Friday, August 12, 2016

12 Tips to Canning Like a Pro



Canning season is here and it's time to throw all other plans out the window for several weeks! Been wondering why I haven't posted a blog post in weeks? Well, our plants have been producing probably 20 lbs of cucumbers a day, berry and mushroom season is in full swing, and I recently butchered two roosters. And on top of all that,  we went to the farmers market the other day and came home with 75 lbs of peaches, 50 lbs of tomatoes, and 20 lbs of sweet peppers! So needless to say, I've been canning every day that it isn't prohibitively hot out.  Plus, we haven't gotten our outdoor canning kitchen set up yet, so I am having to be as efficient as possible on canning days to can the most produce while producing the least amount of heat. Today it was raining so I was able to can 22 quarts of dill pickles and 7 quarts of tomatoes, yay! Yesterday we got 50 lbs of peaches canned, too, so I'm finally starting to feel a little bit caught up. But with all this rain, I'm sure I'll have enough cucumbers to fill a swimming pool in just a couple of days. 


With all of this canning going on in the last couple of weeks, I've gotten it down to a science! So, without further ado, I present to you my tips for making canning fast and easy! 

Oh also, if you're interested in seeing what we are preserving and watching our larder grow check out our monthly "Our Larder" posts. Here's the one for August 2016


Before You Start Canning:
Get EVERYTHING ahead of time and get more than you think you need
I can't tell you how many times I've gotten halfway through filling my jars and realized that I didn't have enough of an ingredient or that I was out of lids. Then you have to run out to the store and if you live in a rural area like I do, this could take an hour or more, taking valuable time away from canning! Don't do this! Make a lot of pickles? Have gallons of vinegar on hand. Is jam or jelly your jam? Don't skimp on the sugar supply. And no matter what you like to can, do not, ever, ever have less than 4 dozen new lids on hand, widemouth and regular!



This is about half as many cucumbers I pickle in each batch, so cutting them all up the night before saves me A LOT of time on hectic canning day. 

Precut your veggies!
This one is a huge time saver. It especially works well with foods that need to be chilled before canning, such as cucumbers. Instead of covering my cucumber in ice, I simply add salt and let them sit in the fridge over night. When the morning comes, I can rinse them off and start pickling right away! Plus, this makes for super crunchy pickles. 

Keep all of your canning supplies in one place
And make that place easy to get to. The last thing you want is to wake up early rearing to get canning only to realize that you don't know where your jar grabber thingy went to (the internet tells me this is called a "jar lifter"). Try to devote a shelf or section of pantry to your canning supplies, including salt, vinegar, and spices. If you don't have room for this at least keep the food items together in one place, the utensils and lids in another, and your stockpots somewhere else. Leave them somewhere that you wont have to move them until you are ready to can. 



While it's nothing a little duct tape couldn't fix, my jar grabby thing has seen better days. 

Stock up on dish towels
...and hot mitts. Messes and hot things happen when you are canning! I know this seems like sort of a little thing, but when you're trying to deal with scalding liquid and you can't find a hot mitt or a towel, it just creates unnecessary freak out. We're aiming for zero freak out here, people! Make sure your towel drawer is stocked full and keep track of your mitts. When I am canning I will even wear an apron mostly just so I can tuck a dish towel into the tie. 

During Canning:



Disinfect Rings on a String
I always thought that sanitizing rings was the worst part of canning. It's always a nightmare to fish them out of the bottom of the canner, even if you have one of those magnetic wands, and I always burned myself doing it. And is sanitizing the rings even necessarily anyways? Well, it is necessary, but there is a much easier way to do it. Simply collect all the rings you want to use (and add a couple extra too, just in case) and put them all on a long piece of string. Then tie the two ends of the string together so that all of the rings stay on it. Then, you can lower the whole string of them into the canner and sanitize them all at once. The best thing about this method is that once you've boiled them, you can pull them all out  at once with tongs. 

Do one thing at a time!
This is one of the most important tips on this list. If you are sanitizing jars, do them all at once. If you are packing the jars, pack all of them. This just tends to make everything much less hectic. I find that if I try to sanitize jars while filling other ones, it just gets crazy. 

Be prepared for burns and broken glass
Burns and broken glass are just a fact of canning. I like to keep ice water on hand just in case. If we are canning something that needs to be peeled first, such as tomatoes or peaches, I fill the sink with ice water to dunk them in and just leave it there when I'm done peeling. As for the broken jars (I tend to accidentally knock them off the counter instead of breaking them in the canner), wear sandals at least and keep the trash can near. Again, lots of dish towels!! We also keep an industrial shop vac in the house and in easy reach for incidences such as those, so we can get back to canning quickly. Also, have a way to evacuate children and dogs from the kitchen until you can get all the shards picked up. 



Keep that canner full at all times

If your canner is boiling and there's nothing in it, you're wasting energy and making the house hot, but if you turn it off you have to spend time getting it back to boiling. The solution? Have everything lined up so that as soon as one batch of jars comes out, the next goes in. Or at least keep the empty time to a maximum of 4-5 minute between each batch. 

Keep up with the dishes as you go

...and wash your WHOLE kitchen before you start. Canning is messy and thats just that. I find that if my kitchen is a mess when I start canning I just get more flustered and make mistakes that end up in bigger messes, broken jars, and burns. Canning also creates a lot of dishes, so do them when you have a moment of down time, perhaps while the jars are in the canner. This way you wont have a huge pile of dishes at the end of the day to deal with when your exhausted from canning. You've got to do them before you run out of energy and your feet hurt something wicked. 

After The Canning is Through 
Wash your jars after you're done
Okay, so I have to admit, this may not be the MOST important step for everyone but I certainly think it is necessary in my circumstance. When you can, some of the liquid from the jars always escapes, leaving a film of whatever is inside the jar on the outside. This is especially a problem when canning meat or something sugary as it can make the outside of the jars sticky or greasy, even if they look clean. This just isnt a nice feeling, especially if you are planning on giving jars away. My biggest issue  is that while our root cellar is cool and dark, it is fairly damp, which means I have had mold grow on the outside of several jars. While this shouldnt effect the food inside, it is never good to see mold growing on freshly canned food. To deal with this, I wipe each jar down well with a damp cloth and let it dry before putting it in the cellar. If they still get mold, I will wipe them with water mixed with vinegar, baking soda, and/or salt. 

Store jars without rings on

This is one of my biggest pet peeves! If you are going to be storing your jars for any amount of time, please take the rings off! They are not needed to keep the jar sealed and they will rust if you leave them on, making jars impossible to open, ruining the ring, and in some cases, ruining the food inside. Letting them rust just means you have to buy more, which seems so wasteful to me. Take your rings off before you put them in the cellar, you can always put them back on if you are giving a jar away and are afraid of them opening. 

Label, label, label!

When we moved into the house we currently live in the previous owner had passed away, leaving a root cellar full of canned goods and less than half were labeled. So now we have a ton of canned food and we don't know what year they were canned or even what some of them contain! While it has added a bit of excitement to our lives opening them and trying to figure out what is in them, this has really created a dilemna. Do we risk it and eat some? Do we just throw them all out? Okay, so this is a pretty extreme scenario, but labeling your jars is still very important. Even I forget what some jars contain month to month and this just saves you the hassle of wondering if a jar is full of squash or peaches (it's not fun to mix these two up!). Plus, writing the date on your food makes it easier to organize and keep track of your inventory. This way you can make sure you go through all of your canned goods and won't leave one on the back of the shelf for years and years. Not to mention that if you write in sharpie on your lids, you will never question if a lid has been used or not. This also helps to ensure that your jars are clean because you will not be able to write on the lid well if they are greasy or sticky. 



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2 comments:

  1. Great tips! And what a great thing to know that it's a jar lifter, not a grabber thingy, because that's how I've called it for years as well! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading Corina! Keep your canning quirky!

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