It’s one of my favorite times of the year – Harvest Time! We are starting to pick baskets of vegetables out of the garden each day, and we don’t let anything go to waste. We love to eat fresh veggies from the garden throughout the season. However, even after giving a lot away to family and friends, we have plenty that need to be preserved for future use.
Whether you plant your own garden, or purchase fresh vegetables at your local Farmer’s Market, you can enjoy the summer time luxuries throughout the entire year. Canning your own tomatoes, salsa, pickles, etc… will allow you to have peace of mind in the middle of winter, that what you are eating is healthy and not full of artificial preservatives.
The following is a list of the ‘must-haves’ for maximizing the preservation of your garden vegetables:
1. FRESH, FRESH, FRESH (and I do mean FRESH) VEGETABLES: If your vegetables are becoming soft, then that is how they will turn out when canned. Use softer vegetables in cooked dishes – but don’t use them for preserving. You want to make sure you have firm vegetables when you are canning. You can place them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for a few days until you have gathered enough crops to make a full batch, but for the best results – can them as soon as they come out of the garden.
2. HOT WATER BATH : a large stock pot will work just fine. You want to use the largest diameter stock pot you have. If you are thinking of purchasing a commercial Hot Water Bath product from the store, I would like to suggest something different. If at all possible, make the jump and purchase a Pressure Canner. You can use the base as your Hot Water Bath and you are able to can so much more using a Pressure Canner.
3. THE INTERNET : Sure, you could go purchase the Ball Canning Guide, but there is a wealth of information at your fingertips with the Internet. You can find basic tips, recipes, and even videos to take you step-by-step into the canning process. Be smart and do your research Now you will be able to find out what you may can by using a Hot Water Bath and when you will need a Pressure Canner. The specific instructions are NOT interchangeable! As a great resource, you can always use the online Ball Canning Guide too!
4. $6 FOR 3 BASIC TOOLS : These 3 tools are a LIFESAVER when you begin to can. I am serious – spend the extra $6 dollars to purchase these items – it will save you time, energy and possibly prevent burns to your hands down the road:
Funnel : Do not use the one in the garage!!! These funnels are designed to fit the rims of canning jars. They will prevent extra leakage and drips that will save you clean up time.
Jar Lifter : This will allow you to place the jars in and out of the boiling water without splashing and burning your fingertips – Must HAVE!
Lid Lifter : You would be surprised how this magnetic tool will make your life easier when canning. Typically when you try to get your lids out of the hot water, they end up sticking to one another, and then you waste valuable time trying to separate the lids. Just place 3 or 4 lids in a small skillet with water covering the bottom of the pan. When you are ready for the lid, use the lid lifter to magnetically attach to it and place it on your jar. Simple as that!
5. TOWELS and WASHCLOTHS : Sounds simple, but make sure you have 4-5 towels, and 2-3 washcloths handy during the canning process. You will be surprised on how many you use — and if you are like me, you can’t remember where you put the one you were just using. Wiping the rims of the jars is a critical process of canning — keeping an extra washcloth close by will come in handy.
Remember, these are just basic tips to save you time when you begin to can. Although the must-have list includes only physical items, I would have to say the most important tip not listed above is the COURAGE to try.
There are many people that have never been around canning and it is completely new to them. However, more and more people have a desire to live a healthier lifestyle which includes knowing what they are eating, and canning is a great way to have healthy food year around right from the garden.
Go ahead and try to can something –you just might be surprised with yourself!
– Mary & Jim