are hot.
The only problem I had was that my canning rack was a little too big for my processing pot. Since I was in a pinch, I laid Christmas cookie cutters on the bottom of the pot too keep the jars from touching it. It’s a little hacky, but it works!
To avoid finding yourself in a similar situation, I recommend doing a dry run to make sure everything fits together and works the way it should.
I just learned that while recipes for pumpkin butter had been approved in the past, after additional research the National Center for Home Food Preservation no longer considers it safe to can pumpkin butter at home. The recipe I had linked to earlier can still be made and used immediately or frozen. While I’ve never had a problem with canned pumpkin butter since I used canned pumpkin puree, I can no longer recommend the recipe for canning.