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Canning Basics: Preserving the Garden

The end of a growing season can sometimes get overwhelming with all the crops ready to pick at the same time. There are only so many tomato and cucumber sandwiches you can eat, so this is where food preservation techniques come in handy. One method of food saving that has taken off with urban gardeners is canning. Canning can seem a little intimidating if you’ve never tried, but I can assure you it is fairly simple and even can become a bit of an addiction. It’s pretty special to see something you’ve grown preserved in a jar for later eating. I learned about canning by watching my mom do it while growing up. When I was ready to try myself, I picked up a book devoted to the subject. Water bath canning is the simplest and common method for high acidic foods (jams, jellies, pickles, etc.). Pressure canning is a whole other level of preserving and reserved for low acidic foods (meats, fish, some non-pickled vegetables, etc.). A lot of what you grow in the garden can be canned on your stove in a large pot. I’m going to pass along some canning tips to help you get started.

Preserving Peppers

Banana and jalapeno peppers ready for jelly.

The first step is to pick your crop and pick a recipe. There are a lot of fabulous recipes out there in magazines, cookbooks, and on the internet. I had my peppers in mind for a jelly and found a recipe online that I was excited to try. You’re also going to need some simple equipment like clean canning jars, lids, tongs, and pectin if you’re making jams or jellies. Always use new lids because they need to be able to seal to the jar. I don’t have a special canner, but I do use a large stock pot for the processing stage. As long as it’s deep enough and large enough to hold all the jars, you’re good. I even bought a funnel this year and forgot to use it! This just shows that you don’t need to get fancy with your implements. Everything I mentioned above is about all I use.

Preserving

Some equipment I use for canning.

 

Make sure you follow the recipe you pick. People have tried and tested these and know what does and doesn’t work. When using pectin for jams and jellies, always use the stated amount of sugar. It may seem like a lot, but the pectin and sugar react to “set” your fruit and the ratio is important. If you want to use less sugar, there is pectin out there specifically for this. As long as you stick to the recipe, you should end up with a jelly instead of syrup.

Preserving 2

Clean jars in hot water in the sink and lids simmering on the stove are ready for the canning process.

Timing is important when canning, so gather up and prep all your equipment beforehand. Wash your jars and keep warm, either in hot water or in the dishwasher if that’s how you washed them. The lids (not the screw rings) need to be heated as well. Let them sit in simmering water on the stove while preparing your recipe. Also, let the water in your canning pot start to heat up. You want it boiling by the time you’re jars are all filled. Always leave a little headspace between your preserves and the sealing lid. The recipe will usually state this and one-quarter inch tends to be common. After putting the lid on, screw down with the rings and tighten to fingertip strength (after they are canned and cooled, you can retighten if necessary). Carefully lower your jars into the boiling water (make sure the water comes over the jars by a couple inches) and boil according to the directions. Be aware of your elevation because you may have to add or subtract boiling time depending on where you live. Many recipes are set for sea-level living. Pectin boxes will usually have this information.

Preserving 3

Jars filled with jelly and ready for processing in the large pot of boiling water.

Once the jars are processed and removed, place them somewhere safe to cool and wait to hear the sealing “pop” that makes every home preserver happy. Marvel at what you just accomplished and taste test anything that didn’t make it into a jar. Do some recipe hunting and plan your next batch. I know I am!

Preserving 4

Left-over jelly for taste testing and jars of jelly ready for the pantry.

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