Food preservation can be exhausting. It's worthwhile but still exhausting. Thankfully we can learn canning tips from other practitioners to save ourselves some time, money, and energy.
There are many amazing canning resources and books and I have lots of them myself, however; there are many things that I've learned simply through experience or through talking with other canners that aren't found in books. Here are some of my favorites that will likely serve you well too:
Sterilizing is No Longer Required
Jars that are going to be pressure canned or processed for more than 10 minutes in a water bath no longer need to be sterilized first. If you've been canning for a long time this might be a new idea, but it is a huge time savings. You can warm your jars first but its no longer necessary to sterilize.
Single-use lids no longer need to be simmered prior to use either. This is a change within the last couple of years. Again, one less thing to do means more efficient canning.
Inspect Those Jars First
Save the heartache of unsealed lids or money wasting broken jars (and ruined food) in the canner by doing a careful inspection first before putting any food inside.
Skip the Peeling (most of the time)
All the books tell canners to peel the fruit or vegetable first. It's a huge waste of time and product (which means money if you bought the produce) in my opinion. I never peel nectarines, pears, plums, tomatoes, etc., I make sure to give everything a good scrub and wash first, of course. I don't even peel apples when making applesauce. This is a personal thing, of course, if someone is really opposed to the peels by all means peel but I quit doing that years ago based on the advice of a local homesteader I know and I'm never going back. I don't peel tomatoes when I make sauce or salsa either.
The few exceptions that do generally need peeling:
- Peaches – the fuzz is odd canned, in my opinion
- Citrus fruits – that peel is going to be bitter
- Root Veggies – those tough peels just have to go and it's hard to get them very clean without getting rid of the peel
Note: If you're planning on entering a jar into the fair competition – you must peel or you won't win a blue ribbon. Otherwise, feel free to skip it like I do.
Break It Up Into Small Steps
Who says it all has to be done in one day? Obviously, it's not a great idea to peel peaches and leave them wait but there are some things that can be divided. This tip has saved me so much stress over the years: Break up canning tasks when ever possible. Some examples:
- Pick & wash green beans today, snap them tomorrow, can them the day after that.
- Cook and mash apples for sauce today and put in the fridge tonight. Reheat and can tomorrow.
- Chop the onions, garlic, and peppers for salsa a few days ahead of time and store in the fridge. On the day you want to make the salsa chop the tomatoes and add your other ingredients, and continue the process as normal.
Keep It Easy on Your Feet & Back
Slow Cook Sauces
When making fruit butters, tomato sauces, ketchups, etc. Puree the ingredients and put it into the slow cooker. Leave the lid off, so the steam can escape, and put it on low. Let it cook for as long as necessary to get a thick sauce, stirring every now and then. This is much easier than standing over a hot stove cooking and stirring for long periods of time.
Have Spare Parts & Keep Things Stocked
Chris from Joybilee Farm shared this very good tip, “Always keep a spare rubber ring / gasket and pressure valve for the pressure canner. The rubber degrades and just when you are processing 50 pounds of salmon is when you'll need to replace it.”
Don't forget to shop yard sales and thrift shops for supplies and always have extra lids, jars, and other supplies on hand to make canning day easier.
The water bath canner is fine for pickles, fruits, jams, etc. However, most things can also be pressure canned and when done so – it's much faster. I always pressure can my tomatoes because it's so much faster and cooler than using a water bath.
Flavoring Jams & Getting them to Set
New canners are often nervous about changing up tried and true recipes but Laurie from Common Sense Homesteading reminds us, “You can add small amounts (1 tsp or less per batch) of dry spices and extracts to jams and jellies to change up the flavor, such as almond extract with currants or cherries.”
Quinn from Reformation Acres offers this tip and I whole-heartily agree, “Try Pomona's Pectin if you struggle with getting your jams and jellies to set. I've never had a batch made with their pectin not work and love that it is low in sugar or allows for the use of natural sweeteners so more of the fruit flavor can come through.”
Isis from Family Food Garden reminds us that pulp has a purpose in the canner's kitchen too: “Every year I buy a few cases of peaches to make peach jam and some for canning in halves in a syrup. After the first year I realized how much pulp was around the pit when I do the canned half peaches (because they need to look pretty) so what I do is can those first and start a pot of the pulp from around the pit to reduce the whole peaches I use for the jam.”
Freeze pitted fruits when time is crunched. When you're ready to make jams, jellies, or fruit butters, let the fruit drain in a colander in the sink. The water will drain off making the thickening for fruit butters go a little faster.
If you want to make jelly from the fruit juice, Rachel from Grow a Good Life suggests, “Freezing fruit, then thawing makes extracting the juice so much easier. I actually learned this trick for making wine but it works wonderfully for jelly too.”
Jess from 104 Homestead learned that freezing pitted cherries actually makes for quick chopping, “if you freeze cherries after pitting them, you can pop them in the food processor the next day for easy and cleaner chopping.” That tip could work most likely work for a number of fruits.
Keep It Safe
Leona from My Healthy Green Family had this very smart tip about keeping homemade recipes safe, “The fear people have of canning is, of course, poisoning their family with botulism. When you realize it is only science, the fear of the unknown goes away. Invest in a small Ph tester or even a pack of litmus paper and test the product so you aren't afraid of it! A product should be pressure canned if it's Ph is 4.6 or above. (note, there are other products that can't even be pressure canned safely at home such as dairy, pureed vegetables, grains, rice etc).”
Always remember when pressure canning something like soup, can to the ingredient that takes the longest time. If you've combined green beans & potatoes for instance in a soup – potatoes take 40 minutes and green beans take 25 – so pressure can for the potatoes.
Soak Those Dried Beans
I've seen plenty of canning recipes that suggest skipping the soaking of dried beans before canning. This might be okay for some people, but for others it can cause some serious intestinal distress. As always do what's best for your family but soaking is a pretty hands-off activity so it's not really going to slow you down.
Teri from Homestead Honey gave this great tip to help save canning time, “Work as a team if at all possible!” I couldn't agree more.
We create little systems in our house to make canning go faster. Jeff pits cherries for example and I put them into jars with sugar syrup. He'll chop the onions for salsa while I do the tomatoes, etc.
Whenever possible get other household members involved. Even small children can help shell peas or string and snap beans. Make it a family activity – crank up the music, talk, have fun, and later everyone will greater appreciate those jewel-toned jars on the pantry shelves.
Keep records of what you made, recipes you tweaked, and how much you put up. Use those records to ration your pantry out through the winter and as a way to understand what to make more or less of next year.
Canning is a lot of work and while it is worthwhile work, that doesn't mean we can't look for ways to make it easier and tastier. Use the tips above as you work through summer and fall produce to maximize your efforts and good eats.
What's your best canning tip?