This time of summer, I start thinking about how much I’m going to miss my garden and all the fresh produce once fall and winter come. My plants are still producing like crazy, however they are starting to slow down and I can tell that they are nearing the end. I am looking forward to fall planting (vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, kale, broccoli) and my pumpkins starting to ripen, but there is no way not to feel sad about the loss of the summer veggie bounty I have been enjoying. One thing I have been doing throughout the summer is canning various vegetables to make them last all winter. There is something magical about opening a jar of fresh tomato sauce from your garden in the middle of January! It makes those long, cold months much more bearable. Canning is super easy and a great way to preserve all the fresh fruits and vegetables of summer.
I have mainly been canning tomato sauce, roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes, and roasted tomato soup; however I have also been canning pickled beans, cucumbers, and peppers as well as fresh summer fruits such as peaches and cherries. Once my cabbages are ready, I’m going to make sauerkraut and soup then can them, along with garden-fresh pureed pumpkin. Thanksgiving pumpkin pie here we come! As I mentioned before, canning is very easy, and can be done without any special tools. You just need mason jars, lids, a large pot, as well as something to can.
Now you can’t just stuff raw tomatoes in a jar and can them. Canning works by sterilizing the food by placing the jar in a pot of boiling water then forming a pressure seal as the contents cool to prevent contamination. You need to use things with a lot of liquid in order to only leave a small amount of space at the top, allowing for the air-pressure change after boiling. Think sauces, roasted vegetables, fruits (in their juices) and soups or add some sort of liquid to your produce, like brine for pickling or sweet syrup to fresh fruit. Keeping this in mind, pick your favorite summer produce and let’s get canning!
Here is a step-by-step canning tutorial.
1. Put a large pot halfway full of water on high. Allow it to come to a boil while you complete the rest of the steps. The size of the pot depends on the size of the jars you are using. You want to use a pot that will allow the top of the jar to be covered with water. The best way to pick a pot is to place the one of the jars you are using (lid on) in the empty pot. If the pot is taller than the jar, it is the correct size.
2. Wash your jars. Make sure they are very clean and all the soap is rinsed out. You don’t want soap flavored sauce! Instead of washing the lids, I drop them in the pot on the stove for a minute or two. The water doesn’t have to be boiling yet, just hot. It is so much easier to heat clean the lids instead of washing them because there are two parts to each and that can get annoying very fast when you are canning twelve jars at a time!
After washing your jars, fill them with hot water and let them sit until you are ready to can. You want the glass to be hot when you drop the jar into the boiling water.
3. Add whatever you want to can to the jar (making sure it is at least room temperature, preferably hot). Fill the jar so there is only 1/2″ left at the top. Slide a small spatula down the side of the jar and move it around the entire glass sides to allow any air bubbles trapped at the bottom to escape.
4. Wipe the top of the jar with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel, removing anything that spilled down the side while filling the jar. Place the flat lid tops on, then twist the metal rim part around tightly, securing the top. If you are boiling your tops to sanitize them, use a pair of tongs to fish them out of the bottom of the pot. And remember, they are hot! I usually place both parts on top of each jar and then wait a minute or so to allow them to cool before tightening them.
5. Slowly add your jars to the pot of boiling water. After adding all your jars, you want the water level to be just above the tops of the lids. If the lids are not under water, add more water until they are just covered. If you notice that you have too much water in the pot (and it will overflow if you add all of the jars), simply take a glass measuring cup and dip it in the pot, emptying the water until you have the proper amount.
6. Once all your jars are in the pot, place the cover on the pot and turn down the heat so the water is still boiling, but not violently. The amount of time you leave the jars in the water for depends on the size of the jar you are canning. As a general rule of thumb, I leave quart-sized jars in the water for 40-45 minutes, and pint-sized jars in for about 20.
7. Carefully remove the jars from the water and set on a heat-safe surface to cool (I use a wooden cutting board). As the jars cool, you will hear the lids ‘pop’ as the air escapes and they seal themselves. This can take up to 12 hours, so don’t be concerned if one of your jars pops within minutes of taking them out of the water, and others do not. Once the jars are completely cool, they will keep for up to a year. Enjoy!