Start canning your homegrown veggies

Woman in background holding jar of salsa out towards the foreground.The advent of fall means cooler temperatures, school supplies, and loads of leaf peepers. For the gardener though, it only means one thing: It’s harvest season! That means for most of us Vermonters who garden on the side that it is time to begin the transition from planting to preserving.

My parents have a small 1/8-acre garden that produces an abundance of veggies. As it turns out, the garden produces too much food for two people to eat in a single season! A few years ago, my folks discovered that transitioning from the garden to the kitchen is not as difficult as they once thought. The time and energy it takes them to can food is proportionate to the time and energy that they spend in the garden every summer. Today they are canning numerous jams, jellies, and a variety of pickled products including my favorite: dilly beans! (You should try it: Here’s a delicious recipe for home canned spicy dilly beans.)

While it is a broadly recognized method of food preservation, many people choose to stay away from canning because it can come across as a daunting task. It requires some specific materials, as well as a good amount of time and energy. With that said, if you love to garden, you are not far away from loving canning!

Getting Started

The first thing you’ll need to do to begin canning is to gather your supplies.

As it turns out, the term canning is a bit misleading because you will actually be preserving your harvest in jars: The traditional home canning containers. Regular Mason or Ball jars are the best option here.

Depending on the type of canning you’re doing, you’ll need either: a large metal pot (for water bath canning) or pressure cooker/canner (for pressure canning).

In addition to the jars and pot, you will need:

  • a funnel
  • tongs
  • a wire rack (to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pot)
  • a canning jar lifter (for safety)

When all the supplies are gathered and the garden has been harvested, you have all you need to start.

Water bath canning: Best for high acid foods

Water bath canning is the “simpler” of the two methods of canning. It is ideal for high acid foods and for preserving jams, jellies, salsas, high-acid tomato products, and pickled products.

This process is simpler because the acid in these foods aid in preserving them. The high acid levels make it much harder for harmful bacteria to survive, so they don’t require the additional heat & pressure needed in pressure canning. Water bath canning requires the jar to be submerged in boiling water for a period of time.

The jar size and boiling time will vary depending on what you’re trying to make—and your altitude. Water boils at different temperatures depending on your altitude. Most canning recipes will tell you how to adjust for different altitudes. 

The Ball jar company has a wide variety of water bath canning recipes on their website, as well as a simple step-by-step guide to getting it done.

Pressure canning: Best for low-acid food

Preserving vegetables straight out of the garden requires a second method: pressure canning. This is because vegetables are low-acid foods that don’t naturally fight off bacteria. Attempting to preserve vegetables using the water bath method could result in spoilage.

However, with added pressure from a pressure cooker/canner it is possible to reach higher temps—the desired temperature of 240° F—which will kill off any harmful bacteria.

Find the canning instructions for the vegetables you have. Just like water bath canning, you’ll need to adjust for altitude. The recipe should tell you how to adjust.

Make sure you have a pressure canner big enough to fit multiple jars into!

Once you have your recipe, follow a thorough step-by-step guide to pressure canning.

Reaping the rewards!

Investing time and energy into food preservation is an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only does it cut down on food waste (our main goal here at Green Mountain Compost); it can also open a whole new world of delightful home-made foods!

And for those of you just starting out, you may even find canning in the kitchen to be just as enjoyable as planting in the garden. 😊

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