Important Disclaimer – this post is to be used as a tool to help better understand home preservation methods. When home canning, follow all recommended USDA guidelines.
I love canning. And it goes hand in hand with my love of gardening. But probably what I love most about canning is that I can turn bushels of garden bounty into food preserved in my pantry. It allows me to taste the freshness of summer well into the dreary winter months. Plus, it’s really satisfying to see all the beautiful jars lining the shelves!
But canning intimidates people. I get it. You have to be careful and follow tested and recommended procedures and recipes so that your food remains safe to feed yourself and your family. So many times pH gets involved, you need to have accurate timing while processing, the whole process takes a good amount of time, and you have to stand over a hot stove sometimes… in the middle of summer. I get it, canning can be intimidating.
If you’ve grown up in a household of home canned goods, you’re likely less intimidated because some of the “rules” are just naturally engrained in you. I was this way. But for others, it’s like a completely foreign world. A world centered around pH, heat, and processing times. If you have any knack for science, home canning is actually kind of fun. Because that’s what cooking and preserving is, a science.
I kind of geek out about this stuff and love researching food pH while also finding new tested recipes to preserve my garden bounty. So, I’ve put together a list of resources that I’ve used to guide my home canning/preservation lifestyle. I’ll likely continue to add to it as I find more, so be sure to check back!
Do your research
Before you go off and start canning, make sure you do at least some basic research before you follow a recipe. Know what a processing time is, the difference between canners/canning types, and how to do the basics. This post contains a list of resources that I’ve put together, but by no means is it all encompassing.
Food safety is the primary goal when home preserving your food. When canning a substance or using a recipe, make sure that it follows the USDA guidelines. Just because a recipe says it can be home canned, it doesn’t mean that it’s been tested or is safe.
You might say, “Safe from what?”. Safe from bacteria and spoiling due to bacteria. Bacteria are everywhere. On you, on foods, on surfaces. It’s just part of life. And the methods of inhibiting food spoilage due to bacteria involve either killing the bacteria, it’s spores or creating an inhospitable environment for them. This primarily is accomplished in home preservation through high heat or acid/low pH.
Foods like tomatoes and apples have a fairly low pH. This means that when home canning, a simple water bath can be used to process them. However, vegetables like green beans and peppers have a higher pH, or are more basic than acidic. Since they lack the acid content level needed to create an inhospitable environment for the bacteria, instead we must focus on killing the bacteria and bacterial spores through high heat by using pressure canning. So essentially, a high enough acid content means a low enough pH to process via water bath. A higher pH, or low acidity, means that we must process via pressure canner.
For all food safety questions, I revert back to the USDA’s guidelines and that of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Another trusted resource is the University of Georgia as they host the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Methods of Processing
There are two main methods of processing. The first is water bath canning. This involves placing jars in a kettle with water at least an inch over the lids and boiling for a set period of time. Pressure canning involves only a portion of the canner having water in it, bringing the internal pressure of the canner up to a certain pressure, maintaining that pressure for a set time, and slowly releasing it.
There are two main types of pressure canners – one with a dial to measure internal pressure, and one with set weights instead of a dial. Personally, I find weighted pressure canners easier to use. Something to keep in mind when canning, regardless of canner type, is that pounds of pressure or length of processing can change depending on your altitude so always be sure to check this. Many resources will have a reference chart that you can use to make adjustments if necessary to your processing.
The USDA has put together 7 guidelines for home food preservation that walk through the basics of canning a variety of foods. They cover the principles of all canning as well as the principles of canning all the main foods – vegetables, fruits, and meats.
These guidelines can be found here. Within each, a variety of recipes are listed with safe home canning instructions. I also highly recommend printing the guidelines off so you have a paper copy that you can mark up and make notes in! This is helpful to remember different things from year to year. There’s nothing quite like the old marked up cookbook!
Ball Blue Book
The Ball Blue Book always seems to have an astounding list of basics along with more customized recipes. For a beginner, I think this is a must have. Not only does it cover canning, it also covers freezing and dehydrating. It’s just a really great resource to have and reference.
There is a great number of universities that have some version of home canning resources. They range from recipes to general guidelines. Honestly, they’re probably one of the best hidden gems that so many people forget are available. A few of my favorites are from the University of Georgia which is tied in the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Iowa State University, and North Dakota State University (this is saying something coming from a true to the soul Jackrabbit). They offer recipes that go past the regular and common basic ones. I really appreciate this because it offers some variety to choose from.
To find a list of state resources provided by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, you can go here.
Tomato Product Resources
As I mentioned before, the University of Georgia is highly involved with the National Center for Home Food Preservation. One of their resources that I use quite often is their publication on canning tomatoes. It has a great intro guide explaining the basics of canning as well as a good number of recipes. I personally use their stewed tomatoes recipe as a substitute for store bought “Rotel”. It has such amazing flavor and goes with just about everything. I also hope to give their tomato paste recipe a try. I usually do tomato sauce, but paste is something that I’m pretty interested in as well.
University of Georgia: Preserving Food: Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
Salsa Product Resources
Salsa can be such a tricky thing when it comes to canning. Everyone likes “their” recipe using a variety of peppers. That’s why I was pleasantly thrilled when I came across Iowa State University’s resource for canning salsa. Not only do they do a fantastic job of laying out the safety guidelines, but they also offer a choice salsa recipe that allows you to choose which peppers or onion ration you want as long as you stick to the total amount in cups of the two in ratio with tomatoes, lemon juice, and salt. Basically, it gives you some ability to customize your recipe while staying safe. Perfect! It’s really just a fantastic recipe that I highly recommend.
Iowa State University: Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Salsa
Vegetable Product Resources
The University of Georgia also has a pretty well laid out publication on canning other vegetables. All other vegetables need to be pressure canned so this is something to keep in mind.
University of Georgia: Preserving Food: Canning Vegetables
Everyone loves good pickles, right? My favorites are dill pickles and bread and butter pickles. Iowa State has another pretty good resource for canning pickles. Well laid out, and very good recipes, however limited in number. You can find their resource below.
Iowa State University: Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Pickles
Jams and Jellies Product Resources
The University of Georgia provides a well written guide on preserving jams and jellies that I really appreciate having in my stash of guides. You can find that resource below.
University of Georgia: Preserving Food: Jams and Jellies
Fruit Pie Fillings
Fruit pie fillings is such a fun thing to preserve for me. I absolutely love making pies to share with friends and family. But it kills me to purchase the generic pie filling from the store. So being able to make a from scratch pie in just a fraction of the time using a home canned filling is a win for me! North Dakota State University has a pretty good resource on canning home pie fillings that I definitely recommend looking in to. You can find that resource below.
North Dakota State University: Food Preservation: Let’s Preserve Fruit Pie Fillings
Confidence in Home Canning
The more research you do, the more confident you are in anything you do. This, of course, applies to canning as well. Home canning can be very safe and enjoyable is you simply understand the processes you are using to preserve nature’s bounty. My hope is that these resources help you to have confidence in canning your garden’s bounty.
If you come across any other fantastic resources, I would love for you to share them in the comments!