One of the best things about early fall is being able to can the fruits and vegetables from your garden so you can enjoy them all winter long.

The basic principal is simple: during the canning process, food is heated to a high enough temperature to stop the decaying action of enzymes and/or bacteria and other critters in the food. The food is then stored in sterile, airtight containers to keep it from spoiling.

Even though the process is pretty straightforward, you still have to pay attention. Contaminated food can cause illness, and botulism isn’t something you want to mess with. Here are some sips to give you the best results when canning:

  • Choose only the best produce. Overripe or damaged fruits and vegetables are more prone to spoilage.
  • Jars, lids and sealing rings should be in good condition and sterile (washed and scalded).
  • Wash produce thoroughly before processing.
  • Be sure to use the correct time, temperature and method of processing for the food you will be canning. Use a reputable source like The Ball Blue Book

After canning, check the seal on every jar to make sure they are air tight – when you push down on a self-sealing lid, it should stay down. Test porcelain lids by turning the jars upside down. If you see a stream of tiny air bubbles, the seal is not air tight.

Don’t use foods from any jar that has a foamy or discolored appearance. Watch for bulging or misshapen lids and leaking rims. Throw those jars away.

Glass jars used for home canning usually have a self-sealing cap, which consists of a flat lid with sealant around the rim and a screw-on band that holds the lid against the lip of the jar. The band can be reused, but you should use a new lid for each process.

Vegetables and large fruits can be cut into pieces and pitted if necessary. Smaller fruits such as berries can be left whole. Fruits can be dipped in asorbic acid (vitamin C) and packed in sugar syrup to preserve their color, texture and flavor.

There are two ways to pack the produce into the jars before processing: raw or cooked. For raw packed, place clean produce tightly into containers and pour on boiling juice, water or syrup. Wipe the rim and sealing ring to remove any food particles, then close the jar and proceed with the canning process. For hot packed, steam or heat vegetables or fruits to boiling in juice, water or syrup, then immediately pack them into the jars. If you are using a self-sealing cap jar, tighten band before processing and don’t loosen it again.

So far we’ve covered the initial steps of selection and preparation. Now we’ll take a look at the 2 types of canning and cover the rest of the steps you’ll need to make your own delicious pickles and preserves.

There are 2 ways to can fruits and vegetables: boiling water bath or pressure canning. All vegetables (except tomatoes) can contain heat-resistant bacteria, and MUST be pressure canned. High acid food, which includes tomatoes, pickled vegetables and most fruits, can be processed at boiling water temperature.

For boiling water bath canning, you’ll need:

  • Boiling water bath canner. This is basically a large, deep pan with a tight fitting lid. It should be large enough to allow 4 or more inches of “headroom” above the jars.
  • Wire basket or rack to fit inside the pan and hold your jars.
  • Tongs to lift jars out of boiling water.
  • * Oven mitts to handle hot jars.
  • Cooling rack, or several towels.
  • Kitchen timer.

To start, fill the canner halfway with hot water and put the jars, lids and ringsin it. Add boiling water to 2 inches above the jars. Be careful not to pour boiling water directly onto the jars.

Cover canner tightly and bring water to a rolling boil for 5 minutes to steralize the jars.

When time is up, remove jars, lids and rings immediately with the tongs. Fill the jars according to the recipe, place the lids and rings on, and place the jars in the canner. Bring the water back to a boil and process for the time called for in the recipe.

For pressure canning, you will need:

  • Pressure canner with an accurate dial or gauge
  • Rack to fit inside the canner
  • Tongs to lift jars out of boiling water
  • Oven mitts to handle hot jars
  • Cooling rack, or several towels
  • Kitchen timer

Fill the pressure canner with 2-3 inches of hot water and put the jars on a rack on the bottom of the pan. Jars should be spaced apart from eachother. Fasten the lid and place over a maximum heat. Let steam exhaust for 10 minutes. When the first inch of the steam jet is nearly invisible, close the vent. At 8 lb pressure, lower heat slightly. Let the pressure continue to rise to 10 lb. At 10 lb pressure, start timing. Hold at that pressure for the full canning period. (Use this chart to determine processing time.) If pressure drops below 10 lbs at any time during the process, start timing all over again. Remove canner from heat and let it cool. (Don’t pour cold water on it.) When the pressure is zero, open the vent, then carefully open the lid, slanting it away from you. Set the jars on a cooling rack or layer of towels to cool, leaving spaces between the jars. Tighten lids if necessary.

After canning, label the jars with their contents and the date they were canned. Store jars in a cool, dark place. Light can cause discoloration and loss of nutrients.

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