Gardening Diary: Canning & Preserving the Harvest

canned jelly and apple sauce

Wow, this year, surprisingly I found that I really enjoy the craft of canning!

It’s a lot of work, but once you get 2 or 3 batches under your belt, there’s confidence and organization that makes the process a little bit easier. The rewards will outweigh the work!

There was a lot that I was worried about in the beginning (like most newbie canners), most importantly was I did NOT want to kill myself and my family with deadly bacteria!

But after reading a lot of library books, and scouring the web for good information, I learned that if done properly, following the instructions, you do not have to fear the canning process!

This post is L-O-N-G, and it might be boring to a lot of visitors, so if you want to learn more about my canning experience (and see a few photos), read onward!

Some other tips and tidbits that I’ve learned were:

  • Canning is a lot of work. Back-aching work, but it’s worth it in the end to look at a cupboard full of processed jars and know that (along with your stocked freezer), you will not have to purchase any commercially canned tomatoes (or jars of jelly/jam) for the winter.
  • I didn’t buy a fancy canning pot and rack – I already had a tall 12 qt Calphalon hard-anodized aluminum pot and I dropped a set of 8 jar rings at the bottom to keep the jars lifted off the bottom of the pot while boiling. I did purchase a handy Progressive International Canning Essentials Kit from Amazon, which includes a great one-handed jar lifter, a funnel with easy to read headspace levels, and magnet wand for picking up lids.
  • I started out using a plastic spatula handle to release air bubbles from the jar? Duh. The food contents were at boiling hot temperatures, which could slightly melt cheap plastic. From then on, I used only wooden spoon handles
  • After reading a commmented suggestion on a blog post, I moved my workspace from my larger middle countertop to the counter area next to stove. It was more efficient.
  • Pints are a lot easier than quarts to grasp and retrieve out of the boiling water. Quarts are a whole lot more awkward, and it’s a little scary pouring the boiling water out of the jars before you fill them. I used a heavy pot mitt on one hand, and with the jar lifter in the other hand, carefully lifted and poured out the boiling water from the quart jars.
  • Buy in bulk but don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s not all going to get processed that first day, so take your time. First separate the most ripe from the ones that can wait a day or more. Organize and stay focused but don’t overdo it.
  • As for tomatoes, I’ve never peeled, seeded or run them through sieve or food mill. Partly because of the time factor, partly because of laziness, but mostly because I feel a lot of goodness is in the peels and seeds. I don’t like wasting the good parts.
    There is some thought that the skins harbor the most bacteria, but if you are growing your own or buying from a trusted local source, plus cooking and/or processing the tomatoes for the appropriate times, then any bad bacteria should be eliminated anyway. I haven’t seen any reliable sourses state that you MUST peel for safety’s sake. It’s only been hearsay repeated on forums and blogs.
  • I was initially worried that when the water-bath was at a rolling boil, while processing the jars, it would boil or splash over. It didn’t, but I kept the pot cover somewhat ajar. If the bubbles got too crazy, I lowered the gas slightly to medium-high. You CANNOT leave the pot unattended. Unfortunately, the most difficult part of canning is that it requires your constant attention.
  • Keep all distractions away! For some reason, one of my dogs wants to lie down right in front of the stove area! So, I kept both dogs shut in our bedroom just to ensure that they wouldn’t get burned. I don’t know how mothers with younger children do it! Or maybe they don’t!
  • If you follow the recipe correctly, especially regarding acid levels, then the possibility of botchulism is almost non-existant. Experimenting with canning recipes is not recommended!
  • Read read read all the canning and preservation books you can find at the library!
  • Once 12-24 hours has passed, you can handle the processed jars. Remove the rings, and gently wash any residue from the glass and lid. Dry carefully with a clean towel and store (without rings) in a cool dry cupboard or shelf. I’m storing my jars in a cupboard in our downstairs workroom.
  • Canning jars and supplies are discounted during seasonal sales at hardware stores like Ace or True Value. Also check Craig’s List and yard sales for used canning jars. I was lucky and thrilled that both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law gave me their canning jars. Just make sure you are using official canning jars, not used jelly, mayo or salsa jars, even if they have “Mason” on the jar.
  • Raw pack is a little tricky and not as foolproof as hot pack. I don’t know that I’d attempt a raw pack again. There is no cooking time, but the water bath processing time is quite long at 85 minutes. Plus, I had major liquid siphoning the one time I tried canning raw tomatoes in quarts.
  • Air bubbles in processed jars are not necessarily a problem in processed jars of tomatoes (or other foods); also when canning tomatoes, water separation to bottom of jar is normal. I did find that “looked” better when I simmered my tomatoes for an hour before canning them.
  • I was disappointed with the corn salsa recipe I tried. It was over-the-top acidic with vinegar. I’m hoping that maybe the acid might mellow a little after a few weeks/months in storage.
  • I have thought about purchasing a pressure canner for the low acid foods, but after reading, I learned that risk of botulism is greater because the foods are low acid. If the recipes are not followed to the letter, and jars are not processed for enough time, then you are in trouble. I’ll stick to freezing my lower acid foods for now.
  • And lastly, I really think I love canning! The true test will be if I continue. I plan to can citrus jams/marmalades this winter, along with apple and cranberry sauces for the holidays. Next season, who knows. Pickles, tomatoes, salsas, mustard, ketchup. The possibilities are endless!

Here is my storage cupboard (with an extra couple of bags of flour)
storage cupboard for canning jars of tomatoes, applesauce, jelly, jam, corn salsa.

Here’s my inventory:

Canned Jars:

  • 6 pints of Tomato Sauce w/ onions & parsley
  • 9 quarts & 6 pints of Chunky 1hr simmered tomatoes (originally had 10 quarts, but gave away 1 to MIL)
  • 4 quarts of Raw-packed tomatoes
  • 5 pints of Stewed tomatoes with parsley
  • 4 quarts & 4 pints of Stewed tomatoes plain
  • 4 half pints of Apple cider jelly
  • 4 pints of Apple cranberry sauce
  • 6 pints of Corn tomato salsa
  • 4 half pints & 2 quarter pints of Concord grape apple cider jelly/syrup
  • 5 half pints of Concord grape jelly
  • 5 half pints of Concord grape lemon jam (w/ pulp & skins)
  • 2 pints & 1 half pint of Concord grape syrup/sauce (pulp & skins)
  • 2 pints of Tomato Jam (too sweet)

Freezer Bags: (flash-frozen=individually frozen)

  • 2 quarts oven-dried, flash-frozen tomatoes (like sun-dried tomatoes)
  • 2 gallons raw cherry tomatoes, flash-frozen
  • 3 gallons raw larger tomatoes, flash-frozen
  • 4 quarts & 1 gallon oven-roasted tomatoes, flash-frozen
  • 3 quarts oven-roasted tomatoes, not flash frozen
  • 4 quarts stewed tomatoes
  • 1 quart tomato pepper sauce (crockpot)
  • 3 quarts & 5 gallons of veggie tomato sauce
  • 11 quarts of corn off the cob, not flash-frozen
  • 1 quart bag of garden oven dried eggplant, flash-frozen
  • 1 gallon of raw, chopped bell peppers, flash frozen
  • 1 quart of raw garden jalapeno peppers, flash frozen

If my calculations are correct, I should have almost 100 servings (for two people) of tomatoes. Considering I use 1-2 cans per week, that’s at least a years’ worth!

It’s truly exciting! Besides the fact that I have complete control over quality & quantity of ingredients, I am thrilled to be able to break the ties to one more Big Food company (General Mills owns Muir Glen organic tomatoes.)

More Photos:

Here is the second 50lb case of plum tomatoes I purchased. I immediately sorted the most ripe or bruised from the ones that could last another couple of days.
50 lbs of tomatoes

Here’s all my jars of canned tomatoes. I have notes saved for each batch on the computer, and I labeled the lids with batch #, the quantity of each batch, date, and recipe description
finished jars of canned tomatoes

This was my first batch of tomatoes (Aug 27). See how the water separates on the bottom? It’s perfectly normal, and supposedly can be avoided by chopping a small batch of tomatoes and quickly adding them to the pot to simmer. I haven’t mastered that tip yet, but I did find out that the longer I simmered, the less the water separated. Anyway, I was mighty proud of these tomatoes!
finished jars of canned tomatoes

There is nothing like canning your own homemade jelly, jam or preserves. Again, it’s the control over ingredients that I love the most. I also love that I can use Pomona’s Pectin and use a lot less added sweetener! It drives me crazy to see more sugar than fruit in most jam recipes!
yummy homemade Concord grape jelly

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