Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tips for Beginners (Canning)

I had a friend pose the question recently if I had any tips for new canners.  Well I can certainly think of a few!  I'd love to hear more from any of you who have tried some home canning, from fellow beginners to pickled veterans.  In the meantime, here's a handful.
(These are mostly aimed at water bath canning, fyi)
  • Have a stack of hand towels or rags at the ready.  You'll need one damp one to wipe the rims, a dry one to hold the jars while doing so, and there's a great chance that you'll just need a few extra.  Trust me on this one, you don't want to be running in circles around the kitchen after you've just dropped a huge glob of jam on your big toe!
  • Never put your hot glass jars, empty or full, on a bare countertop, oven, or table.  That gives them a great opportunity to crack and ruin your project.  Or your will to can.
  • Take a medium sized baking sheet and line it with a hand towel.  Sit this next to your canner and use it as a jar-friendly counter space.  Not only will the towel keep the jars safe, but if a jar should crack, the contents will mostly be caught by the baking sheet.  One less headache.
Admittedly a little hard to see...but you get the gist.
  • Speaking of cracked jars, the best way to prevent this ever so lovely phenomenon is to keep your jars in the water bath as much as possible.  I've only had a jar crack on me once.  I was doing Sriracha pickles, and it was taking me forever to get the jars filled.  I had pulled all three of the jars (similar to above) out of the water bath in order to fill them, and the last one sat out long enough for the jar to cool off.  It was barely warm, the contents were hot, and then I submerged it into the hot hot hot water bath.  I heard a POP and the entire bottom of the jar came off!  Ugh, what a mess.  Pull your jars out to fill them one at a time, and get them back in the canner as quickly as possible.
  • When it comes to jams and pickles especially, use a pot twice the size of the contents you'll be putting in it.  Many jam recipes call for boiling the fruit and sugar anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.  When you're boiling hard for that long, it pays to have a big pot.  I've never been a huge fan of using giant pots while cooking.  But I have discovered that getting your medium pot coated in sugary syrup, only to have to switch to your big pot anyway is a huge pain in the patukus.  
  • Don't use plastic spoons to make your jams and pickles.  Especially the jam.  You have to scrape the bottom of the pot quite a bit in order to prevent scorching.  Plastic spoons don't fair so well with that.  Wooden spoons are not suggested either, as they can harbor bacteria in tiny cracks.  A silicone spatula has become my canning bff.  Great for getting every ounce of the good stuff too!
  • If a recipe says it will produce 6 half pints, sterilize 8 jars just in case.  You never want to have more jam than jars!  
    It's worth all the hard work.
  • Price jars from many places.  Roses carries a brand called Golden Harvest that I have used several times.  They run about $8 a case verses $10-12 for Ball.  Also consider asking around if anyone has any jars they're not using.  Some people buy them for crafts or give up canning.  Never hurts to ask.
  • On that note, I would recommend buying the Ball (or Kerr) brand lids.  They're maybe a dollar more a box, but it is of my personal opinion that they have a better quality of rubber gasket as opposed to off brands.
  • Check thrift stores and yard sales for used or vintage canning equipment.  BE CAREFUL with what you buy, though.  I bought a pressure canner at a yard sale for $1.  It was yellow, so I really couldn't pass it up.  The rubber gasket is still good, and it has all of its original parts.  Not only that, but it's made by Presto, the company of which my current canner is made by.  These are all good signs.  Still, I don't use it for pressure canning.  I only use it for water bath canning just to be on the safe side.  (A loaded pressure canner can kill you to death if used improperly.  Nothing to mess around with.)  I often find jar grabbers at the thrift store for a buck.  The silicon grippies on those wear off quickly, too, so it's good to have an extra!
It's just so cute!
  • Set aside more time than you think you'll need for a project.  Also, all of the counter space.  All of it.  You might just need it.
  • If you're going to be doing a lot of canning, consider composting as well.  It makes things easier, and your trash can less stinky.
  • Lastly, start with a clean kitchen.  I'm not talking everything scrubbed to its finest, but the dishes done and put away, the counters cleared off.  It will make your canning experience much easier.  The discouragement that comes when you have to clean it again afterwards is fleeting.  Think of it like a party; you have to clean your house before a party, even knowing that you're going to have to clean it again afterwards.
And now that I've brought canning full circle to partying, I think my personal suggestions are at a close.  Happy canning, and I hope you found at least a couple of new things to consider!  Feel free to add any extra suggestions in the comment section, I love to hear from you!

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