How to Can Food

Canning tips for novice to seasoned preservers

Most environmentalists I know dabble in some form of food preservation. From wild fermentation to dehydration to freezing, there are many ways to keep local, organic produce year-round. Rather than a comprehensive recipe, this lesson details tips & tricks for hot water bath canning. My favourite canning website Food in Jars has compiled Canning 101, a list of blog posts over the years that deal with which types of jars to use, canning definitions and much more about the whole process.

A\J’s Tips & Tricks for Canning

1. Canning can be a hugely intensive endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. While it’s important to keep certain areas clean and sterilize your jars, you don’t need fancy supplies to get started. I attempted canning for the first time after getting a load of free asparagus. Our largest pot only fit four jars at a time, we didn’t have a jar lifter so we rigged up regular tongs to get our jars out, made our vinegar solution way too strong, but yet managed to pickle about 40lbs of asparagus that we’re still working through two years later.

2. Tomato sauce, pickles and jam aren’t the only things you can can. I was incredibly excited to find a recipe for ketchup that I could use maple syrup in, since low or no sugar ketchup doesn’t always come in containers that can be recycled in my region. 

3. Enlisting a few friends can make the process easier if you have a good system down, but I find canning alone to be a Zen experience. It’s definitely possible to can 25 pounds of tomato sauce by yourself in an afternoon.

4. Small-batch canning can be better if you prefer variety but don’t want to spend every weekend of your summer canning. Rather than making one giant batch of strawberry jam, switch it up and spend a few hours on a vanilla peach jam, and a few weeks later try out a grape jelly. At the least you’ll learn which process you like best if you do want to get into large-batch canning later.

5. Large pots take a long time to reach a boil. Turn them on before you start prepping your produce so that you’re not waiting for half an hour before you can put the jars in.

6. Deskinning fruits isn’t hard per se – many recipes suggest peeling your peaches, tomatoes and pears before preserving them ­– but there are definitely ways to get around the intensive step that involves handling boiling hot produce. Tomato sauce with skins tastes just as good as without, I promise.

7. Sometimes when you buy produce it’s not ripe yet, so you may not be able to plan your canning day to be the day after you pick up your produce. But you also can’t rely on that fact, since sometimes it needs to be canned right away. Regardless, be careful of how you store your produce. If you want it to ripen faster, try keeping it all in paper bags, but keep an eye on how fast it's progressing!

8. You can probably find most canning supplies second hand and reuse your jars year after year, but make sure to buy new snap lids.

9. Botulism is bad. Follow recipes.

10. Canning can use a lot of processed sugar. Sugar is not good for you. Luckily it’s not hard to find recipes that either use less sugar or instead use maple syrup, honey or agave which are lower on the glycemic index, can be found locally and have more health benefits. Check out this Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam and try out Pomona's Universal Pectin for low-sugar or no-sugar preserving – the box comes with basic recipes for all types of preserves.

Alternatives Journal (A\J) is Canada’s Environmental Voice, delivering the latest news and ideas about national and global environmental issues. Featuring thoughtful analysis by the nation’s foremost environmental thinkers, plus profiles of inspiring eco-leaders and sustainable living ideas to steal, A\J offers both a vision of a more sustainable future and the tools needed to take us there.