Learn how to get started canning your own fresh food by learning the basics. Understanding how to can is easier than ever!
This post contains affiliate links which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.
If you are a just beginning your canning journey, you are in the right place! Learn how to get started canning your own fresh food by learning the basics. Decades ago, people canned because they had to. “Putting up” food in crocks and jars was one of the most reliable ways to preserve the bounty of the summer garden. Today, people can because they choose to.
I was 20 years old when I canned my first jar of food. Learning how to get started canning 11 years ago, not only gave me a sense of accomplishment in the moment, but unknowingly set me on a course of a whole new lifestyle.
These days I spend hours in the summer with my kiddos screwing on hot canning lids and plunging them into boiling water. The satisfying “click, click, click” while the jars cool and seal is addicting! I am assuming you landed here, because you are a brand new canner, like I was 11 years ago. Well, I’d love to share how I got started canning, and the easy way that you can too. Let’s start with a few fundamentals:
HOW DOES CANNING WORK?
In the hope to be the most helpful in the area of getting started canning and preserving the harvest. I think it will serve you well, to start with canning 101, if you will. Understanding the very basics of canning will aid you in all of your future canning endeavors.
Over the years, the basic process of canning remains the same: Heat food to a specified temperature for a particular period of time to destroy harmful microorganisms and inactivate enzymes. The process also vacuum-seals jars to remove air and prevent other micro-organisms from invading.
Canning Kills Microorganisms
Microorganisms include molds, yeasts, and bacteria. They are naturally occurring and sometimes even beneficial, such as those found in yogurt, but others are harmful and must be destroyed with heat.
Canning Inactivates Enzymes
Enzymes are also naturally occurring. They are helfpul in nature, but in canning, enzymes can affect the color, texture, and flavor of foods. Heating inactivates these enzymes.
Canning Vacuum Seals
The vacuum seal is a result of heat penetrating the jar in the canner. As food and air in the jar expand with heat, pressure builds in the jar. After the jars are removed from the canner to cool on the counter, the air cools and contracts, creating a vacuum in the jar, pulling the lid downward into a concave shape. (The metal lids make a popping sound as this happens–oh so satisfying!) The sticky compound around the rim of the lid softened by the heat, cools and seals the jar. The result? A shelf stable product.
Two Basic Types of Canners for Beginners
The largest and a key piece of equipment in canning is the canner. Here’s what you need to know about the two basic types and which one to use to get started canning.
This method is also called hot-water canning or a hot water bath is used for fruits tomatoes, salsas, pickles, relishes, and jams, and jellies. It’s a very simple setup, nothing more than a very large pot of water. A boiling water canner heats jars to 212 degrees F, enough to kill microorganisms found in high acid foods. The rack allows water to flow beneath the jars. for even heating. It also has handles that allow you to lower and lift jars easily into the hot water. Canners come in different sizes and finishes. This is the method I used when I was learning how to get started canning. It is the easiest and least intimidating.
This canner is used for most vegetables and other low-acid foods. It’s also used to process some foods that contain low-acid ingredients, such as most soups and sauces containing meat. The pressurized steam the canner produces is hotter than boiling water, so it can heat foods to 240 degrees F, jot enough to kill the tougher microorganisms found in low acid foods.
Unlike a boiling- water canner, put only 2-3 inches of water into the bottom–don’t fill it–because you are creating steam, not a bath of boiling water. Much safer than pressure canners made years ago, today’s pressure canner is also simpler to use. It has a rack in the bottom and a heavy lid that twists and locks into place. I did not learn this method of canning when I was just getting started canning….it was much later!
PRESSURE CANNER REGULATORS: On the top of all pressure canners is a dial or knoblike device-the pressure regulator. It helps you control the pressure inside the canner. There are three types.
ONE-PIECE PRESSURE REGULATOR: Add or remove weight rings from it to set the pressure canner for 5, 10, or 15 pounds. Set the regulator on top of the vent pipe to start the pressurizing process. Adjust heat to control the rattling sound it makes as the canner gains or loses pressure.
DIAL GAUGE REGULATOR: More common in older models, a dal regulator shows exact pressure inside the canner. Adjust heat up and down to stay at whatever weight is specified in a recipe. A dial regulator must be inspected for accuracy annually.
WEIGHTED REGULATOR: Made of a disk-like piece of metal, this must be set on the vent pipe at the correct position to process at 5,10, or 15 pounds. Like, a one-piece pressure regulator, it makes a rocking sound.
Basic Canning Tools to Get Started Canning
Some simple tools make canning-especially of larger amounts of produce–fast and easy with less cleanup. You’ll have many of these tools in your kitchen already. But a few specialty canning tools–such as a handy magnet to fish lids out of boiling water with he greatest of each–make the job much easier. I recommend all of the tools listed below to get started canning with ease.
Canning Specific Tools to Get Started Canning
Here are tools that you might already have but which make canning more efficient.
This tool lifts jars firmly and securely in and out of hot water. Use two hands and squeeze firmly. In a pinch, you can use kitchen tongs instead, but they are not as secure and safe.
Trust me on this one, I went years without this handy dandy tool. The magnetic want enables you to drop the lids and rings into the hot water of the canner (no need to heat them in a separate pan) to sterilize and soften them and then easily lift them out from among jars and racks.
Much Wider and shorter than other funnels, these come in both wide-mouth and regular-mouth versions. They’re invaluable for preventing spills when filling jars.
It’s less awkward to use that a regular ruler to measure headspace. The tool is also somewhat flexible with a tapered end, making it the ideal tool for slipping in along the side of filled jars to release air bubbles.
Ordinary Kitchen Tools to Get Started Canning
These basic kitchen tools are necessary for successful canning.
Most sets have 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon. Quality metal spoons cost just a bit more and like metal measuring cups better release finely ground foods that might otherwise cling to plastic measuring spoons.
Canning involves transferring liquids from one container to another, and a ladle does that quickly and precisely. Metal is ideal because it won’t melt if left too close to a burner.
Use to measure headspace when filling jars or when a recipe specifies produce cut in certain lengths.
Use measuring cups for dry goods, such as sugar. (Use glass ones for liquids; they measure differently.) Metal is more durable and finely ground food slides out of it more easily with no static cling. Most come in sets of 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 up, and 1/4 cup.
These have many uses when canning, besides drying wet utensils. Use to wipe rims of jars. Lay a dry towel on the counter to set hot jars on (never directly on the counter, they may crack) or set on a wire rack. And of course, use them to wipe up spills.
Most of the time, I use the timer on my oven, but in case you want to leave the kitchen set one on your phone or bring some type of portable timer with you to remember what you’ve got processing on the stove. I like the timers that show how much time is left in red.
One pair is essential, but two is better so that you always have a clean, dry pair (wet hot pads conduct heat, resulting in burns).
Useful for washing produce and draining juice from sliced or cut up produce. Line it with cheesecloth and set over a bowl to finely strain juices or canned juice or jellies.
Use this like a small colander. Rinse off small amounts of berries or set over a bowl to strain bits from liquids. Or line with cheesecloth to finely strain small amounts of liquid.
Use to write labels on the tops of your jars indicating what is inside…trust me you’ll thank yourself later! I like to include the date so I know when to use up the food, as well.
Understanding Canning Jars to Get Started Canning
Wide-Mouth or regular-mouth? Quart or Pint? There are many different types of canning jars available, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Choose the right jar for the recipe.
More than ever before, home canners have a wide selection of jars to choose from. Larger jars come as either wide-mouth or regular-mouth. Wide-mouth jars are ideal for packing large pieces, such as whole cucumbers or peaches, into a jar. Regular mouth jars are fine for recipes that don’t have large pieces, such as soups, sauces, and juices. After selecting your first recipe, check to see if a specific jar size is recommended before you get started canning.
Choose your Jar Size
Recipes often specify jar size. The following jars are the most widely available for home canners:
Use these large jars for any large food, such as whole tomatoes, or for a generous amount of a recipe, such as spaghetti sauce or soup for a crowd. These jars come in both wide-mouth and regular-mouth.
The most versatile jar, this can hold nearly anything–smaller amounts of sauce, vegetables, to serve a few people, and larger amounts of jam.
Plastic Freezer Jars
Freezer jam stores well in plastic freezer containers and glass jars, but these plastic jars are just the right size, with no danger of cracking in the freezer.
8-Ounce Jelly Jars
Usually with a quilted or other pattern on the side, these jars, have straight sides for better freezing and for getting every last bit of jam out of the jar.
Home-canned food doesn’t last as long in the refrigerator as commercial products because there are no artificial preservatives. These small jars hold amounts you’ll use up more quickly.
For refrigerator-pickled foods that don’t require heat processing, decorative jars work fine.
Old canning jars with colored glass or spring-type lids are pretty collector pieces, but shouldn’t be used in modern canning. They have irregular sizes, may crack, and don’t seal properly.
How to Prepare Jars and Lids to Get Started Canning
Before filling, the jars and lids should be heated and sterilized in the canner, or other hot water, to ensure safely canned foods. The process isn’t difficult, but highly important so the canned food is preserved properly.
All jars must be cleaned and sterilized before using. You can simply dip them in a large pan of simmering water for a few minutes and then load them, still hot, with food. A more efficient way is to use the canner, which already has hot water in it. After filling the canner halfway and bringing they water to just below a simmer, put the jars in it, filling each jar with some hot water to prevent floating. If the canner has and adjustable rack, position it in the highest position, Cover with the lid to get the jars hot and steamy.
Before using lids, heat them to soften the sealing compound. Put the lids in the canner with the jars as you sterilize them. Or heat them in a saucepan by themselves if you wish. Regardless, the water must be very hot to soften the compound but must not boil or the compound will start to break down. The rings can be sterilized too, but it’s not necessary. Instead, you can wash them with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
After a few minutes, the jars are ready to fill. Take out just one jar at a time, fill it, put on the lid, and return it to the canner to keep everything hot. Then take out another jar and fill it. One jar out, one jar in. If using a pressure canner, fill the canner with 2-3 inches of water and, with the lid loosely (not licked) in place, bring the water to not quite a simmer.
Put the jars in the canner with a little water to prevent them from floating. Put the lid back on–loosely, not locked–and allow the jars to get steamy hot. After a few minutes they will be sterilized and ready t pack with hot food. Again, take one jar out, fill it, and replace it in the canner before removing another jar: One jar out, one jar in.