Note: This was originally posted on Deadster, August 25, 2013. I’m reposting it now to share the info I learned, while so many of us are stuck at home, and have pandemic gardens.
For the last few summers I have wanted to try my hand at home canning & food preserving. But like many other folks have said, it just seemed like such a colossal project. What if I got it wrong and made someone sick? What about the cost of materials? It just seemed overwhelming.
But, thanks to Craftster friends, I decided to face, and ultimately overcome, my fears of canning. I set myself the challenge of learning about canning overall, and to complete a few projects in some classic home preserving categories. My original plan was to create 7-11 projects, including 2-3 infusions, 2-3 pickles, 1-2 condiments, 2-3 jams/jellies/syrups, and 1-2 dry goods mixes. In the end, I went a bit beyond that! In fact, I doubled my plan. I ended up spending just over 40 hours, making 20 individual projects, which totaled 105 jars & bottles of food!
The photo below shows just one jar of each project.
Here’s a list of all the projects, broken down by type of food. Whenever possible, I have linked to either the recipe I used, or to the book the recipe came from.
Pickles: Completed 5 projects
Bread & Butter Pickles - 6 quarts, from Ball Pickling Spice directions
Cucumber Dill Spears - 2 quarts, from Ball pickling spice directions
Pickled Carrots & Parsnips - 3 pints, from Put ‘Em Up!
Zucchini Pickles - 8 pints, from Food In Jars
Pickled Brussels Sprouts - 4 pints, from Food In Jars
Salsas: Completed 3
Heirloom Tomato Salsa - 3 pints, from Put ‘Em Up!
Garden Salsa - 5 pints, from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Jalapeno Salsa - 6 half-pints, from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Condiments: Completed 4
Bruschetta - 2 batches of 8 half-pints, from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Boston Lager Mustard - 4 pints, DONE on 8/2/13 (Adapted from Oktoberfest Beer Mustard Recipe)
Zucchini & Pepper Relish - 5 pints, from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Carmalized Red Onion Relish - 3 pints, from Food In Jars
Jam/Preserve: Completed 5 projects
Norton Wine Jelly - 4 half pints, from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Cranberry Syrup - 4 half-pints, from Food In Jars, DONE on 8/2/13
Mojito Jelly - 4 half-pints, DONE on 8/24/13
Mimosa Jelly - 6 half-pints, DONE on 8/24/13
Low-Sugar Blueberry & Champagne Jam - 3 half-pints, adapted from Ball Pectin Packaging Recipe
Dry Goods Jars: Completed 1 project
Cajun Seasoning Blend - 12 batches of 1/2 c. each, DONE on 8/24/13
MistressJennie’s Cajun Seasoning Blend
Makes one .5 cup batch (I multiplied this by 12)
3 T Salt
1 T Paprika
1 T Onion Powder
1 T Cayenne
1/2 tsp White Pepper 1 1/2 tsp Thyme
3/4 tsp Black Pepper 1/2 tsp Oregano
Finally, I will leave anyone who is still reading this, with a few words wisdom for those who wish to delve into canning.
#1. Get the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It is totally affordable from Amazon, but you can also certainly find it at your local library.
#2. Read everything about the canning process first. And read about it in the Ball Book. Their recipes have been tested and perfected. If you find a shiny looking book full of pretty pictures by someone else, by all means, check it out too. But consider the Ball Book the bible of canning. Everything I made out of it came out exactly as described. (I have also had very good luck with Better Homes & Gardens canning publications.) Read it a few times, so it’s ingrained, then you won’t be as scared of making a mistake mid-project.
#3. Read the whole recipe you are about to create. Double check to have everything you need before you start. Then read the whole darn thing through again, just to be certain. I like to start my canning adventures with a clean kitchen. I do any dishes the night before, and make sure to wipe down my counters before I start. Then I pull out my canner, and all the ingredients. I measure out everything before I start cooking anything. If everything is clean and organized and in place, you won’t be scrambling to measure the sugar, with a pot of fruit bubbling over on the stove.
#4. Start with something simple, that you won’t mind eating all of right away, if the jars somehow don’t seal. And something that doesn’t require expensive ingredients. If you are growing a pot of tomatoes on your deck, or your neighbor gives you 30 zucchini, try something like salsa or zucchini pickles. Bananas Foster Butter cost me all of $4 in ingredients.
#5. Before buying a giant canner, check to see if a friend or relative has one you can borrow. While you’re at it, see if anyone in the family has mason jars they’ll let you have. You will need to buy new lids and bands, but they are much cheaper than buying whole brand-new jars. If you want to try small-batch canning (2-4 jars of food at a time) you can use any regular stock pot you have, provided it holds enough water to cover your jars by 2-3 inches, and get the the Preserving Starter Set from Ball, which runs about $15. It will totally be everything you need to do a few small batches to see if you like canning and you will use the jar lifter tongs, lid wand, and headspace tool for large batches too.
#6. When the pandemic is over: Go to your local farmer’s market, and see if they are offering any canning classes, or canning supplies & coupons. My market has been doing classes throughout the summer, and their organizer booth has been handing out huge amounts of coupons. The individual vendors themselves have also been giving away batches of pickling spice & salsa spice mixes. A mix is a great place to start. You won’t have to shell out for multiple jars of individual spices, and can see if you like canning or not.
#7. Given the choice between trying jam or jelly first, try a jelly that doesn’t require you to do any peeling/chopping/straining. There are lots of recipes that use pre-bottled juice, like Pomegranate Jelly, which uses Pom Juice. Once you see how easy a jelly like that can be, move on to more labor-intensive jam, or a jelly you have to chop & strain.
#8. Have fun, and give yourself permission to fail. Don’t freak out if your jelly is a bit soft. Just pour it over ice cream and call it sauce. And don’t worry if a few jars don’t seal. Just use it up at home, or give it to friends to use right away. Out of the 105 jars I made this summer, about 10 didn’t seal. It annoyed me at first, but then I tasted the stuff I made, and I didn’t feel one bit bad about indulging in the delicious fruits of my labors. (Seriously, that Sam Adams Mustard is amazing on bratwurst. )
#9. If your jars have not sealed, or the food has somehow gone bad, it will be obvious. If you open a jar and find mold, fuzz, see bubbling, or smell a nasty rotten smell, then your food is bad. Dump it out. You will never eat something you canned that looks, smells, & tastes great, and get sick. It just won’t happen.
#10. While you can reuse old jars, you do need new lids when canning. Unused canning lids have a shelf life of about 5 years, after which the glue on the rim dries out, and prevents your jars from sealing. If you don’t know how long those lids have been open, toss them out, or use them as lids for things that don’t need to be canned, like storage for buttons, or even cookie-mix-in-a-jar gifts. Go get a fresh box for canning your awesome garden harvest. They are cheap. About $1.50 for 12. I promise you it’s worth it.
#11. This chopping tool actually works. It’s a lifesaver if you’re making salsa, or anything else that requires dicing several pounds of produce. I didn’t think it would, but my friend Amber who does lots of canning with me, brought it over once, and it worked so well for us, she bought one for me for Christmas.