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Introduction to Home Canning

written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 2/4/2010

Canning foods at home is a great way to take advantage of local, peak-season produce. By stocking up on summer's harvest you can decrease your family's need to purchase off-season fruits and vegetables. Here are some home canning basics, including the supplies you'll need to get started.

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    Basic Home Canning Instructions

    Many people serious about going green want to learn how to grow and preserve their own food at home. It may sound intimidating to can your own food, but it's not as hard as it sounds. Home canning allows you to take advantage of local produce as well as an excellent way to preserve food from your own garden. Follow this simple guide to get started.

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    Basic Canning Supplies

    Foods can be safely preserved at home in a boiling-water canner or a pressure canner. Boiling-water canners are used for acidic foods such as jams, jellies, fruits, pickles, and tomatoes. Pressure canners are necessary for safely preserving non-pickled vegetables and meats.

    If you are just learning about canning, start with a boiling-water canner. They are less expensive and easier to operate than pressure canners, and will give you a good introduction to canning food. You can find boiling-water canners and basic canning supplies at most hardware stores. Be sure your canner comes with a rack, which helps keep jars in place during processing and helps elevate and lower jars.

    Purchase glass canning jars and 2-piece lids in the sizes you need. Quart jars are best for canning tomatoes, peaches, and other large foods. Pint and half-pint jars are best for pickles and jams. Canning jars and lid rings may be re-used until damaged, but the flat lids can be used for processing only once to ensure an adequate seal. Basic canning instructions are included with new packages of canning jars and lids.

    A few good books with lots of recipes for canned foods include the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol W. Costenbader, and Putting Food By, by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan.

    A canning funnel and a jar lifter are essential tools you'll need during the canning process. With all of the products above, you're ready to start canning.

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    Preparing the Food

    Thoroughly wash the food you are canning and look carefully for any signs of damage. Always use first-quality food and cut away any minor blemishes and bruises. Peel, core or pit, and cut the food into pieces that will easily fit in the canning jars. Follow your recipe's instructions for preparing the recipe. Do not make substitutions to the recipe, as this can alter the food's pH and compromise it's safety.

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    Preparing the Equipment

    Thoroughly wash your canning jars, 2-piece lids, and accessories in hot, soapy water. Inspect each jar for any chips around the mouth of the jar or small, hairline cracks. A jar with any sign of damage should not be used.

    Canning jars and lids must be preheated prior to processing. Preheating the jars helps to minimize breakage during processing. Lids must be heated for 10 minutes to prepare the sealing compound to seal the jars properly.

    Fill the boiling-water canner with water to just over half-full. Heat water to a simmer. Following your recipe, prepare and heat a sugar syrup (for fruits), brine (for pickles), or boiling water (for tomatoes).

    Preheat jars in a large stockpot that is filled with water to cover the jars. Bring the water to a simmer on the stove and maintain the simmer for 10 minutes. An easier way to preheat jars, as suggested by the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, is to run the jars through a full wash and dry cycle in the dishwasher. Keep the door shut as much as possible to maintain the heat in the dishwasher, removing one jar at a time for filling.

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    Basics of Home Canning: How to Process Food in a Hot Water BathIn this introduction to the basics of home canning, the basics of processing food in a water bath canner are discussed. Learn the proper technique to safely process acidic foods such as tomatoes, peaches, and pears at home.
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    Processing Your Food

    Working with one canning jar at a time, fill it with the prepared food. Using your canning funnel, ladle the simmering liquid into the jar. Your recipe will specify how much space to leave between the food and the jar lid.

    Wipe the mouth of the jar with a moist paper towel to remove any bits of food that can get in the way of a proper seal. Remove a jar lid from the hot water and secure to the jar with a ring. Do not over-tighten the lid - tighten just until resistance is met. Place the jar in the elevated rack of the boiling-water canner and repeat for remaining jars.

    When all jars are filled and in the canner rack, lower the rack into the canner. The water should still be simmering and should cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary. Place the lid on the canner and bring the water to a boil. Begin to count the processing time specified in your recipe after the water is at a rolling boil.

    When processing time is up, turn the heat off and remove the canner's lid. Let the canner cool down for 10 minutes. Using your jar lifter, remove jars from the canner and place on a stable surface away from drafts. Place jars a couple inches apart and let cool for at least 12 hours before testing the jars' seal.

    A properly sealed jar will have it's lid recessed in the middle. The lid on a jar that has not been sealed properly will press down in the center and pop back up when released. Un-sealed jars of food must be stored in the refrigerator and eaten soon. You can also try to re-process the food, using a clean jar and new lid, if desired.

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    Comfort Food

    Learning how to can your own food is satisfying because it ensures the quality of the food you eat. Preserving food during the peak of the season is also a great way to eat local food throughout the year. Your time in the kitchen will be will spent each time you open a jar of home-canned peaches in the middle of winter! With a little practice you will soon look forward to canning season each year.