Eating fresh, homegrown food year-round is one of the many perks to tending a garden during the warm months of the year. If you’re following along at home, the Thrifty Tip from the Spring issue provided some tips for getting a garden started and now, the most important part, preserving all the yummy goodies.
The simplest way to preserve most foods is with the boiling water method. There are other ways to do it, namely in the oven or with a pressure cooker, but I’ve not tried either of those.
You only need a few things to get started with canning:
- Some pint-size jars with lids and rings
- A large pot that is deep enough to cover your jar with at least one inch of water
- Another pot to boil and sterilize the lids
- Tongs to get the hot jars out of the water (you can buy one of these specifically for canning, or you can find something around the house that will work)
- Sterile butter knife
- Some towels
Purchasing the jars with lids and rings (assuming you have the other items already in your kitchen) can come with a little bit of sticker shock at first, particularly if you have a lot of canning you want to do. It’s important to remember that you can reuse these jars year after year, and when you think about the cost of a can of tomatoes from the store versus the cost of one mason jar divided up over a few years, you’ll spend significantly less over the long run.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll stick to talking about tomatoes for this tip. The process is fairly similar for other vegetables, like anything pickled, or salsa. You can always check with Google for more directions for the vegetable you want to can.
Step 1: Peeling.
Take that horde of tomatoes you’ve got sitting in a bucket and peel them. Get a large pot of water to a boil, and get a separate bowl with ice water. Then take the tip of a sharp knife and cut an X in the bottom of the tomato. You just want to cut the skin; don’t cut too deep. This cut will help you peel the tomato. Place a few tomatoes in the boiling water, and let them boil for no more than 30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and dunk them in the ice water. Once they’re cool, the skin should peel right off. Repeat this process for all of your tomatoes.
Step 2: Chop.
Cut your tomatoes how you would like them to be in the can. You could cut them in half, in quarters, or dice them.
Step 3: Sterilize.
The easiest way to do this step is in the dishwasher. Put all of your jars in the dishwasher, and run it through one cycle. You want to be sure you keep your jars warm until you fill them so if your dishwasher has a “heated dry” setting, turn it on.
If you don’t have a dishwasher, you’ll need another large pot. Boil the jars for 15 minutes at a full, rolling boil. You can leave the jars in the hot water for up to an hour until you’re ready to fill them before they’re no longer sterile.
Finally, you need to sterilize the lids. Boil some water in a small pot and turn the heat down then add your lids. Don’t boil the lids. You can use a magnet or a sanitized fork to get the lids out of the water as you need them.
Step 4: Fill ‘Em Up.
When you fill your jars with the tomatoes, you want to be sure the rim of the jar stays completely clean. The easiest way to not make a mess is to use a funnel. You can buy one of these fairly cheaply at the store, and it will make your life so much easier.
Don’t fill up the jar too far, otherwise it won’t seal. I leave about one-inch head space between the tomatoes and the rim.
You have to remove any air bubbles from the tomatoes (you should have tomatoes and their juice in your jars at this point) so take the butter knife and run it down the side of the jar and press towards the center of the jar to get out any air bubbles. Do this all the way around the jar.
Finally, place a lid on the jar, and gently screw a ring on it. You don’t want it screwed too tightly or it won’t seal. Repeat until you use all of your tomatoes.
Step 5: Processing.
In your large pot, bring water to a boil. You want enough so that when you have jars in the pot, the water is at least an inch above the tallest jar. Add your jars to the water using tongs. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and let your jars process in the boiling water. After 15 minutes, remove the jars from the water and place them on a towel on a table or countertop.
Step 6: Sealing.
As the jars cool, they will seal. You’ll probably hear some pops when a jar seals. It’s similar to the sound you hear when you open a new jar from the store. You’ll know a jar is sealed when you press on the center of the lid and it doesn’t pop up and down.
If the jar hasn’t sealed after it has completely cooled, it probably means you filled it too full or the rim of the jar wasn’t clean before you put the lid on. You can try to reprocess the jar by taking the lid off, removing some of the tomatoes if it’s too full, wiping off the rim and using a new, sanitized lid. You want to be careful with reprocessing because if the jar has been sitting at room temperature for too long, bacteria may have started to form in the tomatoes so they wouldn’t be safe to reprocess and eat a year later. Sometimes the best process if a jar doesn’t seal is to put it in the refrigerator and use in a week.
This is just a taste of all of the possibilities you have with all of your garden goodies to enjoy year-round. I know I learned how to can with the help of the internet (YouTube is seriously the greatest how-to teacher ever) so if you have any questions, Google is always a great resource! Happy canning!