I grew up in the Midwest, on a farm.
Our vegetable garden was nearly an acre
in size, so for a family of five, we
had a lot of food to preserve or store
in some fashion. Most everyone I knew
did a lot of canning, and so did we.
I grew up watching my mother can dozens
of jars of vegetables and fruits. When
I was old enough (and tall enough to
reach the counter), I would help her
prepare the food or the jars or both.
It was a lot of work, but we enjoyed
having our home-grown tomatoes, green
beans, dill pickles and strawberry jam
in the middle of January.
When I grew up and moved to California,
I didn't think I'd ever be doing my
own canning. Produce was so abundant
in the Bay Area on a year-round basis,
that even in the middle of winter you
could always find freshly-harvested
fruits and vegetables. However, I reached
a point where peach season was just
not long enough, and I wanted to can
some jars of my favorite fruit to enjoy
in the winter. I also had abundant crops
of Roma tomatoes in my vegetable garden,
which would make wonderful pasta sauce
come January. So, I decided to try canning;
how hard could it be?
The first step was finding equipment.
I needed a water-bath canner and jars.
Easier said than done in the Bay Area.
Now, I should point out that the Santa
Clara Valley where I live used to be
the apricot and plum capital of the
entire United States. My house sits
on land that used to be an apricot orchard.
Before personal computers were invented
and the entire area became immersed
in high-tech industry, the valley had
lots of canneries and tons of orchards.
So, you would think that people would
have their own canning equipment, but
no sir. I went to 6 stores before I
was able to find a canner at a hardware
store - and I bought their last one.
Jars are a little easier to find; at
least 2 stores carried those!
Next was finding information on how
to can. I first called my mother and
had her mail me some of her basic canning
recipes. Then, I went to the Internet
and found lots of information through
the USDA extension service about canning,
including how to can just about anything
and also lots of guidelines on safety.
I ordered a couple of books on canning.
Everything arrived by early June, and
I was ready to go. My first experiment
was with nectarines. I set aside an
entire Sunday, and took my time, following
all the safety instructions to the letter.
After about 5 hours, I had 3 jars of
nectarines in nice, shiny pint jars.
The lids popped and everything, meaning
that they were safe. I was so excited.
Now I was ready to handle the next fruit:
apricots. Since they were so abundant,
and I liked them almost as well as peaches,
why not? I bought a box of apricots
from a vendor at the local farmers'
market, and went to work. Now I had
12 jars of apricots and 3 jars of nectarines.
One month later, it was time to can
my coveted peaches. That took a while,
because of having to peel the peaches,
which I didn't have to do with the nectarines
and apricots. But eventually, I had
12 jars of peaches to add to the pantry.
Finally, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes
in September, and canned 18 jars; I
made spaghetti sauce all winter!
Encouraged by my early experiments,
I tried many other things the following
year. I made apricot jam, pickle relish,
corn relish, pickled beets, dill pickles
and tomato-pineapple chutney. Some things
worked, others didn't work so well,
but now it's a very creative adventure
for me. I love experimenting with different
combinations of fruits and vegetables
to come up with new things. I've learned
a lot along the way, and developed some
really simple recipes for canning. I
hope these tips and recipes will help
you as you begin your home canning adventures.
Home Canning 101 TIPS:
1. Make sure you have enough jars washed
and sterilized ahead of time. If not,
you may have more fruit or vegetables
than you thought, and you will have
to stop and wash some more. It's better
to have jars leftover that you can just
use the next time.
2. To protect your hands from fruit
and vegetable acids (and to keep the
food more sterile), wear thin latex
gloves while working. When lifting jars
in and out of the canner, slip on wrist-length
potholders to avoid burns. Sometimes
a little water will splash on you. I
learned this the hard way!
3. To avoid getting a dull film on your
jars, add about 1/2 teaspoon of cream
of tartar to the water in the canner.
4. Get a set of very large stainless
steel bowls. They hold a lot of fruit
or vegetables and it's easier than having
a lot of little ones around. Also, stainless
steel won't react with acids, such as
the ascorbic acid that you add to fruits
while you're waiting to put them in
5. The nice thing about canning is that
you can control the amount of sugar
or salt you put in your food! There
are lots of alternatives to canning
fruits with sugar syrup (see peach recipe
below), and the same goes for salt with
tomatoes. Just be sure to follow safety
guidelines so that the food won't spoil.
6. With a Sharpie pen, write the name
of the contents on the lid and the DATE
the food was canned (month and day!).
This is your expiration date. Don't
keep any canned foods more than one
year after it was canned.
7. Never re-use canning lids (they won't
seal anyway). However, you can re-use
the rings as long as they're not rusted
8. When you re-use canning jars, look
closely at the rim to make sure there
are no chips. If there are, they won't
seal properly, so you shouldn't use
9. Use the size of jar that is appropriate
for your family size. I always use pints,
because there are only two people in
our family. Err on the side of a smaller
jar, because you can always open another
10. If you want to try making jam using
fruit pectin (such as Sure-Jell or Certa),
try using the dry type of pectin first
rather than the liquid. I've never been
able to get the liquid type to set properly,
so I think the dry kind is better for
I recommend the following at a minimum:
-a jar lifter
-a "vise-clamp" to hold the
jar while you tighten the lid
-a magnetic lid grabber
-a canning funnel (has very wide opening
perfect for jars)
-a very large stainless steel cooking
-a stainless steel ladle
-an enamel water-bath canner that holds
9 pints or 7 quarts, with metal jar-lift
-Plastic jar of granulated ascorbic
acid (you can find this in health food
I prefer Ball brand lids and either
Ball or Kerr jars. Jars come in boxes
of 12, and are either "regular"
or "wide-mouth". Sizes are
half-pint, pint, and quart; I've also
seen very small "jelly jars".
You can also buy decorative lids with
different designs such as strawberries,
grapes, apricots, or Christmas themes.
These are great to put on jars you want
to give as gifts.
Canning books and information:
My two favorite books are:
1. "The Ball Blue Book", 2001,
120 pages. This is a very up-to-date
guide with some great recipes, and it
also includes guides for freezing and
2. "Canning and Preserving without
Sugar", by Norma MacRae, 1997,
291 pages. This will give you some ideas
on sugar alternatives and has some great
Lots of information on the Internet.
Just key in search terms like "home
canning", and you will find guidelines
and recipes. Here are two home extension
websites that have detailed procedures
This website is: "Home canning
of fruit and fruit products". It
has lots of information on processing
times and how to prepare the fruit for
This article is called "Let's Preserve
Tomatoes". All the information
you need to can tomatoes, plus recipes.
RECIPES: Here are my two best:
1 teaspoon ascorbic acid
1 gallon cold water
24 large peaches
48-ounce bottle peach juice, no sugar
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 cup fructose or sugar
1 cup water
Wash jars and lids. Heat water in canner
and when it is boiling, put jars in.
(It may take up to half an hour for
that much water to heat to boiling!)
Let jars sterilize for 10 minutes.
In a large stainless steel bowl, dissolve
ascorbic acid in the gallon of water.
To prepare peaches, heat water in a
soup pot to boiling. Wash peaches, and
dip in boiling water for 30 seconds.
Remove peaches and let cool or put in
colander and run cold water over. Peach
skins should come off very easily. For
each peach, peel skin off, then cut
in half lengthwise and remove pit. With
paring knife, remove the red pit bed
and discard, to make sure that no small
pieces of pit make their way into the
canned peaches! Slice peaches or leave
in halves as you prefer. Place slices
or halves into the ascorbic acid bath.
In large pot, place peach juice, lemon
juice, fructose or sugar, and water.
Heat to simmering, stirring. Keep hot.
Remove jars from canner, and place
in a spot close to hot syrup and peaches.
Ladle some boiling water over the jar
lids in a small bowl. Working quickly,
fill jars with peach slices or halves
used a slotted spoon. With small tablespoon,
push fruit down to compact it in the
jar, and add more peaches until there
is about one half inch of space at the
top of the jar. With a ladle and the
funnel, pour syrup around peaches until
it reaches a level of about one half
inch below the top of the jar. With
a small spoon, push the peaches away
from the edge of the jar, working your
way all around the edge; this releases
any air bubbles. With a thin, non-terry
kitchen towel, wipe the top surface
of the jar that will be in contact with
the lid until it is clean. With magnetic
wand, place lid on top. With vise-grip,
grasp the jar in one hand, and screw
the ring over the lid with the other
hand. Tighten as far as you can. Set
jar aside and repeat for remaining jars.
Place jars in canner and allow to come
to a boil with the lid on the canner.
When you see steam start to escape,
set the timer for 25 minutes. Process,
then remove jars and set on folded towels
to cool. Add next set of jars and process
again for 25 minutes. Allow jars to
cool overnight. Tap each lid to make
sure lids have popped and you have a
tight seal; if they have popped they
will sound solid. If not, they will
sound hollow. If some jars have not
popped, turn them upside down and let
them sit for a few hours. If they still
haven't popped, then refrigerate that
jar of peaches and use them within a
week. Wipe off jars with a wet towel.
Label the lids of the jars with the
contents and date, and store in a pantry.
This makes about 8 to 12 pints, depending
on the size of your peaches. You will
likely have syrup leftover. I often
save the syrup and use it for the next
patch. It's also tasty to use the leftover
syrup in fruit punch or in smoothies.
9 cups sliced apricots
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
2 boxes Sure Jell
Wash 12 half-pint jars. Heat water
in canner and bring to a boil. Sterilize
jars for 10 minutes.
Place apricots and lemon juice in large
soup pot. Bring to a boil over high
heat; cook for 3 minutes, stirring.
Add the Sure Jell and the butter. Bring
to a rolling boil. Add sugar all at
once and bring to a rolling boil and
boil 1 minute.
Using a canning funnel, ladle into
sterilized jars. Place lids on as per
canned peaches recipe instructions.
Process in canner for 15 minutes.
This makes 12 half-pints. You might
have a little bit left, but put that
in a pretty glass bowl and serve it
for breakfast the next day. This jam
makes a great gift, so use those pretty
ONE LAST THING: Learn the canning
I remember all the neighbor women would
talk about how much canning they did.
It went something like this.. "Lordy,
I put up 27 quarts of tomatoes last
week, and 18 pints of jam." The
key is that it doesn't matter WHAT you
can, it's just the NUMBER OF JARS that
are important. So experiment with canning
and rehearse the canning brag!
I hope that you have lots of great