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Canning Food for Long Term Storage

This section is on how to can your own food in glass jars for storage. More on commercially canned foods (typical grocery store products in metal cans) is in another chapter. Many people think of this when they think of storing food because this is precisely how many generations used to store their harvest for the winter.

Pros and Cons of Canning

Like with all methods of food storage, there are notable pros and cons involved with canning. Since there is a bit more of a financial investment in this method, you should take the time to learn what you can.

And on that note, the first con is that it can be expensive to start canning. You have to use proper canning jars (also known as Mason jars). You cannot substitute other jars, such as old spaghetti sauce jars because the glass is not thick enough to withstand the pressure of a canner. Jars come in pint or quart sizes, so you will need many dozen of them depending on your storage needs. A good pantry filled with canned food can take upwards of a hundred jars if you use this method extensively.

You also need rings and lids. The rings, which can also be called screw bands, hold the flat round lids over the opening. Lids are only used once so they will need to be purchased each year but you can keep using the rings over and over.

And then there is the canner itself. A pressure canner will cost at least $100 and can easily run more for a large one. These are large cooking pots with a lid that locks down in place. Once they start to heat, pressure builds within and that combines with the heat to kill all potential bacteria in the food. Gauges on the top will tell you what the pressure levels are at as you work.

So you will have to load up on equipment before you can get going. Even so, people often favor canning because your jars of food are completely shelf-stable and can be stored anywhere. Food will last for months or even more than a year and you do not have to worry about power failures or any other storage issues. The food inside retains its taste and texture, and will usually be indistinguishable from any other freshly cooked food.

The Canning Process

Because improperly canned food can host bacteria, you should do your research before getting into it. Read at least one or two books on canning to understand the proper methods. Do a little practising too.

The main method for canning is pressure canning, for which you need a canner as described above. Using an open cooking pot for simple hot water canning is only recommended for a small number of high-acid foods (like jams or tomatoes) and it is not really a good option for any serious food storage. Stick with pressure canners.

The basic process for canning is to first wash all your jars, and briefly soak the lids in very hot water. Fill each jar with either raw or cooked food that has been chopped up. Some instructions will say to add salt. This is just for flavor and not necessary for the actual canning process. Top up each jar with cooking liquid or water, then place on the lids and screw bands. Add about an inch of water into your canner pot and put your jars inside. Most canners come with a little rack so your jars aren't actually sitting right on the bottom as they can crack due to the contact with heat.

Lock the lid on securely and start it heating up. Follow the specific instructions that come with the canner for more details on heat and temperature levels. Heat it until you see the pressure gauge reach the correct level. Adjust the heat so that it stays at that point and begin timing. After the allotted time has passed, you take the canner off the heat and wait for it to cool down completely before unsealing the lid.

Once open, you carefully remove the jars and let them finish cooling on the counter. You usually hear a "snap" as the vacuum inside forms and pulls the lid down tight against the rim of the jar. Carefully unscrew the rings and find a place to store your jars. You can leave the rings on if you prefer but moisture can get trapped between the glass and the metal, leading to mold problems or rusted rings.

Canning Times

This is just a basic collection of foods you might want to can. Meats can also be done but that should be left to someone with a little more canning experience. Again, read a complete book or two before you start.

PressureTime for PintsTime for Quarts
Apples6 lbs8 min8 min
Cherries6 lbs8 min10 min
Peaches6 lbs10 min10 min
Raspberries6 lbs8 min8 min
Pears6 lbs10 min10 min
Tomatoes10 lbs15 min15 min
Green Beans10 lbs20 min25 min
Carrots10 lbs25 min30 min
Corn10 lbs55 min90 min
Peas10 lbs40 min45 min
Okra10 lbs25 min40 min
Potatoes10 lbs35 min40 min
Beets10 lbs30 min35 min
Pumpkin10 lbs55 min90 min
Sweet peppers10 lbs35 min45 min

Most other fruits will get too soft in a pressure canner, and are usually stored via another method or canned once they have been turned into preserves, jams or jellies.

Storing Your Jars

Once filled, you can store your food anywhere as long as it is out of the sun and extreme temperatures. Basements usually work very well as long as there is no risk of freezing. Just take care that they won't be jostled or knocked about too much since they are glass and can break.

Hot Water Canning

Though the safest way to can anything is with a pressure canner, the older method of hot water canning should be mentioned. This is used only for "high-acid" foods such as tomatoes, pickles, or any fruit combination that has had lemon juice or pectin added to it. Because of the limitations, it is really only advisable if you are not going to do any other canning and do not want to buy a proper canning pot.

All you need for hot water canning is a large pot that will hold enough water to completely cover the jars you are using. Fill your jars and attach their lids and rings. Set a canning rack in the bottom of the pot to keep your jars from actually sitting right on the bottom. While you are filling up the jars, you can start heating up the water in the pot. Set the jars into the pot when you are ready, and add additional water so that it is about 1 inch higher than the tops of the jars.

Bring the water to a good rolling boil and start to time. If the water stops boiling at any time, you have to start timing over again. Once they are done, you can take out the jars. A special set of "can lifter" tongs can help with that. Let them cool on the counter and remove the rings once you hear the lids pop into place.

The timing chart above is NOT for water bath canning, and you should check with a proper book to get the times. Most fruits will take 15 minutes to half an hour, and tomato products are usually over 30 minutes. Since pressure canning is a better option for varied food storage, only times for that process are being included here.

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