ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: home canning

by Grace Bonney

This time of year, bounty hunters are everywhere. From gardens, to farmer’s markets, to trees bearing fallen fruit, hunters are on the prowl. These hunters are searching for produce (and not on-the-lamb fugitives, à la Dog), in their backyards, from their neighbors, and offered by area farmers. The season’s bounty is upon us, and it’s do or die (or, wilt? rot?) time.

For many, the answer for what to do with all that fruit and veg deliciousness lies in home canning. A new wave of canners, thinking outside the jar, are holding jam sessions and finding themselves in a pickle with unmatched enthusiasm. In fact, next weekend, August 29-30, Canning Across America (their tagline is “Join the Canvolution!”) is planning a huge kick-off, with nationwide how-to classes, demonstrations, and home canning parties (my friend Nicole and I are thinking of hosting one ourselves!). Let’s take a look at the world of home canning and go over some “simmering” questions and “boiling” concerns.

CLICK HERE for Ashley’s full post (and complete home canning how-tos!) after the jump!

Time In A Bottle: Home Canning: Continued….

*Full disclosure: I’m particularly fond of the topic of home canning because I’ve actually written a book on it! “Canning & Preserving with Ashley English”, part of my “Homemade Living” series (which also includes books on “Raising Chickens,” “Home Dairy”, and “Keeping Bees”), published by Lark Books , will be available April 2010 wherever books are sold (“Home Dairy” and “Keeping Bees” will be out in April 2011).

Why should you can? Canning allows you to literally put time in a bottle. Produce that might otherwise go to waste, either from a bumper crop harvest or a hasty ripening, can be transformed into items to be consumed at a later date. Canning also lets you use the freshest, healthiest, most nutritious ingredients possible, as the fruits, vegetables, and, on occasion herbs, are harvested at their peak of ripeness, making their inherent nutrients more available for use by the body. It’s also a great way to socialize, in my opinion. You meet up with your best buds, assemble your ingredients (gathered either from someone’s backyard, your local farmer’s market, or a nearby u-pick farm), fire up the water bath, and get busy (mimosas, though purely optional, definitely seal the canning deal, in my opinion).

I live in the city. Is canning possible in a tiny apartment? Canning absolutely makes sense for an apartment dweller. For one thing, canning equipment doesn’t take up a large amount of space. Unless you’re planning on canning multiple dozens of each item you produce, the amount of space offered in an apartment kitchen should handle your goods. You could also use shelving space in a hall closet, or use an armoire or out-of-direct sunlight shelf to store jars. Lastly, some of the largest variety of produce available can be found at urban farmer’s markets. I’m thinking in particular of NYC’s Green Markets, as well as the farmer’s markets in Berkley, CA. Just because you don’t grow the fruits or vegetables doesn’t mean you might not impulsively decide to purchase multiple pints of berries or a bushel or two of fragrant apples, which you’ll then need to figure out something to do with. Canning is the perfect solution. Plus, it helps to encourage self-sufficiency, should your apartment, or city for that matter, ever experience a power outage due to a freeze, hurricane, or other act of nature. Canned goods don’t require refrigeration, so, electricity or not, you’ll have shelf-stable goods ready for consumption.

O-kay, what about botulism? Is home canning dangerous? Not if it’s done safely. In order for that to occur, if you’re new to canning, be sure to purchase a canning recipe book published within the last two decades. Safety standards and methods have changed with recent scientific findings on how pathogens and microscopic organisms spread. If you follow the recipes in these newer books, or amend older recipes to conform to the processing methods described in more recent publications, then home canning is perfectly safe. The danger comes from a novice canner not knowing about ph, which determines whether a food needs to be pressure canned or is safe to be water bath canned. If you take the time to read up on the topic before diving in, and then take your time the first few times you fire up the canner, you’ll be just fine.

Does it cost a lot to get started canning? Not very much is actually needed to can, which surprises some people. You can get all sort of new, shiny items, or you can appropriate things most of us already have in our kitchens. You’ll need:

-Stock pot or canner (stainless-steel or enamel-coated aluminum are best)

-Canning jars (these are made with tempered glass; don’t use old mayonnaise or peanut butter jars or the like as they’re not intended for multiple use and could crack or fail to secure the lid properly)

-Screw bands and lids (new lids each time, screw bands can be used multiple times, providing they are free of rust)

-Extras/helpful: Silicone mitt; Lid magnet; Jar lifter; Canning rack for lifting in and out of canner or you can use a metal trivet on the bottom of the canner; Non-metallic device for removing trapped air bubbles like a chopstick or rubber spatula)

I hate waste. Why can’t I reuse canning lids? It’s recommended that new lids be used each time you can. The flat lids are fashioned from tin-plated steel that has been covered in a food-grade coating. Running the circumference of the underside of the lid is a rubber compound, specially formulated for vacuum-sealing foods canned at home. After processing, the vacuum seal produces a permanent impression in the lid, thereby rendering them unsafe for reuse. Once you’ve used a lid, while it cannot be used in canning again, it doesn’t have to go into the trashcan. Either use it for storing dry goods in your pantry, or save them up and give them to a local elementary school for arts and crafts projects (I remember making canning lid Christmas ornaments!).

What about European style jars with rubber gaskets? This is a somewhat contentious topic in canning circles. In my book, I only recommend use of mason jars topped with two-piece lid and screw band enclosures. I live in the United States and that is the method espoused by the USDA. They claim the European style jars with hinged glass lids and rubber gaskets are unsafe for use because such closures don’t offer a failsafe method of determining if the jar is sealed, short of opening it. That said, this type of jar is used all over the world, with safe results. The decision to use these jars is entirely up to the individual. I would recommend to those interested in using such jars to read up more on their efficacy and make the most informed decision they can.
If your interest is piqued, or you’re already on board but want some more information, check out the following websites:

Organic Gardening
University of Georgia
Pick Your Own

I LOVE these canning blogs:

Canning Across America
Food In Jars
Put Up Or Shut Up

Supplies, including jars, lids, water-bath canners, pressure canners, and assorted tools can be found at the following sites:

* Jarden Home Brands

* Bernardin Ltd.

* Canning Pantry

* Food Crafter’s Supply Catalogue

* Canning USA

* Lehmans

* Leifheit Jars

Also, here is my series of canning videos on Youtube!

Oh, and do tell, what’s cooking in your kitchen?

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  • I am so intrigued by canning but have an “uncanny” fear of botulism. I am reading all of the material you provided–hoping to one day brave it, well-informed. Thanks!

  • I’ve been canning since I first learned as child. Once you get started, you can’t stop. Friends get miffed if they don’t receive some of my jam for a holiday or birthday gift.

    Check with your local state university extension program. They offer canning classes. You can even get certified as a Master Canner!

    Love Katie’s blackberry peach combo idea. Mmmm.

  • I have only been canning for a few years but I love everything about it…summer food in winter, being more self-sufficient, and buying fresh, local and in season. I’m so happy it’s enjoying a surge of popularity. It makes sense for the times we are in. I hope it continues and becomes a mainstream activity again. I will see if I can find a local class in conjunction with the canning weekend because I definitely want to learn more.

  • i sit here eating a refrigerator pickle (triumph!) and i just sent my husband to work with homemade applesauce, and pasta with deeply intense tomato sauce – both extras from the crazy madness of monday’s canning adventure.. it was my first go at canning and i am loving it! thanks for the great post!

  • I’ve been canning since I first started a small jam business out of my house when I was 11 and have been going every year since. It can’t be beat. It’s much easier than you’d think and endlessly satisfying to crack open a jar of tomatoes in January that you remember canning in August. Try it!

  • I just tried making my own jam the other night for the first time and didn’t realize it was unsafe to use old lids (I boiled the previously used lids along with the jars). They both seem to have sealed fine. I also didn’t make a lot of jam and plan to eat it pretty soon. Should I still be concerned about it? Thanks for the tips!

  • It’s so exciting to see preserving food being “fashionable” again. My friend, Emily at http://www.preservingtraditons.wordpress.com/starting holding monthly food preservation workshops and they have been so wildly popular that I have started a “branch” of Preserving Traditions out in my neck of the woods. It hs been a wonderful way to build community as well as empowering people regarding food security. Thanks so much for all your wonderful tutorials and insight!

  • I just added a canning kit to my registry last week because I loved watching my grandmother can as a child and wanted to reinstitute the tradition in our family. Thank you so much for the tutorial.

    Lindsay, thanks for the advice about local university classes. How great would it be to hold the title of master canner?

  • Sarah, you’ll be fine. I wouldn’t use those lids again (I write “U”-for “used”- on the bottom of used lids with a permanent black marker and store them in my pantry), as the seal integrity will now be compromised. And, so long as you have a quick turn around time (as far as when you’ll eat your jam is concerned), you should be able to avoid any mold issues, in the event that your seal isn’t totally secure. Hope that helps!

  • Yea! Canning is cool again!

    I grew up canning peaches and tomatos with my gramma, but only the hot water bath method.

    This year I’m learning to pressure can, so I can soups and stocks. Also just as easy as hot water bath method!!


  • My mom has been canning as long as I can remember – we had a cool, dark pantry room in the corner of the basement and I used to be sent on errands to find a jar of anything from fish to fruit pie filling for dinner.

    She always had an abundance of zucchini in the garden, and she learned somewhere that since it’s somewhat neutral in flavor, it tends to absorb the juices and flavor of whatever it is canned with. So she got creative and started making cans of apple pie filling with 1/2 apples and 1/2 zucchini, or crushed pineapple with 1/2 pineapple and 1/2 zucchini. When she used them in typical recipes, we really couldn’t tell the difference, and it saved a lot on expensive ingredients like pineapple too!

    I’ve been away from home for 14 years so haven’t really absorbed the art from her like I want to, but this re-inspires me toward an “apprenticeship.” Incidentally, it’s her 33rd wedding anniversary today, so I’ll ask her about this too when I call. Thanks for this post!!

  • This is my first summer growing my own garden and canning. It has been amazing, and I am totally addicted! My favorite has been jalapeno pepper jelly… delicious over cream cheese, served with crackers. I have been asked to bring it to every party we’ve attended this summer! And, it’s 10 x’s more rewarding knowing that it came from my own garden! Thanks for the fabulous blog links… definitely adding them to my blog roll!

  • Ashley, thanks to you and your generous lessons, encouragement, and patience, I’ve now entered into the canning club … And there’s simply no stopping me now. Once you get over the initial intimidation hurdle, you quickly realize how easy, practical, and fun canning is. Now I have a skill that will last a lifetime. This weekend’s canning agenda? Lemon & Ginger Marmalade and Southern Chow Chow.

  • Love this post! Besides canning green beans, hot peppers, relishes, bread & butter pickles, squash pickles, and okra all summer… I made some musk melon freezer jam this week ~ delicious!

  • Great post. I’m flashing back to telling my mom that I was “never” going to do all this work when she would conscript me for canning sessions. Now it sounds like a great idea. One question off topic, what is that lovely wood surface in the pictures? A countertop?

  • Hi Ashley, I just wanted you to know that I am REALLY enjoying your posts every week… It’s a great addition to D*S! I watched your You Tube videos this afternoon and its inspired me to jump in and start canning (Something I’ve always wanted to do, but have always been afraid of because of the whole botulism thing…) Thanks!

  • Another excellent post. Thank you Ashley. I have one question and a request. What is the surface that the items are sitting on, it looks amazing. In your last post you mentioned that you had 4 or 5 cats and 2 dogs. I am wondering if you could devote a post to some strategies that you have found for living with pets. Things like fur and claws and wood floors etc. Anything you could share would help me tremendously. Thanks again.

  • Donna and David W.-would you believe the surface is actually a wooden bath mat?? I’d been hunting for some sort of textured surface for photo styling and this was exactly what I had in mind! Glad you liked it.
    I’ll definitely consider something pet-oriented in the future, David!

  • Your column is always so informative. Thank you for all your research and sharing all that you have learned. It really makes me want to can again. My first canning adventure was applesauce and applebutter. Looking forwaed to next column. Thanks ,Dianne

  • OMG…. LOVE this!
    I need to say… botulism fear-ers… start with tomatoes…. apparently the high acid content in tomatoes does not permit botulism to grow….. (last year I found a u-pick tomato farm 50CENTS a pound… have ONE jar left.. been hoarding it!)
    oh.. & jams are a good idea… high sugar content is also a BIG preservative.. so tomatoes & jams for beginners would be a good suggestion
    …..as well as “refrigerator” items (like refrigerator pickles)… look up home-made sour-kraut too….
    OOOH…. zucchini idea= FAB!!!!
    my grandmother always used Z in lasagna (sliced long & thin… she replaced 1/2 the noodles w/ Z… WAY before the low carb fad!)… but LOVE the idea of replacing 1/2 the pineapple
    or apples/etc!!! will have to try!
    keep up the canned work!

  • Jessica Dally, master canner/food preserver and founder of Seattle Free School, taught an AMAZING and memorable class (by donation) mostly dedicated to SAFETY. Loved it. She’s a great instructor, and sure got her point across. (She teaches cheese-making classes also!)

    Let’s see…the biggest lesson here was how to not kill your loved ones. VERY IMPORTANT! This is not a time to be ‘experimental’ or an adventurous cook. You don’t want to improvise, you don’t want to KILL YOUR FAMILY. Here are the key points:

    * Follow a recipe that is backed by good science and rigorous testing. There are only 2 books that are approved and these are: So Easy to Preserve put out by the University of Georgia Extension Program, and Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, which can be found in most hardware stores.

    It’s also risky to rely on an index card Grandma used in 1954 or even a publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture dated before 1994, says Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science at Penn State University. Some techniques have changed, he says, to keep up with science.

    The consequences for improper canning techniques can be serious, especially if consumers mishandle foods with low acid content, such as green beans and asparagus. Spores from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum may grow in such foods, creating toxins that can cause paralysis and death. In one recent case, reported in Spokane, Wash., a woman was put on a ventilator and two children were more mildly sickened after eating improperly canned green beans, Chapman says.

    * Follow recipes to a TEE!
    * Glass jars and the metal rims can be reused, but be sure that there are no cracks or imperfections. The lids CANNOT be reused, under any circumstance.
    * Cool old jars from the days of yore might seem like a cute idea, but oh so not.
    * What do you do if someone brings you a nice little gift of say…canned carrots, or canned tomatoes? Jessica’s advice “throw it out.” If you don’t know whether or not your friend/family member followed the rules of canning, don’t chance it. Don’t ask make them feel bad by throwing it out in front of their faces, do it at your own discretion.

    You can consult these helpful websites:

  • I remember my mom making peach jam and applesauce from home-grown peaches and apples…*drool…

    Oh, how I wish produce was affordable enough in Tokyo for canning to be a possibility!

  • Oh this is so great! I just inherited a canning pot from my Mom and have been dreaming of canning but didn’t know where to start!

  • Canning (well, pickling) is something I’ve been meaning to look into, but more pressingly:

    Where are those wooden placemats from?

  • i would love canning too.. unfortunately i can’t get canning jars where i am (Singapore). any ideas on how else i could do it pls?

  • I’ve been canning for about 14 years now. I started out with making salsa (which has become something that friends start asking me about when tomatoes are in season). Last year my husband and I bought our first CSA share (share of a farm’s produce for a season) and when we started being swamped with produce, I broke out the cookbooks and started making jams, caponata, pickled eggplant, cucumber pickles and pickled cabbage as well as more kinds of salsa. We’ve got a share again this year and I tried several pickled green/yellow bean recipes as well for the first time. Nothing beats taking a jar of something you’ve preserved off the shelf in the dead of winter when store veggies taste like cardboard and enjoying a blast of summer again.

    Two books that I’ve found totally useful are the hardcover Ball canning cookbook and a book called “The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round.” Both have tons of really great recipes but the second is nice when you don’t have super large amounts of a given thing.

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