Canning 201

As a follow up to Alison’s Canning 101 post, we now bring you Canning 201: Advanced Tips.

So, you’ve got the basics down.  And you’re ready to can on your own or make larger batches.  Yippee!  Here are additional tips to make your life easier.

Peeled & quartered tomatoes - ready for the jar

Buying and using fresh produce
-When you are buying produce in bulk for canning, tell the farmer that you are planning to use it for canning and have them recommend a variety for you.  This is particularly important for tomatoes.  You want paste tomatoes for canning.  They have thick flesh and are much less watery than slicing tomatoes.
-A home scale can be useful, as a lot of canning recipes give the weight of produce to use.
-Some canning recipes give you the quantities in cups.  This isn’t problematic for small batches, but if you’ve just bought 20 lbs of peaches, you likely have no idea how many cups that will work out to once they are peeled, pitted and sliced.  If you are planning to make the same recipes year after year, scribble down some notes.  Then you’ll know that X pounds equals Y cups for next year.
-And on the subject of note taking, it’s really worth writing down how many lbs of produce you used to fill the jars.  I should follow my own advice on this one.  Every single year, I call up my canning buddy Nicole and say, “I remember that we bought 50 lbs of peaches, do you remember how many jars that made?”  Mid-way through this year’s canning season, here’s a list of things I’m kicking myself for not having written down last year:
– how many peaches, tomatoes etc. we bought (in lbs)
– who we bought them from
– how many jars we got from that produce
– how long it took to can all of those jars
– how long until our supply ran out (e.g. we generally run out of our own jars of tomato sauce around February)
– which recipes we used and liked (or didn’t like)
(I have started to write things down this year, so I will be super prepared for next year!)

Tools
You can buy handy little kits of canning tools that contain a magnetic jar lifter, a funnel, a headspace measurer, and a jar lifter.  (I think I got mine at Canadian Tire for about $10 several years ago.)  I personally like the jar lifting tool (I often use 2 jar lifters, one in each hand for pouring the water out of the jars after sterilizing), but doing the canning workshops with a variety of instructors this year has given me some new tips, I’d like to try.  Alison, for example, really likes silicone gloves.  Then she can plunge her hand into the boiling water and pull out the jars with minimal fuss. Jess, who taught the jam workshop, doesn’t using a canning rack and instead puts a tea towel in the bottom of her pot.  She can then pull hot filled jars out of the boiling water by gathering the ends of the tea towel together.

Glass Topped Stoves
We had a question about using canning pots on glass topped stoves.  From what I’ve heard, the issue is that the canning pot could crack the glass on your stove. The bottom of a canning pot isn’t flat and so heat gets trapped under it. (I didn’t know this until after I’d done a batch of peaches on my glass top stove last year. The stove was fine.) If you’re concerned, you could make jam in a really big soup pot. (This is generally what I use if I’m canning at home.) The soup pot has a flat bottom and thus should be fine. Instead of using a wire rack, I put a bunch of mason jar rings in the bottom to keep the jars from sitting on the bottom of the pot. Make sure your pot is deep enough to allow you to cover the top of the jars by an inch or so of water.

Unofficial Mason Jars
We have gotten asked about whether or not you can use non-Mason jars to can (e.g. the Classico Spaghetti jars).  Officially, the Classico website says not to use them for canning. I know lots of people who use them and love them.  And I know other people who find that they break more easily in the canning pot and avoid them.

Weck Jars
I heard about these for the first time this year and haven’t used them yet myself.  But, I’ve met a few people around town who are raving about them.  They are more expensive than Mason jars, but they come in a really great variety of shapes and sizes and they are BPA-free.  (The coating on the inside of Mason jar lid does contain BPA.)  Here’s the website, if you’d like to check out the Weck jars for yourself.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share with us?  We’re all ears!

Yours in food,
Marla

PS There’s still time to enter our preserving photo & story contest.  Details here.

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