What you need to know to frugally and safely learn to can

How to Get Started Home Canning

TDS Reader Contributors

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Help With Canning

I'm thinking of starting to can things at home, but I have no idea where to start. I've found plenty of online instructions on it, but if anyone has any pointers, they'd be appreciated. I'd be starting out by canning drink mixes, tomato sauce and soup, but I may move on to other things once I get the hang of it.

Also, since I'll be giving a lot of them as gifts, how can I test the safety/effectiveness of the canning process to make sure I don't make anyone ill? Thanks!

Get the Latest Canning Instructions

To get the latest instructions recommended by the USDA, go to www.uga.edu/nchfp/index.html. They have the latest information and even a lot of recipes. They also give you the most up-to-date information on how to safely process all your foods.

Join a Canning Group

There's a group at Yahoo Groups that is excellent for canning information and recipes. They'll give you the correct (USDA approved) methods of canning anything and everything. If they don't know the answers to your questions, they'll find them for you. It's a very friendly group and there are tons of tips and information in the group files.

To join, click here. It's only with the help and encouragement of this group that I've started canning. It's not only good for your wallet and nutrition, but also it's fun. It gives you a good feeling to look at the rows of things you've done yourself. Give them a try!
Greta in Las Vegas

You'll Need to Do Your Homework Before Canning

I have been canning for years and now do both canning and dehydrating depending on what needs to be preserved. For canning, I would highly recommend the Ball Blue Book, which is available for about $10 at hardware stores and sometimes grocery stores. Spring for a new book as the information changes and you do want the latest information for safety reasons.

There is a wealth of information online. Your tax dollars have been put to work publishing all kinds of things. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has free canning books. There are websites at Ball.com and HomeCanning.com that have free information. Most county extension agents have free publications and may even have free or nominal fee classes available. I learned to can from the Ball Blue Book. You do need a pressure canner for most things except high acid fruits and jellies. I use my pressure canner as a hot water bath rather than having two large pieces of equipment. When I use it as a hot water bath, I do not put on the pressure gauge. You can purchase canners used, but I would definitely get a new gasket and pressure gauge or at least have the pressure gauge checked out to be sure it is accurate. Do not try to can in a regular pressure cooker. Generally they are not big enough and the pressure does not get high enough.

Check sale prices for Pressure Cooker Canners on Amazon

Some spaghetti sauces in stores come in Atlas canning jars. I have used those quite successfully for home canning. Friends and family save the jars for me and the standard lids and rings fit perfectly. I have never had one break or fail. Another way to get a canner and/or jars is to join freecycle.com for your area. You just might hit the jackpot. It can be very time consuming especially for people at higher elevations where water takes longer to boil, but it is rewarding to preserve your own food.

It is a very worthwhile endeavor, but you do need to do just a little bit of homework to keep things safe. I was a city girl and have been canning/preserving food for over 30 years and have never made anyone sick.

When Canning, Start Out Slow

From a food safety standpoint, it's very important that you follow procedures and recipes developed and tested by experts. My recommendation is to take the free online home food preservation course at the National Center for Home Food Preservation at uga.edu/nchfp. Also contact your state's Cooperative Extension for publications and possible workshops. I recommend the Ball Blue Book for information and recipes. Since you are a beginner, I recommend you only can high acid foods (such as fruit products, pickles and tomato products) using the water bath method. Pressure canning (the method used for low acid vegetables, meats and dairy) is more time consuming and expensive.

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Use a Boiling Water Bath Canner First

I have been canning for many years. I feel the best thing to do is buy for under $10 the Ball Blue Book for canning. It gives you basic instructions and a wide variety of different types of recipes all in one book.

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I would also start with a boiling water bath canner. Making jams, pickles, and relishes to get your feet wet for the first year. And those make great presents.

Soups and other recipes that contain low acid contents need to use the pressure canner for processing which is a bigger investment for starting and more involved. (Note they can be frozen though.)
Debbie in MA

Call Your Local Cooperative Extension Service for Canning Advice

Call your local Cooperative Extension Service or go online. It's part of your state university system. Information is accurate and free, or very low cost (your tax dollars support this great service). They are also good to call when you run into problems while canning. Is that jar of pickled dilly beans supposed to look cloudy? Call the Cooperative Extension before you serve them to the relatives!

Reviewed June 2017

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