Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lessons Learned by a First-time Canner

Eco-novice gives canning a try.

A few weeks ago, I picked up 20 pounds of organic tomatoes from the farmer's market and headed over to my friend's house for my premiere foray into the world of canning.  (Note: I did make freezer jam earlier this year for the first time, but that was so much less intimidating that I'm putting it in a different category.)

Here are a few things I learned:

  • Can with a friend who knows how to can. This is the most important one. Canning is best learned hands-on.  It is not rocket science, but for me it was definitely a rather foreign experience. Though you can probably learn to can from a book if you are a determined/ confident type, I never would have had the guts to go through with it on my own.  Plus, an experienced canner probably already has all the requisite equipment, and you'll just need to show up with the food and some jars.  Prepping the food and waiting for the food to process is also way more fun with a friend.
  • Plan ahead.  While my friend is an experienced canner, she had never actually canned just tomatoes before.  So we found ourselves looking through her books and online once we were ready to can.  And that was when we discovered that we needed lemon juice.  Now we possibly could have worked around this, but, being a newbie, I was a little too anxious to do anything other than err on the side of caution. So I had to run to the store for the lemon juice.  The whole experience would have been smoother and quicker with a little planning and research ahead of time.
  • Canning is part art, part science.  I thought there would be more consensus on how to can things.  There seems to be a lot of disagreement regarding tomatoes in particular, since they are right on the border of acidic/ not acidic enough.  But actually it makes sense that you can find a fair amount of variation in canning advice. Canning is a traditional practice that was handed down from generation to generation long before books about canning were published. Plenty of folks are willing to disregard the mainstream advice if it's the way they've always done it and they've never had a problem.
  • It will take longer than you think.  Especially if it's your first time canning tomatoes.
  • Do not can with small children around.  My friend and I were fortunate to be able to can without our kids around. And I'm really glad about that.  Especially since we used the pressure canner.

Since tomatoes are still in season for a few more months around here, I won't be trying my canned tomatoes anytime soon.  So the jury is still out on my first canning experiment. After we've made it through all the jars without incident, perhaps I'll feel a bit more confident about canning.  For now, I'm just proud of myself for trying something new, and moving just a little step farther away from the supermarket.

If you are a canner, how did you learn to can?  What was your first canning experience like?

Photo credit:  benketaro


Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

Welcome to the world of canning :)

Green Bean said...

This was the first year that I canned tomatoes straight up. I did the raw pack thing and bought citric acid - enough to last me until doomsday comes. After I'd done everything, I put them in the water bath canner and sat down to read some blogs. I came across one talking about how raw pack tomatoes are neither simple nor awesome. Boy was she right!!! One of my hard earned quarts cracked and broke in the water bath canner and I had to throw it all out. :( I think I'll stick with pureed, salsa, and sauce. Unless anyone else has better ideas . . .

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Thanks, Tanya.
That sounds like a SERIOUS bummer, Green Bean. Glad that wasn't my first experience, or I probably wouldn't be canning again for another 5 yrs. I canned quartered/eighths in their own juices (my tomatoes were VERY juicy) with some lemon juice and with the pressure canner. No broken jars! I do think that sauces and purees would be easier, and maybe a better first canning choice. I really want something to replace my canned diced tomatoes, though -- it's one of the only things I buy in metal cans still.

Helena said...

I took a canning class at my county extension office. After making the strawberry-orange marmalade the instructor showed us, and getting the same results she had, I felt more confident about branching out, though I still consider myself very much a canning novice.

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Helena, that is awesome that you took a class! I hope your canning adventures go well this year.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Green Bean, check out the post I did last summer ( with my sort of hybrid between-raw-and-cooked tomatoes--I sort of squished them into the pot and heated them just to a simmer for a few minutes. They were awesome, and fairly easy, and I saved the extra tomato juice to can separately.

I hate food mills and the whole process of pureeing the stuff, so this mode works really well for me...worth a try, maybe?

One of these weekends coming up I'm going to have to get my bushel of seconds from the farmstand and do my own...


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