P. Allen Smith: Home Canning 101
Preserve your summer bounty.
Pickled peppers and tomatoes
Photography by Hortus Ltd. and Mark Fonville
Canning brings back memories of working in my Aunt Genny’s kitchen “putting up” batches of tomato sauce and green beans, so I’m delighted to see the practice make a comeback. Canning your own food is a great way to extend the life of your summer bounty, and opening a jar of fresh tomato sauce or pickled cucumbers can evoke memories of warm summer days during the cold, drab winter months.
Just hearing the word canning may conjure up images of scary pressure cookers and an eternity spent in the kitchen. Rest assured today’s pressure cookers and water-bath canners are safer and easier to use. If this is your first time preserving food, partner with an experienced canner, especially if you tend to “fly by the seat of your pants” when it comes to following recipes. The canning process varies depending on the food being preserved, so be sure you follow a reliable recipe.
- Pressure cooker for low-acid foods
- Heavy, large stock pot for acidic foods
- Jars with self-sealing lids
- Screw bands
- Canning basket or jar lifter
- Oven mitts to protect your hands
Basic steps for canning
- Clean jars and lids with hot water and soap. This can also be done in the dishwasher.
- Sterilize jars and lids by submerging in boiling water, right side up, for 10 minutes.
- Keep jars hot in a pot of simmering water until ready to fill.
- Fill warm jars with hot food, leaving headspace as recommended in the recipe; this allows the food to expand during processing and creates a vacuum seal.
- Wipe the rim of the jar to clean and ensure a good seal.
- Tighten the screw bands just enough to secure; do not over tighten.
- Process in either a pressure cooker or hot water bath, depending on the recipe.
- Remove jars from canner, and cool. Listen for the lids to pop, indicating a good seal. Lids should be secure on the top of the jar.
- Store jars in a dark pantry that stays between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s a good idea to borrow equipment the first time you try canning, but I’m guessing after one try, you’ll catch the canning bug and invest in your own equipment.
Aunt Genny's Salsa
This is a great recipe for preserving the last of the summer harvest.
1 gallon peeled tomatoes
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 red sweet pepper, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sliced garlic
Place peeled tomatoes in a large pot, and gently mash to release their juice. Bring to a boil. Add the chopped onion, jalapeños, sweet pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Reduce heat; simmer until the salsa thickens.
Transfer salsa to warm, sterile jars, seal and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
These refrigerator pickles are a simple alternative to canned pickles and will keep in the refrigerator one to two months. The crisp, tart flavors are delicious right out of the jar or served with sliced tomatoes.
2 large cucumbers, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cups water
1 ¼ cup white vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Mason jar, half-gallon, with lid
Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a non-reactive pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat, and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Place the cucumber, onion, dill and peppercorns in the Mason jar. Pour in the vinegar mixture. Screw the lid onto the jar, and place it in the fridge. Chill for at least 24 hours before serving.