DIY Tips for Organic Farming and Organic Food Storage
Storing What You’ve Grown
Canning your produce
Preserving food is at least as old as gardening, and maybe older. From drying and smoking to fermentation and pickling, finding a reliable food preservation method was an ongoing problem…until canning.
We can thank Napoleon Bonaparte for sponsoring a contest in search of a reliable food preservation technique. He offered a cash prize to the winner, who happened to be Nicolas Appert. Mr. Appert was a French cook who experimented with packing, heating, and sealing techniques that led to modern-day canning. Once John Mason invented the ever-popular reusable jar with a screw-on lid, followed by the two-part canning lid developed by Alexander Kerr, canning became the go-to technology that we still use today.
How Organic Vegetable Canning Works
It’s a pretty simple process. You fill a clean jar with prepared food, put the lid in place, thread the holding ring to the jar and submerge the entire jar in boiling water. How long depends on the food you’re canning. Once removed from the hot water, the heat dissipates, along with any air that’s left in the jar. As the oxygen leaves the jar, it compresses the lid downward to create an airtight seal. The lids contain a food-safe sealing compound. Even high-acid foods can be preserved for a minimum of a year using this canning method.
What You Need to Can
Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
- Sturdy tongs
- Wide-mouthed funnel
- Measuring cups
- Large canning pot (NOTE: any large stockpot and lid will work, provided it’s deep enough to cover the top of the canning jars with at least two inches of water)
- Canning rack (this sits inside your canning pot and will hold the jars so it’s easy to pull them out)
Here’s a suggested step-by-step guide:
- Choose a good recipe from a source you know and trust. If you’re fortunate enough to have a surviving grand or great-grandmother, ask her if she has any.
- Once you’ve settled on a recipe, gather all your ingredients.
- Remove the lids and rings from your mason jars. Place the jars you’ll need on top of the rack in your canning pot, then fill both the pot and fill and cover the jars with water. Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil. Place lids in a small saucepan and bring to the lowest possible simmer on your stovetop.
- As the canning pot reaches a boil, you can prepare your recipe. Once finished, remove the jars from the canning pot and pour the water from them back into the pot. Lay the emptied jars on a clean towel on your table or countertop.
- Use your wide-mouthed funnel to carefully fill the jars with your prepared food. Depending on the recipe, be sure to leave ¼ to ½ inch of space between the top of the food and the top of the jar.
- Wipe the rims of the jar with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Put the lids in place and attach the screw bands on the jars to hold the lids down during the canning process.
- Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot. Be sure to watch your water level, as you may have to remove some water as the jars are placed inside the canning pot.
- After the pot has started to boil again, start your timer according to the directions in your recipe.
- When the timer sounds, promptly remove the jars from the water and place them on a towel on your countertop or kitchen table.
- You’ll hear a ‘ping’ shortly after removing the jars from the pot. That’s the seal on the jar forming as the lids become concave when the vacuum seal is activated.
- Once the jars are cooled to room temperature, you need to remove the screw bands and check the seals. Once you’ve removed the screw bands, grab the jar by the edge of the lid and carefully lift it just a bit from the table or countertop. The lid should stay in place.
- If the seals are good, store your jars in a cool, dark place. NOTE: most canners recommend removing the screw bands once the lids are sealed. If left on stored jars, those screw bands can rust, become difficult to remove and fail to work properly again. It’s also easier to detect spoilage or ‘popped’ lids without the screw bands in place.