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Beginners Guide to Canning, Pickling, and Preserving

October 28, 2013
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With the winter months creeping in you may think it’s time for a return to bland store-bought tomatoes and asparagus from Peru. But fear not, dear reader. We have a solution for you!

If you want to eat nutritious, locally grown food all year round (especially in the Midwest) then you should consider canning, picking, and preserving as a possible solution. I’ll put all the misconceptions out on the dinner table now: it takes too long, it’s too late, it doesn’t taste as good, it’s not worth the time. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Canned foods, especially those you make yourself, are the key to a tasty winter. A little work up front will pay off big dividends come the holidays and beyond!

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To begin, you’ll need to gather some equipment. Wait, don’t run away yet! Canning equipment is not expensive, and you may have some — if not all — of it lying around the house. This is what you’ll need:

  • Boiling-water canner OR a large pot with a lid and a rack that fits inside
  • Canning jars with two-piece lids aka traditional mason jars
  • Large spoons
  • Tongs that can grip around a jar
  • A funnel
  • Fresh, local produce

In case you didn’t find everything you’ll need then we have a few recommendations. For starters, we suggest you invest in a canner like this one. As for the jars, we often see them at the dollar store, or they can be ordered online. If you have all the equipment, then hardest part is going to be deciding on a recipe! Luckily our summer in Michigan taught us that simply saving your fruits and vegetables in brine gives you room to experiment later on. For example, we canned whole cherries at Pond Hill Farm, and now we have the flexibility to use them for a compote, cherry pie filling, ice cream, stuffing, or something we haven’t even thought of yet. There are a lot more options when you leave something unprocessed.

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We wont re-write the step-by-step instructions because mason jar brand Ball has some fantastic easy-to-follow guides available on their website. If you’re looking for a good book on the subject then read Kevin West’s Saving the Season. It offers a great story and a how-to guide all in a single binding. We do have some tips for you though! Things the Every Last Morsel team learned in preserving this year:

  • Don’t forget to wash and sterilize your jars and lids. They may seem clean right out of the packaging, but you don’t want a funky plastic taste or anything in the jars that will contaminate the food.
  • If you’re trying out a few new recipes then mark the jars. Especially when pickling, adding a little more salt or a teaspoon of extra vinegar can mean a world of difference. If you have a list to go back to, you’ll know exactly which recipe to use next year.
  • Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to experiment! Add a new flavor, a spicy herb, or a bit of honey. In sauces, jams, and pickled goods this can be the key to discovering your niche. You never know, your spicy strawberry jam could be the hit of the party.

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If you’re still not ready to commit to canning, but want to have local fruits and vegetables during the winter you’re still in luck. Freezing is an easy option. Just be aware that your freezer can get awfully packed in no time. Hopefully this post will help you on your way to canning stardom. If you have any questions, tips & tricks, or favorite recipes then be sure to share them in the comments section below!

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