Canning Season is Coming!
Canning Season is Coming!
As surely as Spring turns into Summer, planting season turns into harvest. And as sure as night turns into day, harvest time turns into food preserving time! Canning season is coming! But let’s face it, you should train and prepare like any athlete getting ready for the marathon of months of putting food by throughout the summer.
It’s important to mentally prepare to spend hours peeling, chopping, straining, heating and processing, possibly in sweltering heat, every fruit and vegetable you get your hands on. But part of mentally being prepared is knowing your tools and equipment are ready and in good condition and up to the season. Equipment failure can cause ultimate spoilage. The wrong tools can make canning and food preserving a dreaded chore rather than the exciting time it is.
Even though I’ve canned since I was a teenager watching and helping my grandmother and mother pass along their experience, it’s always a little rocky starting the first round of canning. What do I do next? I wonder. Where’s my lifters? But like the old adage about ‘riding a bike’, your forgotten memories come back and your rhythm returns.
So, one of the most important things to do before the first beets come out of the ground or carrots come home from the Farmer’s Market is prepare for the canning season. Being prepared ahead of time and knowing you’re all set to handle the season makes the process easier and less stressful. Here are some tips to prepare for the coming canning season.
1. CHECK AND UPDATE YOUR CANNING RECIPES
One of the craziest thoughts I have when I take a jar of canned salsa off the shelf is, “How did I make this?” As a writer, in the past I studied how creativity works. Not remembering clearly how you did something (at least at first) is somewhat like a creative act. Did I write this, or did I can this? It stems from being borne from your internal creative talents. All the national, university and governmental extension departments can give you more technical data on preserving at home than you can ingest. I believe there is a certain creativity in all good cooks and home preserving utilizes that internal rhythm, talents and applied knowledge and learning as icing on the cake to produce rows of beautiful jars packed with summer’s bounty.
When I started looking online for canning information, I was so excited to find The National Center for Home Food Preservation. You definitely need to bookmark this site for frequent use! The Center was established with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension System to promote safe canning practices. The detailed, exacting recipes on this website are up to date and rigorously tested to be safe so you can be confident this IS the right way to preserve. They also cover freezing, jam making, pickling and others. Check them out before you begin!
2. Essential Books for Your Canning Library
As I covered in another post about essential canning books, in addition to being familiar with the NCHFP, who doesn’t need a canning book at their fingertips?
You can read more about other essential books for canning in this post here.
3. Check Your Canners
As your major pieces of canning equipment center around your canners, pull out your pressure canner and water bath canner from where you store them, wash generously in soapy water, and rinse well. Now is the perfect time to give everything a good going over. If your pressure canner has a gasket, be sure it is still flexible and in good shape. It needs to be soft, not brittle or cracked. If the gasket looks like it needs to be replaced, write down the brand and model number of your canner before trying to purchase a replacement, online or in a store. You need to make sure you get the correct part for your canner to operate properly. Believe me, you DON’T want your canner to fail.
If you have a dial gauge pressure canner, now is also a good time to have the gauge checked for accuracy. You can check your local extension office to find out where you can get it tested. In California, that’s the University of California’s Cooperative Extension offices. They are a wonderful organization that promotes safe, nutritious and abundant food and education. I take my pressure canner there to get tested, have a nice conversation with helpful, knowledgeable people and know my equipment is safe for canning for my family. What a deal!
4. GATHER YOUR CANNING UTENSILS
Gather up your canning utensils that may have been moved into separate drawers or cupboards and collect in one place. That includes your jar rack, if not in a canner, magnetic lid lifter, plastic knife for bubble popping, canning funnels, and jar lifter. Wash all in soapy water and rinse well. You could store all the clean tools in your canners so they are readily at hand when you are ready to can. Or have a designated place in the pantry to store new lids and rings and empty jars. Whichever way you decide to go, the main idea is to have them at hand and ready to go.
5. CHECK YOUR CANNING INVENTORY
You definitely don’t want to try to preserve the best summer produce with any outdated ingredients. Do an inventory of what canning ingredients you have on hand and discard anything old and outdated. Replace with fresh ones as it’s not worth risking ruining a whole batch.
- Lids and Rings
- Jars (Before the height of the canning season would be a good time to add more jars to your inventory if you think you might need more.)
- Extra potholders
- Large cotton kitchen towels
- Long-handled wooden spoons for stirring
- Several large bowls for sorting and prepping vegetables
- Timer to determine accurate processing time
- A FAN! I mean a personal fan that you can have point right at your face! Or at least close. You may have central air conditioning and on hot days will definitely be running it while you boil water for hours on a hot stove when it’s over 100 degrees outside! But one of the last things I ever got, should have been the first. You might also have a good sized box fan to also blow around in your kitchen if you don’t have air conditioning and that’s helpful. But a small fan can be a lifesaver!
6. GIVE YOUR KITCHEN A GOOD CLEANING
1. Clear off counter space as much as possible. You’re going to need it. Can you find another temporary home for a countertop appliance you’re not using very often?
2. Give the fridge a good cleaning using a solution that has chlorine bleach. You’re going to need space to refrigerate some produce. (I will explore in a future post in more detail.) But a few fruits you want to store in the refrigerator before processing are berries, like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries and apricots. Vegetables are green beans, asparagus, beets and peas are best stored in the refrigerator.
3. Scrub down the walls. (Ceiling optional!)
4. Keep cutting boards and any other work surface safe enough for an operating room. Also use a scouring solution that has chlorine bleach.
5. Wash your hands often.
Planning ahead for any major production effort like home canning will save you time, money, and frustration. Get prepared for a successful, stress-free canning season by following these few simple guidelines and you will be prepared for the canning season when the harvest is ready.
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