Canning - Can You Do It?

To can or not to can. That is always the question.

When your garden flourishes with abundant produce, what should you do with all the vegetables and fruits? You can consume and give away only so much. Don't have friends and neighbors avoiding you because you keep presenting them with sacks full of cucumbers and green beans.

If you have always wanted to put up those gleaming jars of fruits and vegetables that used to line Grandma's pantry shelves, here is a word of encouragement - you can do it!

There are however, a couple of things you will need....

First of all you will need confidence that you can be successful in this new endeavor. A great way to build confidence is knowledge. Purchase or borrow a book on the basics of canning. Don't rely on what others tell you about how long you need to process your beans or if you should water bath or pressure can your tomatoes. You need to be careful concerning temperatures to kill off bacteria and germs that can spoil the produce and all your hard work. Follow a book with USDA recommended procedures for preserving.

One of the best sources for answers and instructions for canning is the "Ball Blue Book of Preserving." Often referred to as the "bible" of canning, this book has been used for generations by both the beginner and seasoned canner. The book contains lists of tools needed, complete procedures and over 450 recipes for preserving your homegrown fruits and vegetables. When I first started canning, I would prop open this book on the counter and refer to it through every step of the procedure from sterilizing jars and lids to making sure all jars sealed properly. Many jars of applesauce, pickles, green beans and tomato sauce were preserved because of the instructions provided.

Once you have gained enough knowledge to become confident, the second thing you will need is to equip yourself with tools to make the whole process safe and convenient. Many pieces of equipment you may all ready have on hand in your kitchen. Be sure to read through your recipe to determine if you need a water bath canner or pressure canner for your produce. Generally speaking, water bath canners can be used for produce with high acidity such as fruits and tomatoes. Low acid food such as corn and green beans, require the higher temperatures achieved through pressure canning.

If you are starting out with no equipment, and can't borrow from Grandma, a starter canning set would be a good investment. This kit comes with a water bath canner, canning rack, funnel, jar lifter, jar wrench, tongs, lid lifter and the "Ball Blue Book." These are very basic pieces of equipment not normally found in your kitchen and are necessary for safety reasons. While canning, you will be working with lots of hot scalding water and you need tools to help lift jars and lids out of boiling water. You can read what each of these tools are used for in most canning books.

Maybe you already have an enameled water bath canner but are missing tools? You can also pick up just the canning tool set, which consists of a funnel, jar lifter, tongs, lid lifter and jar wrench.

Other equipment for canning easily found in your kitchen would be a vegetable brush, cutting board, peeler, large saucepan, spoons, ladle, measuring cups and spoons, large mixing bowl, jelly thermometer, timer and labels. A kitchen scale would be very useful also. If you are purchasing one, consider a scale that includes a large platform or tray for holding fresh produce. Tomatoes, peaches and apples easily roll off small scales. You also want something easy to read where large bowls will not cover the display. Try a large capacity digital scale - a good choice for canning.

Of course, you will need the correct size jars and lids for your produce. Refer to your recipe to determine if you need pints or quarts, and regular or widemouth jar openings. For lids use the 2-piece lid and ring, which provides the most secure seal. Glass top jars and zinc lids are no longer approved for safe canning.

Now that you have the knowledge to build confidence, and some basic tools to be successful and safe, set some time aside and start. Canning is a very rewarding experience. At the end of your hard work, you feel satisfied. There, in front of you, sit gleaming jars of pickles, peaches, salsa, etc. just waiting to be opened and served. Your family will love the taste and appreciate all your effort this winter!

The answer to the question - to can or not to can - I think you can!

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