Canning has been a part of my family as long as I can remember. I imagine my grandmother as a little girl, spending many summer days in a hot kitchen with her family, preserving the garden’s excess that would stock their pantry and feed them the rest of the year.
By the time I was a child, canning was more tradition than necessity.
At times, it was tedious and boring, but I also have fond memories of arriving at the berry patch just past dawn. The kids would pick and immediately eat handfuls of sweet berries while the adults gathered enough to make 12 months’ worth of jam for peanut butter sandwiches and biscuit breakfasts. Other days, the whole family would spend hours cutting kernels off ears of corn for freezing or stringing and snapping beans for canning in an ancient pressure cooker.
While home food preservation is no longer essential to our survival, I carry on the tradition. It feels important to continue the skill and hobby passed down from my mother and grandmother. I also enjoy sharing this part of my childhood with my children, for the sake of both education and history. And of course, local food at its freshest with minimal processing is delicious far beyond what any grocery store holds.
So, what if you have never canned anything before? Now is a great time to start. There are easy techniques and small-batch recipes that the most novice home cooks can do successfully. But first, canning begins with a water bath canner.
To set up a water bath for processing, the steps required to make the food safe and shelf-stable for long-term storage, you will need just a few inexpensive tools.
Basic Water Bath Canning Supplies:
- Water bath canner – a large pot with a rack inside to hold jars
- Glass jars, like Mason or Ball jars
- Jar lids and bands
- Jar lifter
- Wide-mouth funnel for filling jars
Some stores carry these supplies year-round, while others have them available seasonally. I suggest you call or shop online to check on availability. Here are detailed instructions for setting up your water bath canning process.
Water bath canning can be used with high acid foods like fruit jelly, tomatoes, pickles, and applesauce. I have two recipe suggestions for beginning canners that are simple, fast, and only require easy-to-find ingredients.
12 oz. jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
2 cups cider vinegar
6 cups granulated sugar
2 3 oz. packets of liquid pectin (such as Certo)
Prepare water bath and heat cleaned half- or quarter-pint jelly jars in simmering water. Also wash lids and rings and heat in a small saucepan of simmering water. Place jalapenos and 1 cup of cider vinegar in food processor and process until finely chopped. Combine puree, remaining 1 cup of cider, and sugar in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Watch pot carefully and stir constantly. Stir in liquid pectin and return to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Pour jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Cover with lids and tighten rings. Place in hot water bath and process for 10 minutes in boiling water. Jelly is delicious served on biscuits, cornbread, or as an accompaniment to cream cheese on bagels or crackers. Makes about 6 half-pints of jelly.
Bread and Butter Pickles
6 lb crunchy cucumbers, sliced ¼” thick
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup kosher salt
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
4 tbs mustard seed
2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp turmeric
Place sliced cucumbers and onions in a colander and set over a bowl or sink. Toss with salt and allow to drain for 2 hours. Rinse slices with water. Place a double layer of paper towels on enough cookie sheets to hold the cucumbers and onions in a single layer. Then cover the slices with two additional layers of paper towels and let dry overnight. The next day, prepare water bath and sterilize pint jars in simmering water. Also heat lids and rings in a small saucepan of simmering water. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, and turmeric in a large saucepan. While the pickling liquid comes to a boil, pack cucumber and onion slices into jars as tightly as possible. Pour vinegar mixture into jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Close jars with lids and rings. Process pints for 10 minutes in hot water bath. Pickles are perfect on a burger, on a charcuterie board, or added to salads. Makes approximately 4 pints of pickles.