Plan Ahead for Home Canning
If you are thinking about canning food at home this summer, the first place to start is with equipment and supplies. Long before harvesting those delicious summer fruits and vegetables, it’s important to consider all the tools and resources needed for creating safe, high quality home canned food.
Let’s start with canners. There are two types: pressure canners and boiling water canners. The type of food you plan to use will determine the type of canner that is needed. A pressure canner is essential for canning vegetables and meats. A boiling water canner is used for fruits and pickled products.
Vegetables and meats are low-acid foods and must reach a temperature of 240 degrees to kill the spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. If not killed, these spores can grow and produce deadly toxins in jars of home canned foods. This high temperature can only be reached under pressure, therefore a pressure canner is a must-have if you want to can vegetables or meats. Foods that are high in acid, however, such as fruits and pickled products, can be safely processed in a boiling water canner.
Pressure canners can have either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge. The steps in using the canner are the same; but the two styles use different gauges to indicate the pressure inside the canner. The style of gauge you choose is a matter of personal preference. One difference, though, is that dial gauges must be tested for accuracy before each canning season or if you drop or damage your gauge. N.C. Cooperative Extension of Rutherford County offers free canner testing by appointment. In addition to testing the gauge for accuracy, we will inspect the gasket, vent ports, and general condition of the canner.
Next you will need jars. Only canning jars, lids, and ring bands manufactured for home canning should be used. Not all glass jars are tempered to prevent breakage during canning, so make sure the jars you use are specifically designed for home canning. Inspect the jars you have for nicks, cracks or chips, especially around the top sealing edge. Nicks can prevent lids from sealing. Very old jars can weaken with age and repeated use which can cause them to break under pressure and heat. Consider investing in new jars if needed. A “must” every canning season is new flat lids. Used lids should be thrown away. The screw bands are re-usable as long as they are not bent, dented or rusted.
In addition to the standard utensils you use in cooking, there are a few “gadgets” that come in handy for canning: a jar funnel, jar lifter, headspace measurement tool, and bubble-buster. While not required, each serves a valuable function and makes canning easier and more enjoyable. Kits containing these tools are relatively inexpensive and can be found where canning supplies are sold.
A final “must” is reliable, up-to-date canning instructions. Publications, guides, and recipes are available through N.C. Cooperative Extension of Rutherford County or you can visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website where you will find the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning as well as many other resources.
Planning ahead can save time, money, and frustration with home canning. Make it a fun, successful canning season by getting prepared before your harvest is ready.