Approaching the Canning Jar


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     People often speak of “lost arts” of homemaking, and canning is a skill that may fit into that category. Though survey of food blogs will reveal a host of canning projects for the home cook (Food in Jars is a notable example), canning isn’t as ubiquitous as one might expect.

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     Canning isn’t trendy like cupcakery or any of the recent food revivals, but it’s definitely evolved. What was once a survival skill on the farm is now more often a hobby of foodies; that’s not necessarily bad, though.

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     For many, the thought of canning evokes images of hot days in big country kitchens, sweat pouring, pots steaming. It sounds like a hell of a lot of hard work. More than that, it’s intimidating. What if the jars aren’t sterilized? What if the processing goes awry? What if the jars don’t seal? The thought of investing all that time and effort and having it waste is enough to keep anyone from getting started.

     Part of the hesitation to can comes from a lack of experience. Many cooks learn their kitchen artistry at the side of mothers and grandmothers, but a lot of those formerly canning mothers and grandmothers turned to freezing when it became available. The equipment took up less space, it was quicker, and no boiling water bath was required for processing, making for a cooler kitchen in hot, sticky summers. Of course, anyone who has lost a freezer full of produce to a hurricane’s days-long power outage knows the freezer isn’t always a safe bet either.

     Canning, like just about everything in cooking, can be learned from trial and error and benefits from small-scale experimentation. If you’re interested, though, there are a few considerations before jumping in.

  • Canning probably will not save you money. Yes, many people “put up” fruits and vegetables to last them through the year, but unless you do it year in and year out and have a cheap supply of those fruits and veggies, canning will not be a hugely cost-efficient endeavor. Equipment is expensive. Jars cost money, and while the bands can be reused, you’ll need new lids every time you reuse your jars and bands.
  • Canning is time-consuming. You have to cook the stuff to go into the jars, sterilize the jars, fill the jars, process the jars, cool the jars, and sometimes you have to let some canned goods sit for weeks to cure before enjoying any of them. Also, it’s going to take twice as long as you think it will to can your goods.
  • Canning requires storage space. Remember that once those jars are filled, they have to go somewhere relatively climate-controlled. It’s a good idea to put them somewhere you’ll see them regularly so you don’t forget to eat the contents.

     These considerations are not intended to talk you out of trying canning; rather, they are to reset your expectations a bit. Now, should you decide to venture into the boiling waters of canning, here are some recommendations.

  • Start small. Try testing out a small batch of preserves (see our Earl Grey Peach Preserves recipe) that will make just a few pints. This is a good way to see if you like canning. The Ball® Canning Discovery Kit comes with a collapsible plastic canning rack (it doesn’t melt in boiling water), three jars with lids and bands, and a set of instructions and recipes. From $10-16, it’s a good way to test out canning. You’ll need an 8” deep stock pot and something to help you handle the hot, wet jars and lids.
  • Equipment doesn’t have to be fancy. You can buy a canner and big metal rack and the whole shebang for anywhere from $40-$200, but some have found success with a $20 aluminum tamale steamer from the International Market and some tongs. Make sure you want to do this on a regular basis before you shell out for a bunch of space-hogging equipment.
  • Do not rush. Try canning on a day when you have no schedule. It’s going to take a long time.
  • Put everything away in your kitchen that’s not canning-related before you begin. You’re going to need more counter space than you think.
  • Get a stack of clean, dry towels and some potholders. You’re going to use twice as many as you think you will.
  • Follow instructions, but don’t be scared. Be careful and use common sense, and read up on the kinds of canning you want to try. Pickles ain’t preserves.
  • Find an experienced canner to walk you through the first time. You can go it on your own, but there’s no substitute for living, breathing experience. Ask around at a church bazaar or borrow a friend’s grandma.
  • Slow down and enjoy the process.

     Think you’d like to try it? Get started with our Earl Grey Peach Preserves. If you don’t want to process it, just let it cool before lidding jars and then store in the refrigerator.

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