Storing Your Own Food:
A Quick and Easy Guide to Home Canning
Do you remember your grandmother’s home canning? It was the stuff of legend in many families.
Yet now, numerous decades later, grandmother’s ways are making a significant comeback in modern America. In fact, self-reliance skills in general are coming back into vogue as brutal economic realities continue to impoverish millions.
It’s almost as though we are in… well… a depression.
Whether you grow a garden, visit a local farm to pick fresh produce, or jump at a great price at your grocery store, it’s wise to take advantage of the relative affordability and abundance of food.
We want to propose that you consider modifying your approach to getting and storing food – because it’s likely shortages will crop up at some point.
Home Canning Is a Great Inflation Hedge
for the Budget-Conscious Household
One easy answer that lets you take advantage of locally grown produce or great buys at the store all year round, is to start canning your produce at home. And it’s a great inflation hedge as U.S. food prices continue to rise.
Home canning used to be a widely practiced skill until the convenience of the modern supermarket took over. Today’s smart preppers see the need to bring this tradition back to the forefront.
With the right tools, home canning just takes a little patience and preparation. Then you can add your own garden harvest to your food stores and be confident that you can stock up on food no matter the circumstances or situation.
So, let’s take a look at the easiest way to get started with canning…
Choose Between Water-Bath
and Pressure Canning
The first choice you’ll make is whether you want to use a water-bath canning system or a pressure canning system.
Water-bath canning is easier. You just need a deep pot with a lid, a canning rack, and canning jars with sealing lids. The main drawback to water bath canning is that it limits what you are able to can. Water-bath canning works safely with highly acidic foods or foods that you plan to pickle. You can preserve most fruits and any vegetables you want to pickle. But, you can’t safely can anything else with a water-bath system.
Using a pressure canner requires a little more specialized equipment and the ability to closely follow instructions, which makes it somewhat more complex than water bath canning. But, you can safely preserve just about anything with a pressure canner as long as you know the proper recipe, processing pressure, and processing time.
You can preserve salsa, chili, green beans, corn, soups, stews, meats, potatoes, eggs… the list just goes on and on.
Now, you can probably tell that we prefer pressure canners. We think it’s a good idea to be able to preserve anything you grow so that’s its shelf stable and ready to eat when you’re ready to serve it up.
The main argument against pressure canners is that if you don’t follow the instructions that come with your canner, it could theoretically explode! The good news is that modern pressure canners are built with redundant safety systems so you’d really have to work at it to get the darn thing to blow up. If you follow the instructions, and take care to maintain your canner, you’re good to go.
You Have High-Tech Canning Choices
Grandma Knew Nothing About!
There are two types of pressure canners to consider.
One type uses a dial gauge to measure the pressure. The other type uses a weighted gauge. You place the weight over the vent and when it starts to jiggle, you know you’ve reached the proper pressure.
A lot of people love their dial-gauge canners. We understand that. A dial gauge gives you a clear display of the pressure inside your system… at least it does if it’s calibrated properly. To safely use a dial-gauge pressure canner, you need to take the dial into your municipal or state “weights and measures” department to have it checked every year.
That’s why we strongly suggest you buy a weighted-gauge pressure canner and practice with it. With municipal and state services being cut right and left and with the mess that most local budgets are in, you may not have a local resource to calibrate your dial. If that becomes the case, your dial-gauge canner is reduced to little more than a glorified cooking pot.
But, with a weighted-gauge canner, once you know how it sounds when it’s jiggling properly, it’s easy to know that you’ve got the proper pressure. And, the weights never need calibrating. Care for it properly, and your weighted-gauge canner could be something that you pass down through the family for generations. It will work year after year – you may occasionally have to replace the sealing gasket – to help you preserve your harvest and add inexpensive healthy foods to your stores.
Get Familiar with the Tools of the Trade
It doesn’t really take that much in the way of equipment to become an expert canner. That’s one of the reasons home canning has so much appeal, especially to people like you and me who want to be sure we always have food on the table no matter what’s happening in the economy and no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.
The Canner: By now, you should already have an idea of what kind of canner you want. The next question is what size do you want to use. A fairly standard canner can process up to seven one-quart jars at a time or 19 pint jars. You can find larger and smaller options. If you plan to do canning in small batches, a smaller canner will be more fuel-efficient. If you plan on working in large batches, a larger canner makes sense.
The Rack: When you’re canning, you don’t want the jars to sit on the bottom of the pan. Canners come with a rack to sit the jars on so that they’re an inch away from the bottom. This allows for a more even flow of heat, which is crucial for proper canning. If you’ve lost your canning rack, you can usually buy a replacement from the manufacturer of your canner.
Jars, lids, and seals: Home canners use glass jars with flat lids. The lids have a rubber sealing ring around the outer edge. The lid rings come as a separate part and are used to keep the sealing lid in place during processing. You’ll actually remove the rings when processing is complete. You can use jars over and over again as long they remain free of chips and cracks. You can also reuse the rings. You cannot safely reuse the sealing lids, so if you plan to stock up on canning supplies, the sealing lids are the place to start.
Jar Lifter: When you remove your jars from the hot water after processing you want to lift them straight up and out. Tilting them can disrupt the sealing process (the seal takes time to set). A jar lifter makes this easier, and can also help prevent burns. This is an optional tool that you can get by without – it’s pretty handy to have, though.
Basic Safety Tips
“Many people think of canning as a big, intimidating production. It’s really not.”
Many people think of canning as a big, intimidating production. It’s really not. If you follow a few basic safety tips, you’ll preserve your fresh produce to enjoy whenever you want. You’ll save money and help your family prepare by adding to your food stores.
Always Clean Your Food before Processing: The big thing that can go wrong with canned foods is spoilage. Improperly canned foods provide an anaerobic environment that alters certain bacteria into something that can make you very sick. These bacteria live in the soil, and are normally harmless. You can reduce the risk of spoilage by thoroughly cleaning foods before canning.
Sterilize Your Jars Before Adding Food: Dip them in boiling water for a minute or run them through the sterilization cycle in your dishwasher. Sterilize the lids and rings, too.
Check Your Seals Carefully: Once your processed jars have cooled completely, test the lid. It should be taut. An unsealed lid will depress if you push it in the center. A sealed lid won’t budge. Tilt the jar (tilting is okay once they’ve cooled) and check for leaks.
Before opening canned foods, check for a good seal. The lid should be concave; use the same push-it-in-the-center test. The lid should make a sucking, popping sound when you open it, just like canned goods from the store. If you don’t hear the seal break, if the lid is bulging, or if there’s any leakage or mold, don’t use the food. If you do hear the seal break, it’s still wise to check for off odors or off colors before eating. If anything looks or smells wrong, discard the food by sealing it carefully in a heavy plastic bag. Handle spoiled food with rubber gloves and sanitize everything it comes in contact with including your hands. Botulism can absorb through the skin and be just as deadly as if you ingest it.
If everything looks good, then, heat the food up to a boil and simmer for several minutes before you serve it.
Follow instructions and recipes carefully:
Canning is a scientific process, so follow the instructions that came with your canner and use a proven canning recipe each time you can. Giving credit where credit is due, the USDA makes a very good, free canning publication available for download
If this sounds at all difficult, just remember that it’s a time-tested, step-by-step process that’s been done successfully in many, many American kitchens. Any new skill takes patience at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually not difficult at all. Home canning has a long tradition of helping families get through difficult winters or economic hard times. It’s also an excellent way to stretch your food budget and to keep healthy, nutritious foods on the table. It takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it makes you so much more self-reliant.
It’s one of the most worthwhile skills you can have, and one that we highly recommend.