The Basics of Food Preservation

As August rolls by, our local farmers markets are reaching their peak seasons for production of delicious fruits and vegetables. Now is a perfect time to preserve as much of this year’s produce, as possible.

While freezing fruits and vegetables are a great option for smoothies, some pastries, and soups and casseroles, it’s an option available to a select few. Within just a few freezes, you will find the storage for homemade ice cream and locally-raised meats dwindling. A much more practical option is to can your fruits and vegetables.
When canning, there are two options available: a traditional water bath (this option will require a large stockpot, and is most suitable for canning fruit jellies, preserves, and pickled vegetables), or the pressure cooker method (which is better suited to canning meats and vegetables).

We recommend selecting a recipe from a trusted website. Two that we appreciate are and

Necessary Equipment:

Before you begin canning, there are some necessary pieces of equipment you will need. Beginning your canning process with the appropriate equipment will sure you greater success in the end. For a successful canning experience, you will need:

  • Sharp knives for cutting fruits and vegetables: a good knife is your best friend in the kitchen. Make sure yours is properly sharpened beforehand to ensure it works properly for you.
  • Proper jars and lids. While you can reuse jars and the outer edge of the lid, it’s wise to replace the sealing portion of the lid each time you can produce in order to make sure your canned goods last as long as possible. Several brands of canning jars are available. Your choice will depend somewhat on what is most important to you.
  • Hot Water: It’s important to wash your lids and jars, and then set them in hot water while you prepare your recipe. Doing so will keep your jars from breaking when you pour your preserved fruits or vegetables into them.
  • Large stockpot or pressure cooker: depending upon the size of your recipe, you will probably have to boil your canned goods in 1-3 batches.
  • Tongs: Tongs are another invaluable tool when canning fruits and vegetables.
  • Ladles and funnels: These will help you fill your jars with the least mess possible.
  • Clean cloths: These will help clean any mess you might make as you’re filling the jars.
  • Pectin: This is for jams and jellies, as well as some preserves. It can be easy to forget to check the date on your pectin, because it’s not something that is used often. Start fresh every year, and you will have jams and jellies with a proper consistency.

Preparing Produce:

Once you’ve assembled your necessary equipment, you can begin preparing your fruits or vegetables according to your recipe, and with keeping these basic principles in mind:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry all produce in order to remove any dirt.
  2. Cut produce into uniform pieces to help it all cook evenly.
  3. Have all seasonings, spices, sugar, vinegar, etc. on hand so that you can work as efficiently as possible.
  4. Pay careful attention to the recipe you’re using. Some canning recipes require you to soak your produce for an extended period of time before you begin cooking.

Cooking Fruits and Vegetables for Canning:

Before you select any recipe for canning, you will want to read any reviews of it you possibly can. If you have found it on a website or blog, be sure to search the comments section in order to note any problem spots other readers have had. Once you trust the recipe is solid, follow it exactly. A kitchen timer, the timer on your stove, or even your phone timer can all prove helpful to keep you right on track.

When canning fruit, cook the prepared fruit over a medium to medium high heat until it has cooked down quite a bit. After adding the sugar and pectin, you will bring it to a boil for a set amount of time. The cooked mixture is then ladled into the prepared jars.

Canning vegetables will vary depending upon whether you are preserving or pickling them, but the process will always involve a cooking time and then pouring the prepared mixture into hot jars.

After pouring your fruits or vegetables into the prepared jars, wipe the rims clean with a cloth before placing on the lids. This will give you the best seal possible.

Note: we highly recommend the use of a wooden spoon when canning, particularly with fruits recipes. It won’t release any sort of toxins like plastic utensils can do, and it is less likely to burn than a metal spoon or utensil.

The Last Step:

Once your jars have been filled and cleaned and the lids have been placed on, you will want to seal them with either a water bath or in a pressure cooker. Once this step is completed, your jars should store in a cool, dry place for several months or even a year.

We know that many of you are seasoned canners. Because this article is meant to serve as more of a basic guide than an elaborate step by step procedure, we would love to hear your advice in the comments below. What words of wisdom would you share with the beginning home canner? What recipes are your favorites?

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