To me, canning doesn’t seem like the correct word to use for this process. I thought canning was only done in factories with medal cans. I never thought it was also the process of storing foods in jars. When food is put into jars, I think this process should be called jarring. But then again, that word is used more for undesirable things.
As you may know, I am a US Mail Carrier. During the US Christmas holiday season, some of my customers enjoy giving gifts to each other. To some of these folks, mail carriers are included in gifts given. A few years back, an elderly woman on my mail route decided to give me a gift for the good service the post office provided her. She proudly handed me a jar of her home made strawberry jam. Though I had seen canning jars on old television shows, I thought canning was just something done many years ago. I thought canning was done before major supermarkets were around. I never thought I would ever possess a canned jar of anything. My speculation was this process must have taken the little old lady a very long time to accomplish and it must be pretty special. I should have known this from the vibrant red color of the food that the quality was special.
The next morning, alongside my eggs and toast I thought to give the jam a little taste. To my amazement, the flavor of the fruit lifted as if I was eating fresh ripe salivary strawberries straight from the garden. The flavors were nothing I have ever experienced from any store bought jam. From that moment on, I felt a burning desire to learn more of the process of canning so I could produce my own delicious stored jars with my garden fruits and vegetables. So the experiments with canning began.
Old spoken tale has it that canning was first used in the early 19th century. Frances army was on the move but the soldiers had little food in their supplies and less in their stomachs due to the inability to carry food without spoilage. Knowing this, Commander and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte offered his people a large monetary prize to anyone who could discover a better way to preserve food. A system of precooking and air tight sealing was invented. Since then the process has changed some but the principles are the still the same. Keep food stored safe from yeast, mold, and bacteria to prevent spoilage. The process of canning disrupts the normal aging cycle of food. This gives us the ability to store food for later use. Canning also prevents airborne bacteria from reentering the jar by vacuum sealing them. The different heat temperatures used in the water bath process also destroys bacteria on and in the canning jars.
Canning equipment consists
of a pressure cooker and special canning jars. Pressure cookers are a pot with
a lid that latches to prevent gas from easily escaping. Water is boiled within
this covered and latched pot to build internal pressure. This pressure raises
the temperatures in the pot enough to change the water from a liquid to a gas.
This gas is steam which reaches very high temperatures.
Years ago, pressure cookers
were less reliable and sometimes lids gave out. Lids breaking led to explosions
of steam which caused major damage to property and life. After years of improvements,
canning equipment has become much safer. Along with safety, price also was
reduced. Just remember this, when opening a pressure cooker; always open the
cover away from you. That is lifting the farthest side first. This way any leftover
steam doesn’t burn your face. This is just common sense and just a precaution.
It’s not meant to scare you, just keep you safe.
My first pressure cooker
was the “Presto 16 Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker”. It came with a funnel, a magnetic
grabber for boiled lids, a stick to help reduce the air in the jars and an
instruction manual. The instruction manual also had recipes on how to make and
store for many common foods. I would guess every pressure cooker comes with a manual
similar to this.
My cooker cost about $70.
Along with the cooker, I also purchased a 12 pack case of Kerr wide mouth quart
jars.Jars come in several shapes and
sizes and the quarts cost me about $20 for a case. Kerr and Ball are the most
common types of mason jars available today but there are other types that will do
just fine. With these purchases of $90 dollars total, I was set up to begin
Every supermarket has a
section for canning jars and ingredients for every occasion. Spices, lids,
rims, preservatives and pectin can be found in these sections of your grocery
stores. So to get started canning, a pressure cooker and some canning jars along
with a little inspiration is all you will need to get started too.
The new style pressure
cookers come equipped with modern pressure gauges, safety valves and pressure
regulators. This may sound complicated for the beginner, but it’s easy to
learn. Just always remember to follow the cooking requirements laid out in your
manual. Also, always keep your jars and lids sterile.
Canning Your Vegetables
When filling jars with food
for canning purposes, try to follow these basic rules.Leave about an inch of space from the top of
the jar for canning low acid foods. Low acid foods include most vegetables and
meats. Leave about a half an inch for high acidic foods like fruits, tomatoes, pickles
and relishes. Leave a quarter inch from the top when canning jams and jellies.
After filling the canning
jars with your food you are ready to add the liquid brine. Some brine is just
water and salt. Other brines can be more complicated. My first experience with
canning was when I had a bumper crop of cucumbers. I have always loved dill
pickles and dill pickles are just canned cucumbers, so I decided this was to be
To begin my dill pickle experiment
I Boiled six mason jars and their lids to kill any bacteria in which could
spoil my results. Next I dropped two cloves of my garden garlic and a handful
of my fresh washed dill into each jar. These cucumbers where to be dill pickles
so I wasn’t skimpy with the dill. With this accomplished I quartered my
cucumbers the long way. Most of my cucumbers where too long to fit in the jar
with the required head space so with the left over cuts I made a jar of dill
pickle chunks for snacking.
It was now time for my
brine mixture, so in another pot I brought 6 cups of vinegar, 3 cups of sugar
and two tablespoons of salt to a rolling boil. The trick to making proper brine
is to liquefy all the sugar and salt.
As I was making my brine in
one pot, I was bringing to boil enough water in my pressure cooker to cover my future
Now with a ladle I carefully scooped and
poured the hot brine into my cucumber filled mason jars. I made sure to leave
about a half an inch from the top with the liquid and but make sure to cover
the cucumbers.After the jars where
filled I removed the air bubbles with a utensil supplied with the pressure cookers
purchase.With a clean damp cloth I
cleaned the top of the jars of any drips of liquid brine and fastened the lids
and rims to the jars.
I was now ready for the
water bath process. I carefully lowered the canning jars of cucumbers into the
boiling pressure cooker water and locked the pots lid. Like most pressure
cookers mine has a vent pipe on the top in which small included weights are
placed to determine the proper cooking pressure. This vent pipe is called a
petcock. When the weight started to
jiggle on the petcock, I set my timer for fifteen minutes. When the time was up I moved the pressure
cooker to a cooler spot on my stove, waited about ten minutes for the petcock
weights to stop jiggling. This told me the pressure had dropped sufficiently to
remove the petcock weight and cool naturally for a few more minutes. In about
ten more minutes I carefully removed the pressure cooker cover away from me
With the cover removed I
took the jars out with a grabbing type tool utensil. This utensil was also
supplied with my cooker purchase. I
placed my just cooked pickled cucumber jars on a towel which was placed on an unused
counter space for about 12 hours.
The greatest feeling came
when I heard my first Mason jar seal. The sound was unique and unforgettable. As
canned mason jars cool, they will make a popping sound. You will understand the
sound when you hear it. It’s the sound of a sealed Jar. If you don’t get this
sound, the lids may not be sealed. The lack of a jar seal is most likely due to
either a bad lid of improper rinse of the top of the jar before proceeding. Don’t
fret if some jars don’t seal. You can put these in the fridge and eat them
My first experiment with
canning was a huge success as my dill pickle where great. Since that time I
tried the store bought pre mixed “Ball Kosher Dill” powdered brine. Though it
was easy and quick to put together, I didn’t care as much for the taste. It was
good but not as good as the fresh ingredients.
Other Brine Recipes
Many more brine recipes can
be found in cook books and on YouTube. One such recipe I used to try with my Detroit Red Beet harvest.The Brine was simple and deliciously sweet.
In fact these probably were the best beets I ever tasted. The recipe calls for 2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of water, two
cups of sugar and two teaspoons of salt.
The garden beets are blanched
by boiling them for twenty minutes then placing them into ice water to cool.
This process makes it easier to remove the beet’s skin. After the skin is
removed, the beets are sliced.I used
pint size jars for this recipe to insure freshness. I’m the only one in my house
that has tried this beet recipe. Everyone else thinks home canned beets taste
like store bought beets and I’m not telling their wrong. These beets are too
much like candy and I can eat them right out of the jar as a snack.
In the pint size jars, I
place a small layer of sliced yellow garden onion. I’m sure white or red onion
would do just as fine. Next I fill the jar with a layer of beets and finish the
jar with another small layer of onion. If you are wondering, the onion complements
the flavor and taste great when finished. I process them the same as pickles in
the canner and then have beets for weeks.
As you may know, beets are
very good for you and are with this recipe, you will eat bunches of them. When
I made this one I ended up with some extra brine in which I was hesitant to
waste. I decided to cut up some fresh garden jalapeño and fill a couple of jars
with the left over brine. These too came out great and are fantastic in my
salads or on a hotdog.