Home canning can be an easy and satisfying way of ensuring that you have your favorite vegetables, fruits and meats year around. With the basic equipment and understanding of home canning, you too can turn out a smorgasbord of delicacies for your family and friends.
The process of canning can preserve food. Canning is the use of high temperatures and pressure to kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms in food.By following basic canning rules, one can prevent spoilage and often illness caused by molds, yeasts and bacteria found in soil, air on on kitchen work surfaces. Canned foods can be stored for up to a year in a pantry and still taste healthy and fresh. In order for canning to be effective, you must have the correct combination of time and temperature. 212 degrees in a boiling water bath will destroy harmful organisms in high acid foods. Low acid foods must be processed at 240 degrees to destroy harmful organisms.
You will need two basic pieces of equipment to start with. A pressure canner and a water bath canner. Low acid foods are processed in a pressure canner. All vegetables and meats, except tomatoes and sauerkraut are low acid foods. High acid foods are processed in a water bath canner.
The pressure canner is similar to a pressure cooker. It is a heavy seamless kettle with a rack at the bottom. It is made out of aluminum and is lightweight. It has a locking lid with a gasket, pressure gauge and a safety valve. The gauge may be either a spring dial or a weight. The gauge regulates the pressure and temperature in the canner. The jars in the pressure canner reach temperatures and pressures far above the boiling point of water. Therefore, it is essential that the pressure gauge and safety valve be tested annually before each canning season. Ask your county extension agent where you can take your canner for testing or check for local sites on the internet.
The water bath canner is used for processing high acid vegetables. It may also be used in the processing of jams, jellies, syrups, fruits, fruit juices, pickles and relishes. This is the least expensive type of canner however; it cannot be substituted for a pressure canner. The water bath canner is a large kettle fitted with a rack and a lid. You can use one you already have or buy one made for canning. Make sure the kettle is deep enough for the water to cover the canning jars one to two inches above the tops. Make sure there is enough room for the water to boil vigorously in the kettle and not spill over the edges.
Another essential tool of canning is the canning jar. They come in various shapes and sizes. For your home canning needs, use only standard mason jars and lids. These jars have the manufacturers name molded in the side. Stock jars such as those you buy peanut butter, mayonnaise and other commercially canned foods in are not made for home canning. The jars may be too weak or have flaws in them that when boiled at such high temperatures may cause breakage or spoilage. The lids must be new and in good condition. Do not reuse a lid that has been sealed before. It will not seal a second time and will cause food spoilage. Screw bands must be used with the lids and should be in good condition. The jars and bands should be washed prior to use and the lids will need to be placed in very hot water to soften the seal, before it is placed on the jar.
A jar lifter is recommended for lifting the hot jars out of the canner. It is also nice to use while placing the jars in the canner. If you are able to, find one with a rubber grip to hold the jars in place.
A timer is also a necessary tool in the use of processing foods. If the food is prepared well and is in good condition, the food will still spoil if it is not processed for the correct amount of time and at the required temperature.
Finally, you will need water, water and more water. You will use water to wash the vegetables and fruits as you prepare them. You will use water to wash and prepare the jars and bands. You will use boiling water to prepare the lids. In addition, you will use boiling water to add to the jars as a pack for fruits and vegetables. You will use boiling water in the water bath canner to cover the jars for the boiling water bath or fill the pressure canner to a depth of one to two inches (depending on the size of the pressure canner) for pressure canning.
A good site to go to that will provide you with instructions on home canning is The National Center for Home Food Preservation. Another good site is PickYourOwn.org.
Home canning can be enjoyable and satisfying. Besides having your favorite vegetables and fruits year around, there can be savings in home canning also. Whether from your own garden or from a farmers market, canning foods can be a project to be proud of and enjoy. And with just a few basic tools and a bit of know how it is an easy way to provide for your family year around.