Following our first vegetable harvest at our new farm in 2007, it quickly became clear that we would not be able to eat or give away all of our produce. So, as my mother did before me, that meant canning. Freezing would have taken up too much freezer space.
Ball Corporation, the most famous continuously operating canning jar company, had just issued a new “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.” I was armed. I had two water-bath canners and the paraphernalia to go with it. That was my first lesson: the shorter canner would only just barely hold quart jars; it was better suited for pints. The taller canner not only handled quart jars, but also two-quart jars (which I inherited). I bought a new Ball jar lifter because it was hinged better and had rubber-coated tong ends to help prevent slippage as the jars were lifted in and out of the canner.
The Blue Book is very thorough in listing the equipment needed; describing home canning principles, including Growth and Destruction of Microorganisms charts; choosing boiling water vs. steam-pressure canning, preparation of canner, jars and lids, and jar headspace; and includes many great recipes. Canning recipes must include jar head space and processing time.
“Canning for Beginners” means water-bath canning. This method requires less in the way of initial equipment, but it can only be used for things that are relatively high in acidic content: most fruits, and pickled vegetables. Non-acid fruits and vegetables must be canned at a higher temperature than can be achieved with boiling water; that’s where the pressure canner comes in (otherwise known as “Advanced Canning”). Always be sure to consult a reference such as the Ball Blue Book to be sure you’re using the right canning method.
The Blue Book, or any reference you consult, will tell you to use firm, ripe, but not over-ripe fruit. But that doesn’t mean the fruit has to be perfect—in fact, canning is an excellent way to use less-than-perfect fruit. Just be sure to cut out any bruised, cracked, or otherwise damaged parts.
A few things we have learned: canning is most efficiently done with two people when canning produce like tomatoes or peaches that require skins to be removed: one person to blanch, and one person to peel and stuff jars.
Be sure at least one of you can lift the canner when it is full of water and jars. The clean, empty jars should be heated for at least ten minutes before filling. We fill about half of the canner with hot water, transfer to the stove, and position canner rack (that holds each jar apart from the others) over canner. Then gradually fill each jar with hot tap water, place in the canner rack, and submerge rack, making sure water covers the rims of the jars by 1” to 2”. Bring the water to a boil and simmer, removing a jar at time to fill. Place a filled jar at a time on suspended canner rack. Carefully lower rack into canner, adjusting water level again.
Lids and rings: So that the lids don’t stick together, I place one lid in one ring in a large frying pan filled with water, which can then be layered. Cover the pan and keep at a low simmer. Simmer for at least 10 minutes before use. Lift out the lid/ring combo with coated regular-size tongs.
Head space and clean jar rim is essential to insuring each jar seals. Even with a jar funnel, after the jars are filled, I go over the rim with a clean, damp paper towel before adding the jar lid and ring. I try and see the reflection off the rim to be sure, which means my light must be good. The slightest food particle can create seal failure. Screw the ring over the lid until fingertip tight. Just before submerging the canner rack full of filled jars, I tighten each jar again. Reheat to boiling before setting timer. To help prevent film build-up on jars (our well water!), add ¼ to ½ cup vinegar to the canner when processing jars.
Remove jars from canner and place on a cutting board or strong metal rack 1” to 2” apart. Allow jars to cool in a draft-free room. Success is when you hear each jar “pop” and the center of lid is recessed.
Source: Michigan Organic Food & Farm Alliance