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How to Can Food for Beginners

12:52 PM

How to can food for beginners.  If you're new to canning, learn about the terms used for canning, which supplies you need, and everything you need to get started preserving your own food.


As more and more families delve into the great culinary process of canning, it becomes increasingly important to know what you are doing before you do it. 


In order to get the most out of your recipes, as well as your wallet, you will need to do a bit of research before you jump straight in.


My grandparents canned, but my parents didn't.  My dad and stepmom do can a lot now though, and we share jars of food and recipes.





My husband and I used to can a lot, but we had been slacking in the last few years.  After last spring when the stores shelves were bare, we decided to can more this year.


We planted a garden, and we have a nice orchard with a lot of fruit.  We spent about two weeks canning this year, making jars of fruit, pie fillings, and more.  


I feel a lot better knowing that we have food on the shelf in case there's another disruption in our food supply!


It's a lot of work, but it saves money.  And the food tastes better than what you get in the store.


Following is a short guide on how to get started canning, which will provide the base amount of necessary canning information. 


How to Can Food For Beginners


What Foods Can Be Canned?


You can can many different types of foods at home!  Here are some of the items that you can make at home:


  • Fruits
  • Pie fillings
  • Broth
  • Meat
  • Vegetables
  • Salsa
  • Sauces
  • Condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish, etc)
  • Pickles
  • Jams and jellies



Check out these recipes for delicious foods that can be canned at home:


What Foods Can't Be Canned at Home?


Not all foods can be canned at home.  Some do not withstand the high heat, and some just aren't safe.  


For example, pumpkin can not be canned at home due to variations in pH.  Pumpkin also changes viscosity between batches, and you can't be sure that the inside of the jar will reach temperature to kill germs.


Other foods to avoid canning are:


  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Eggplant
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Olive
  • Squash


Do I Have to Have a Canner to Can Foods?


Not necessarily.  You can safely can high acid foods in any large stock pot.  Just make sure that it is deep enough to completely cover your jars with 2 to 3 inches of water above the jars.


You'll also need a metal or silicone insert to keep the jars off of the heat source.


I prefer a water bath canner just because I know that I can fit 7 quarts in it, but I've used a stock pot for small jars like Dijon mustard or for small batches.





How Long Does Home Canned Food Last?


This depends on the food and how it was stored.  Generally, it lasts up to a year.  


When I'm planning, I figure how much we can eat in a year.  If I have extras, I give it to family.


Types of Canners


Different types of canners do different things, so it is important to know the basics of the different kinds of canners before you begin.


Boiling Water Canner


Boiling water canners are used for  high acid foods like fruits, salsas, jellies and jams, relishes, and even pickles. Essentially, a boiling water canner is nothing more than a large pot with a rack inside to set jars on. 

The design of a boiling water canner allows for an even amount of heat to encompass the jar. The water is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to kill all the pesky microorganisms that can be found in high acid food.


Boiling water canners come in different sizes and finishes. For beginners, you will want to find a pot that is big enough to fit several jars in without becoming unwieldy. You may also want it to be finished in a speckled enamel, as this type of finish prevents chipping and rust.


When you use a water bath canner, it's important to have your jars lifted off of the direct heat source.  You can use a canning rack or a silicone ring.  


Pressure Canner


Pressure canners are best suited to low acid foods such as vegetables and recipes containing meats. The design of the pressure canner allow for you to measure and regulate the pressure from the steam building up in the hot which you can control by changing the temperature of your burners.


Pressurized steam is much hotter than boiling water, so that is something to consider when deciding between canners. Additionally, be sure to only put 2 or 3 inches of water at the bottom as opposed to a boiling water canner. 


Pressure canners are more expensive than water bath canners, so you will have an initial investment cost.  You  will also need to replace the seal every few years.


Some foods can only be canned in a pressure canner.  This includes some vegetables like potatoes and green beans and all meats.  


If you can these foods in a water bath canner, the jar will seal, but it is not safe to eat.  A water bath canner does not get hot enough to kill the germs in low acid foods, and you are at risk of serious illnesses if you eat contaminated foods.


Regulators for Pressure Canners


Regulators allow you to regulate the pressure that is in a pressure canner. There are several different designs to keep in mind.


These are the most common types of regulators being sold today. You can add or remove weight rings to have several different amounts of pressure when canning. 


Dial-gauge regulators are most common in older types of canners. You will have to keep on top of the heat to keep the pressure consistent. 


Additionally, you will need to have a dial checked once a year for accuracy, which can be done at canning stores or contact your local state university if they have a canning and food preservation department.


Similar to a one-piece regulator, a weighted-gauge regulator allows you to adjust the pressure by setting it on the steam pipe at the correct setting depending on the desired pressure. 


Canning Jars


Cans are integral to canning, so you need to know the basic anatomy and types of cans. There are several components to a can.


The Band or Ring


Bands are the rings that secure the lid to the jar during the canning process. They can be removed or kept on once the jar is sealed, and are reusable.





I remove them before storing my jars.  This helps me ensure that the jar is, in fact, sealed and it's not the band holding it in place.  


I can also see any spillage and clean it before storing.  I've had rings rust in storage, and then I have to toss the entire jar contents.  


So while I have about 300 jars, I only have about 50 rings that I wash and reuse.


If your rings do get rusty, they must be retired.  You can toss them or save them to make a canning ring wreath.


The Lid


Lids are the components that keep the pressure and contents of the jar secure. They are not reusable after use and must be purchased new. 


I buy my lids in bulk and always have good luck.  They are about half of the price, and I can get 100s of them at a time.  I vacuum seal leftovers for the following year.


The Jar


Jars come in many sizes up to 64 ounces. They also come in normal and wide-mouth variants. Wide-mouth jars have mouths that are about as wide as the jar, while normal mouth jars have smaller mouths, the funnel into the jar. 


It should be noted that it is best to buy newer jars as vintage jars, while decorative and pretty, are prone to cracks and errors during the canning process. 


Do not use mayonnaise jars or spaghetti sauce jars for canning.  They are not designed to handle the high heat multiple times, and they can crack.


Always visually inspect your jars before using.  Do not use any jar with a crack or chip, no matter how small. 


Even a small chip or crack can cause the jar to explode.  If that happens, you will lose your entire canner load of food.


Additional Canning Tools


Here are a few other tools you will need before you begin canning.


Jar Lifter


A jar lifter allows you to grab hot jars out of your canner safely. It is wise to invest in a high quality sturdy jar lifter to keep you and your jars safe.


You may be tempted to use tongs or a hot pad.  Please just buy the jar lifter.  It only takes dropping one jar that you worked hard to make you regret your decision.


Magnetic Wand


Magnetic wands allow you to drop lids and even bands in hot water, making it an essential tool for canning.


Jar Funnel


This allows you to safely and properly pour ingredients into jars, especially jars. 


Ruler/Spatula Combo


This handy tool allows you to safely release air bubbles in your jars and measure headspaces.


It is also essential to have an open and clean work area with access to your standard kitchen utensils before you being canning.


Check out my complete list of must have canning supplies (and what you don't need).


Raw-Pack Versus Hot-Pack


Raw packing and hot packing allow you to achieve different flavors and textures. Hot packing involves the pre-cooking of food before canning as to break down the food more. 


This way, there will be less air so the food will not be as likely to spoil and it will not float.


Additionally the amount of food you can process at once in a smaller time frame is greater. Raw packing involves packing raw, cold, or uncooked food and then pouring a hot liquid over them before canning. 


This method is easy to do and helps to preserve the texture of the food. However the food is more likely to float in this process. 





Basic Preparations


There are a few preparations you must do before you start canning. To start, make sure that your clean and sterilize all of your jar components and tools. This is especially important if you are using older or used jars, as to not contaminate the food you are canning.


I am a modern homesteader, so I use my dishwasher.  I hand wash my jars to remove any dust from storage, then I put them in the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle.


To sterilize without a dishwasher, wash the jars in hot soapy water.  Then place them in a water bath canner and let them boil for 10 minutes.


Rings and lids should be washed and then placed in simmering water.


As stated before, always be sure to use new lids and check them for blemishes or damage. Also be sure to check your bands for rust and be sure that they will fit the jar before you begin.


If you live in a higher altitude, you will want to consult high altitude guides for the recipes that you intend on making. Altitude will also affect how long you will need to sterilize your materials for, so research your altitude and its consequences before you begin.


How Do You Know if Your Jars Sealed?


When you remove the jars from the canner, you'll set them on a towel to cool.  You'll start to hear little pops, this is the jar sealing.  


Resist the urge to handle the jars or touch the lids for 24 hours because you can disturb the seal.  After 24 hours, remove the ring and press on the center of the lid.  If it gives and moves down, it is not sealed.  


You can recan it or use it right away.


Canning Books


Even though I have a lot of canning recipes here, I can not stress enough the importance of safe canning and researching.  


I go by the Ball blue book of canning.  In fact, my copy doesn't even have a cover left because I use it so much!


I also consult Ohio State University and other universities for safe canning practices.  I always follow the latest recommendations.


For example, my grandmother water bath canned foods that are no longer deemed safe for that type of canning.  


No, she didn't get sick and neither did anyone else.  But I'd like to point out that we literally have new bacteria and germs that have mutated into new organisms that did not exist then.  


I don't want anyone to get sick, so I always err on the side of caution.


No matter where you find the recipe, do your research.  Check out the Ball website.  Then look for the recipe on a university's website. 


Canning is a great and rewarding experience, but it is not always easy. You will need some basic materials and research before you begin. This guide serves as the starting point for more information, so be sure to research your recipes and materials before you dive straight into canning. 


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Cari Dunn
Cari Dunn

Cari lives on a small farm in Ohio with her husband, three kids, two dogs, two cats, five goats, and several chickens. She loves Gilmore Girls, glitter, coffee, and her kids. But not in that order.

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