Canning tips and tricks for those of us who love home preserving. Make canning day just a little easier with this list.
Ah, the canning life. Gently picking your fresh grown produce and transforming into homemade goodies that will last all through the winter. Admiring your own pickles and jams sparkling like jewels in their jars, lined up in your pantry. It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Well, the reality of it can be… less so. Giant canning pots filled with pounds of boiling water, a million knives and cutting boards all over the kitchen, and a suspicion that you may have gone a little crazy for attempting this. It’s hot, messy, and hard work.
But these canning tips, for beginners and the more experienced alike, will help the process go as smoothly as possible.
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Start in the morning
If you get started too late, you start pushing into dinner time and that’s just a mess. Summer mornings are cool and more pleasant to work in
Now I don’t mean start thinking about getting going in the morning, but actually start the process in the morning. This means that the night before you may want to take out your jars, your canner, your canning recipe, and all the accessories like the lid lifter and funnel.
If you have to harvest things beforehand, keep that in mind. You want the whole process over and done with by lunch if at all possible.
Begin with a clean kitchen
Home canning ends up with a lot of dirty dishes. You’ll have prep items like knives and cutting boards, pots, and on top of all that, a canner and speciality canning tools.
When it’s all over, you don’t want to have to deal with that cleanup plus breakfast dishes. It’s horrible.
So make sure all your dishes are done ahead of time, the counters are totally cleared off, and your whole workspace is clutter free.
Make sure you have everything before you start
Have you ever gotten gotten partially through a recipe and realized you’re missing an ingredient? Sure, we all have!
But in canning (particularly water bath canning), this can be a disaster. Recipes have to have a certain level of acid to be safe, so you can’t just make a simple substitution.
So before you chop that first tomato, double check that you can see your recipe through to the end. Read through all the instructions.
Don’t forget about your canning gear, too. Check your inventory of the following:
- various canning jar sizes
- lids (your lids need to be new to form a proper seal!)
- clean, old dish towels
- pickling salt
- citric acid
- lemon juice
- distilled water (if your recipe calls for it)
- sugar (some jam recipes call for pounds of it!)
- all the parts of your water bath canner (lid, rack, etc.)
???? Related: What You Need to Get Started Canning Food at Home
Don’t make more work for yourself (water bath canning is hard)
Canning is hard work. Don’t make it even harder when you don’t have to! The rules of canning have changed over the years, and you may be taking extra steps that aren’t necessary anymore.
For example, it is no longer necessary to sterilize your jars and lids as long as you are processing for at least 10 minutes. As long as they are clean and hot (so they don’t break when they hit the boiling water) and you are good to go. (Check out the very bottom of this article from Ball for reference.)
Take advantage of easy methods when you can. There is nothing wrong with refrigerator pickles or freezer jam. Also, if you have a pressure canner, take advantage of it. Many recipes are faster when you process in there instead of doing the water bath canning method, and you don’t have to carry full pots of water.
When there is a simpler way to do something, do it!
Use a smaller jar size for most things
First of all, very big jars (half gallon and up) are only safe for canning fruit juice. But as you can more, you’ll probably find that smaller quantities of things like relish, jams, and sauces, are more useful. A small jar gets used up faster, so whatever is inside stays fresh.
Yes, it is a tiny bit more work than pouring half of your jam into a giant quart jar. But unless you have a huge family that all loves the same thing, smaller quantities just seem to work better and make sure none of your canning goes to waste.
As a bonus, jar breakage is less disappointing when it’s a smaller percentage of what you made.
Pay attention to details
Don’t skip little steps like getting rid of air bubbles, wiping the jar rim, or letting your jars rest while they cool. Every step of a recipe is there for a reason. If you skip one, you might have jars that don’t seal, or a product that is otherwise unusable.
I don’t have to tell you how frustrating that would be after a hard day of work!
Plan an easy dinner
Trust me when I say that after a day of harvesting produce in the heat and then standing over vats of boiling water, the last thing you’ll want to do is make dinner.
And yet, does it make sense to can fifteen dollars worth of tomatoes just to turn around and spend forty dollars on pizza for dinner? No, it does not.
So before you even begin your day of canning, you have to know what you’re having for dinner. There are three acceptable choices: cereal, sandwiches, or something made by another person. That’s it. Do not set yourself up for failure by planning anything else.
Use a kitchen scale
Many recipes will give the ingredients by weight, and this makes sense when dealing with produce because sizes can vary so much.
And measuring by weight can be quicker and easier than measuring by volume: no measuring cups to deal with, simply add things directly to the pot.
Need a reliable scale? This one measures in ounces, grams, and pounds and has served me well for years.
Prepare extra mason jars
Your recipe tells you it will make six half-pint jars, so dutifully wash them and keep them warm.
Then, when it comes time to pour everything in, you have extra!
What to do? Quickly find some dusty, room temperature jars and wipe them off? The clock is ticking and your canner is boiling like crazy.
Avoid this by having a few extra jars that are prepped and ready to go, so you can process any overflow.
(Note: In water bath canning, it’s essential to have your jars filled but not over-filled for them to seal properly. So if you have a partially filled jar, do not process it. Just keep it in the fridge.)
Make your workspace pleasant
Just because canning is hard work doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. We’ve already discussed starting in the morning and with a clean kitchen, so we are partway there.
But there is more you can do to make your canning day a happy one!
- Put on music or a podcast that you like.
- Open the window if it’s nice out
- Make sure little people are occupied
- Put a small vase of wildflowers on your windowsill.
No one looks beautiful while canning. Just accept it. Wear the following:
- Clothes that you won’t cry about if they ruined
- An apron with pockets
- Closed-toe shoes
- Hair pulled back
Use printed recipes
The internet is a great source of canning recipes, but if you’re using a recipe you found online, print it out first. You do not want to be dripping jam all over your phone, or lose your place in your instructions.
I keep all of my printed recipes in my canning journal. (Download a printable one for free, here!) It is so nice to work from a flat paper recipe that’s in a plastic page protector to keep it safe.
If you’re using something from a canning book, consider making a photocopy, or try a book weight to keep it open on the page you’re using.
Pressure canning tips for beginners
If it’s your first time working with a pressure canner, do a test run with water only to avoid being completely overwhelmed. (You can watch my pressure canning test run and unboxing video, here, for some help.)
The pressure canning method can be easier in many ways: the recipes are more flexible since you’re limited to high acid items, the processing times are shorter, and a good vacuum seal is easier to come by.
But there are special steps you need to take before pressure canning food.
- If you have a dial gauge, you need to check the accuracy every year
- Rubber gaskets need to inspected for wear and periodically replaced
Label your canning jars
Homemade jams have a way of all looking the same once they are in jars. So as you finish a batch, label it right away. This can be as simple as writing in sharpie on the top of the lid, or you can get fancy and use cute printable labels.
Either way, one of the most important canning tips is to remember to clearly label what you’ve made! If you can’t tell the jam from the barbecue sauce, your hard work will have been for nothing.
Celebrate your wins
This whole ordeal, from growing your own food to preserving it in your own kitchen, is a lot of work. A lot of work that many people will never understand.
So when you’re done, make sure you give yourself a little pat on the back. Don’t forget why you’re doing this. when it seems like too much.
Admire the fruits of your labor, take a shower, and break out that box of cereal for dinner. You deserve it.