The best things to can are fruits and tomatoes. I only can jams, jellies, and various tomato products. This is because canning does result in nutrient loss, and there are too many other superior ways to "put up" the produce I grow. Many can be lacto-fermented to extend their lives (up to a year, as in pickles, sauerkraut, and sour beets). Most other vegetables can be blanched and frozen for maximum nutrient and enzyme preservation. Some even take well to drying. I do jam (and jelly, but less of it) because, well, jam is fun. It makes a great gift- give a jar as a hostess gift dressed up with a pretty tag, or give a basket of a few jellies with some baked goods as a Christmas gift. So far as the jelly we use, I make several lower sugar ones for the kids to mix into their yogurt and spread on toast, and my husband plows through most of the high sugar ones I don't give away (hello crab apple...).
Tomatoes also can well for two reasons- first of all, they maintain more nutrients than other vegetables when exposed to heat. The nutrient lycopene, for example, is actually more bio-available when tomatoes are heated.
So I'm here to walk you through basic canning, using tomato sauce as an example. Tomato sauce is one of the simplest and most rewarding tomato products to can, as just about anyone can think of many uses for it (chili this winter... mmmmm).
Tomato Sauce: Water Bath Canning
Makes about 8 pints
Any time you can, the very first thing you want to do is get your equipment and supplies together. For this recipe you will need:
|Wide mouthed canning funnel, magnetic lid lifter, and jar lifter.|
- 1 large, deep pot- the large enameled aluminum ones they sell at big box stores work. You could use any large pot you already have, as long as it is at least two inches deeper than your jars are tall.
- 1 heavy bottomed large pan (for blanching the tomatoes and cooking the tomato sauce in)- at least 6 quart.
- large bowl for cold water
- 9 or 10 pint jars, washed in hot soapy water and dried. I know the recipe says about 8 pints, but I always prepare a jar or two extra so I'm prepared if the recipe ends up larger than expected.
- appropriate rings and lids for your jars (make sure you have the right size- regular or wide mouth)
- A large glass bowl for the lids
- a tea kettle or small pot
- EITHER a food mill or a potato ricer OR a masher of some sort, like a potato masher
- Jar lifter
- wide mouth funnel
- ladel, slotted spoon, tablespoon
- magnetic jar lifter (not 100% necessary, but super helpful)
|Always boil your jars and start a kettle of water first.|
Place the rings and lids into the large glass bowl.
|Canning lids ready to be sterilized and warmed for use.|
- 10 lbs tomatoes
- 8 T. of lemon juice, or one per pint
IF YOU DON'T HAVE A FOOD MILL OR SIMILAR DEVICE, follow the procedure demonstrated HERE to peel and seed your tomatoes (except the blanching... you've already done that part!). I have to add that I NEVER score the tomato or de-stem before I blanch, but you can do as you like. Once you have your tomatoes peeled and seeded, dice them, place them in the heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, and mash the tomatoes with a potato masher until they are the consistancy you desire for your sauce. However, if you plan to do a lot of tomatoes or you plan to do this many times, I strongly suggest you get a food mill- they are reasonably priced and are worth their weight in tomatoes:) They can also be used to process cooked apples into applesauce, process soups... and many other things depending on the type you choose.
IF YOU DO HAVE A FOOD MILL, simply place the blanched tomatoes in your contraption and process- for larger tomatoes I either break them apart with my hands or cut them into smaller pieces. The screen will separate the seeds and skin from the flesh and puree the flesh into sauce for you.
|My tomato mill.|
Place the sauce in your heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.
|Simmering tomato sauce.|
By this time your jars should be boiling. Turn off the heat under your tomato sauce and remove the jars from the boiling water, placing them on a towel very near the pot of tomato sauce. When you lift the jar, you will need to VERY CAREFULLY dump the water back into the pot. And remember these:
Pour some of the hot water from the tea kettle over the lids to sterilize them and warm them for use.
Using the wide mouthed funnel, ladel sauce into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of head space (the space between the rim of the jar and the sauce).
|Filling jars with tomato sauce.|
PLEASE NOTE: My son is NOT helping me can in this picture. Canning is too involved and it is one of the few things I don't let my kids help with- to much potential for them to distract me and make me mess something up, or for them to get splattered with some boiling substance (I accidentally got my own arm with boiling jelly once... ouch!). I didn't have anyone to take a picture of me doing these next two steps, so I staged Oliver doing them:)
|Adding lemon juice to each jar of tomato sauce.|
After adding the lemon juice take a damp, clean cloth and wipe the rim of each jar- this is important because little tomato bits or shrapnel that you may have spilled on the rims can prevent a good seal.
|Yes, it's staged, but I love how carefully he did this!|
|Tighten rims only fingertip tight!|
|See the bubbles?|
|Process pints for 35 minutes.|
|The least fun part of canning...|
|Carefully lift the jars straight up and out of the water.|
I know, it sounds like a lot, but I did all of this in about an hour. There are a few super important things to remember, like preparing your jars and other supplies first, remembering the lemon juice, wiping the rim, and not overtightening the lids... which is why I felt the need to do this in pictures. Because these are things I have forgotten in the past, and having a visual is a helpful way to remember these things!
And lastly, here are a few things you may encounter and what to do about them:
- White residue outside the jar/on this lid. THIS IS FINE! It's just hard water deposit.
- Seperation of the solids and liquids. THIS IS ALSO FINE. When I removed that sauce that you see above from the water bath, it was terribly separated. But it un-separated (???) as it cooled. And even if a little separation remains this doesn't affect the end product, it simply means you either under or over cooked the pectin in the tomatoes.
- Lids didn't seal- if you have a jar or two that doesn't seal, either use the contents of the jar within two weeks or reprocess with a new lid, making sure that 1) you don't over tighten the lid, 2) your jar rim is clean, and 3) you have appropriate headspace.
- REALLY SUPER BAD STUFF: if you ever see/smell/hear/sense any of the following on a canned item THROW IT AWAY- white residue on the inside, mold on the inside, a funny or "off" smell when opened, a bulging lid, bubbling, or basically anything weird, gross, off, or wrong. THROW IT AWAY IMMEDIATELY. In all my years of consuming home canned goods and canning myself I have never had to throw away an unopened jar of anything, though.