Can It! Building Your Food Storage From Scratch

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Stocking your pantry with home canned goods is not only prudent, it’s a simple and inexpensive way to build your food storage. When you can up what is in season (at the peak of freshness, flavor and low price) you’re taking a seasonal approach to your canning. I know that in June or July, I’ll be canning as much strawberry jam as I possibly can. I know that in the Fall it’s apple pie filling and applesauce, and in Winter it will be venison soup with fresh venison and all those potatoes and carrots I stored away from the garden!

We can year round, in bulk. We can jams, condiments, soups, fruits & veggies, chili, stews, meats and more. When I started canning I had no idea that first batch of Apricots for my husband would turn into my primary method of food preservation for our family. Canning has turned into a lifelong endeavor for me. I really enjoy it, not to mention what a blessing it is to our family.

Canning is very simple to do; fills your pantry with delicious healthy foods, and gives peace of mind. Yes, it takes time and effort, but ‘anything worth doing’ does!

Canning has become a lost art; a lost method of food preservation. Folks let themselves be intimidated, thinking, “surely it must be too difficult” – not at all. With a few safety rules ingrained in your brain, the proper equipment and instruction, you can build your food storage from scratch!

In canning, there are 2 types of processing: Water Bath and Pressure Canning. We’re going to start with Water Bath canning and the supplies and tools you’ll need to get started.

Must Haves:

Canning jars

Deep kettle with jar rack

Canning jar lids and rings

Lots of old kitchen/ hand towels & hot pads

Canning Tongs & Wooden Spoon

You’ll want a “Ball Blue Book of Canning” – a must have. You can find them at Amazon, or any place that sells canning supplies & equipment, it is the “canning bible”. I constantly refer back to mine each year!

Jars! You can buy canning jars, again, at any store that carries canning equipment. They can range, from $8 to $15 per case of 12. I scour garage sales in the summer hunting good canning jars. When buying from a second hand source, be SURE to pick up every jar and inspect it for cracks and for nicks in the mouth of the jar. If the mouth of the jar has one little nick in it, the lid will not seal or if it does it won’t hold or will result in bad food that could possibly make your family sick. Make sure to double check the jars!

I often hear ‘what size jar do I use’? Well, that is relative to your family. Are there 2 of you? More than likely half pints & pints will work (depending on what you are canning and your preferences) if you have 4 or more in your family, chances are a half pint of anything is a waste of time & effort– you might want to can in only quarts! I use a variety from half pints to quarts, depending on what I am canning. Anything larger than a quart, is NOT recommended, as you may not get your food to hot enough temperatures, evenly, inside the jar due to its size and therefore your food can end up being unsafe. I tend to can in quarts for the most part, that serves our family well, fits my canners well and saves me on wasting lids.

TIPS- What do lost socks have to do with canning jars? Figure out the mystery here!

A deep canning kettle and rack are for water bath canning and can be bought online or anywhere that sells canning equipment, or look to relatives that possibly don’t can anymore, estate, garage or tag sales! I picked up the two I have, at garage sales for $1.00 or less each–they’ve served me for years!

Canning Jar lids & Rings; you will need brand new lids to seal your jars. Lids have long been that of the metal with rubber seal, one time use only, variety. Those are great, I’ve used them for years—and the rings, are obviously something you save and use repeatedly. I’ve stocked up on these through a couple places that I found the best price for bulk buying. I’ve also discovered REUSABLE canning jar lids! These are fantastic, and can be found at www.reusablecanninglids.com I’d highly recommend checking into them. Great to have on hand, especially when ‘running to the store’ for more disposable lids, is not an option.

You will go through a lot of towels; between setting jars on them, to wiping rims (the rims of the mouth of the jar must be perfectly clean to meet with the rubber on the lids and form that ‘seal’), and of course the occasional mess to clean up! Have a bunch on hand; garage sale or thrift stores are a great place for these if you don’t already have them on hand.

You’ll want canning tongs (this is just what I call them—they are just ‘tongs’ that you’d use in everyday cooking) and a wooden spoon as well; simple things that make the job easier. Canning tongs, a magnetic wand “lid lifter” (or a plain ol’ dinner fork) will lift your lids out of very hot water; enough said. Having a wooden spoon (or a chopstick!) on hand is great for poking down into your filled jars to release any air bubbles. I pick up extra wooden spoons at garage sales often, I love to cook with them and the old ones are sturdy and last!

Some other ‘nice’ but you can ‘get by without things’ are the canning funnel to keep your foods IN the jar and save you messes and loss of spilled/lost food, I have a couple plastic ones & a stainless steel one—LOVE them all and they’ve saved me countless messes! A jar lifter is quite handy, really great tool to SAFELY lift your jars out of the water– this should be on the MUST HAVES LIST, but you can let your water cool and then get them out that way, too. The magnetic wands they have out these days are pretty nice too–but then again an old pair of tongs or a fork will do the job as well. A ladle would be wonderful for scooping hot jam or soup or chili into jars, but an old coffee mug does the job too.

As you can see, much of your canning equipment can be picked up pretty cheap (think grandma’s attic, thrift store and garage sales!), and it’s completely worth it– the food you preserve is tastier, healthier and just all around better for you and yours; not to mention it is a great way to stock the pantry as foods are in season and at their best price! This is the ONLY way for me to get healthy produce on my table year round, keep my pantry stocked and keep adding continually to my food storage. When I am not canning I attempt to keep all my canning ‘stuff’ tucked away in my water bath canner on the shelf, that way, it’s all easy to find for the next batch of whatever I am blessed to put up for my family!

I watch for things on sale at the store and as I go through my freezers or if I have a neighbor that is giving away their garden overflow…always be on the lookout for things you can put up and you’ll have those shelves stocked before you know it.

Other items you’ll want to stock up and on hand for canning are:

Pectin: You can buy this by the little box or in bulk, you can get a variety from no sugar, to some sugar to full sugar to all natural (Pomona’s Pectin).

Canning Salt: Lots of varieties, and every canner has their own preference. There is standard in the box Canning Salt, Kosher Salt, Sea Salt…the list goes on…use your favorite (just not standard “Iodized”) I like Kosher Sea Salt.

Sweetners: Some folks use good ol’ “C & H Sugar”, some use raw honey, some use organic sugar and some doesn’t use any sugar and use grape juice in their jams (I do all of the above depending on the recipe and my family’s preferences). Whatever you choose, have it on hand.

Vinegars: White and Apple Cider (Braggs is fantastic).

That’s our ‘get prepared list’ for Canning 101. Get your canning supplies together and let’s stock our pantry!

Let’s start with Applesauce; it is versatile, easy to make and is great for everything from just eating out of the jar, to baking with, creating a base for baby foods and more! There are as many ways to do this, based on your taste, as there are apple varieties! For us, it goes something like this:

We take our apples (any variety or a mixture, depending on your favorites!) and wash them. My grandmother always used Pink Ladies or Jonagolds; she was right, they make the most beautiful applesauce! When stocking the pantry I’ll use whatever apples I can get a hold of. We then peel them & slice off pieces (smaller sized chunks or thinner slices-no ‘half apple’ pieces here) of apple down to the core, right into a stock or crock-pot. Once we have our stock/crock-pots about 3/4 full or so, I turn them on low, add in about a cup of water, and a cup of sugar. Then put the lid on and let it cook for about 30 minutes on a stove top in a stockpot or 4-6 hours in a crock-pot (depending on temps, etc) , checking it every hour (or a little more often, you do not want it sticking or burning–if it gets dry, just add a bit more water) and giving it a good stir. Once it has cooked down and is the consistency/taste we want, we prepare to water bath can it.

Now, that being said, you can certainly add in some other goodies to create a different flavor to your applesauce! We’ve done ours with cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar…I’ve even heard of folks adding a few ‘red hots’ candies to each jar! Some folks will sprinkle their apples with a tiny bit of lemon juice before putting the lid on the crockpot, some cut up their apples into a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent browning; however it will brown up a bit when cooking in the crock nonetheless. Crock-pot applesauce is extremely forgiving and simply adapts to the makers personal preferences, it’s a beautiful thing! When I do make a batch with cinnamon, I just sprinkle a bit in at a time and stir, until my taste-testers unanimously agree on the end result.

I water bath my pints for 20 minutes and my quarts for 25 minutes; check your Ball Blue book or County Extension office for times based on your elevation.  Putting up homemade applesauce is a great staple for the pantry and one of the easiest ways to preserve the apple harvest.

TIP- If you want to thing outside the box when it comes to canning, check out Weird Canning!

Look for more lessons in canning and preserving– coming soon– learn to build your pantry and food storage, from scratch, through canning!

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