Canning with a Can-Do Attitude: A Step-by-Step Beginner’s Guide to Canning Food for Long-Term Storage
Back in the good ol’ days, when wooly mammoths roamed the countryside and “going clubbing” was a much more violent activity, humans had to come up with alternative means of food preservation. Well, maybe not that far back, but you get the picture.
Enter: canning and pickling.
As far back as 4,400 years ago, ancient Mesopotamians were preserving foods in briny solutions, otherwise known as pickling. Even Cleopatra herself claimed that a steady diet of pickled cucumbers contributed to her dazzling good looks. The perplexing prevalence of pickled products is surprisingly packed with perfectly sensible reasons that lead to their popularity among the populace. Back when you couldn’t simply make a run to the grocery store for fresh produce, people were often not pleased with their products spoiling before they got a chance to eat them, and pickling extends the shelf-life of many vegetables by months. Sailors like Christopher Columbus would bring barrels of pickled vegetables on long voyages, since they wouldn’t spoil and they helped to hold back the scurvy.
So that’s pickling, but what about canning?
Very astute of you to notice, but yes, pickling and canning are not the same things. Where the process of pickling utilizes brine to maintain an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment to prevent bacteria growth, the concept of canning comes from the idea that bacteria can be killed and then kept cordoned off from the inside of a container, without introducing any brine. Essentially, by sterilizing a jar or can and then sealing it air-tight, bacteria can be kept from contaminating your food (which is why you have to “refrigerate after opening” many of the things that you have in your kitchen).
But how do I can my foods?
I’m glad I asked! It’s a pretty simple process, and you won’t need too many supplies for it at all.
- Canning jars and lids Your food (fruits and vegetables work best!)
- A large pot where you can completely submerge your cans
- A metal rack that will fit in the pot
- Pick out your food that you’ll be canning, and get a good recipe for it. Many canning recipes will specify which spices and seasonings will work best, along with some vegetables you may be able to pair together in the can to bring out some extra flavors.
- Prepare your pot, rack, and jars. Even if everything is brand new, you want to wash and dry all of your materials just before using them for canning. The idea with canning is that you are creating a sterilized environment inside of the can, so you want to eliminate as much bacteria as possible before you even begin the process.
- Place your rack in the pot and simmer some water, enough to cover your jars. You want your water to be almost boiling, but not quite.
- Put your jars into the water, letting them fill up as well. This way the outside and inside of the jars will be in contact with the hot water, killing any bacteria present.
- Remove the rings from your lids and put the lids in the simmering water. Heated lids work a bit better for creating a seal, so we’ll be simmering the lids in the background while we work on some other stuff.
- Let the water come to a boil.
- Remove the jars and lids after a few minutes. After removing the jars, don’t pour the water down the sink, carefully pour it back into the pot.
- Follow your recipe, and then place the prepared food into the clean jars. Once you fill the jars, you’ll usually want to leave around ¼” to 1” of space between your food and the lid.
- Place your lids on the jars, and screw on the ring. Make sure there is no residue on the lid or jars, give them a good wipe even if you don’t see anything there.
- Return the jars with the food inside them back into the boiling water. Every recipe is different, so boil the jarred food for the amount of time specified by your recipe.
- After boiling, remove your jars and set them on a dry towel to cool. As long as everything went according to plan, you should see the seal pop on the lid of the cans, to indicate that they were properly sealed air-tight.
- Store in a cool, dry place. If you are prepping this food for a doomsday scenario, any old underground bunker will work. If you’re canning just ‘cause, your cabinet or cupboard will do fine.
Now you have canned vegetables, or jams, or jellies, or whatever! It is your world I’m just blogging in it. The longevity of canned food depends on the storage, the food itself, and many other factors, so I cannot tell you exactly how long this stuff will last. However, it’ll last a lot longer than if it were exposed to the elements. By following this tutorial, you’ve effectively beaten botulism, pounded pertussis, and slapped salmonella to the curb.
Did you successfully can your food? We’d love to see a picture! Share it with us on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest! Do you run a small business? Maybe you sell your canned foods to friends or at a farmer’s market, but we’d love to hear about it! Hit us up on social media to share your small business story!