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You’ve worked hard on your organic vegetable garden and now you want to extend this harvest throughout the winter. Canning is an efficient way to preserve summer’s bounty. There are two basic types of canners: ‘water bath’ for high acid foods like jams, fruit and tomatoes, and pressure canners for low acid foods like most vegetables, meat and fish.

Canning is a precision process with emphasis on sterilization and cleanliness. You will want to have a recently published home canning book, some good ones being from Ball, Kerr (well known sources of canning supplies), and the US Department of Agriculture. Your pressure canner will also come with a reliable manual. Be sure to read all instructions before starting.

Even though you follow the instructions carefully, you can still make mistakes. The following tips may help, and they apply to both water bath and pressure canning.

  1. Be organized

    Lay out all the equipment and ingredients before starting food preparation.

  2. Try using the dishwasher to preheat your jars

    Canning jars must be clean and hot before filling. You can pour hot water into the jars to preheat them, but it is convenient to time your dishwasher load so the hot jars are ready when you need them. Preheating the jars prevents them from breaking when filled with hot foods and hot additives like syrup.

  3. Avoid placing hot jars on cold surfaces

    When removing processed jars, place on tea towels or layered newspapers. I like the newspapers because it easier to clean up the mess afterwards. Never put freshly processed jars on a cold surface, or they may break.

  4. Don’t ‘clunk’ the jars

    Make sure not to ‘clunk’ or tap hot jars together when removing them from the canner because hot glass breaks easily. As a general rule, be gentle with the jars throughout the process.

  5. Avoid drafts when removing jars

    Canning is a hot business and the temptation is to open all the windows. This is fine until you take the jars out of the canner. Then, you should consider closing nearby windows and doors because a cool draft can break a hot glass jar.

  6. Use a footstool if necessary when removing jars from canner

    Ideally, the bottom of a pressure canner should be about waist height. This is so you can see inside and have good control when lifting the jars out of the canner. If you are short, you may want to use a footstool for easier and safer jar removal.

  7. Let it be

    Once you’ve set the glass jars on the counter, avoid moving them, as this may interrupt the sealing process. Be patient, as the lids may take a long time to seal. A sealed jar usually has a visible indentation of the lid.

  8. Store it cool, dry and dark

    Store processed jars in a cool (50 – 70 degrees F), dry and shady place for best results. In our home, we store jars under the kids’ beds and other indoor locations that won’t freeze.

  9. Consider using a magnetic lid lifter

    The jar lids must be preheated in hot water before using. They can be tricky to lift out to set on the jars. Tongs will work, but magnetic lid lifters (wands) will make it easier.

  10. Label everything meticulously

    Use a permanent marker to label lids with the month, day and year. This helps you keep track of different batches, rotate your stock and identify batches for comparison purposes.

  11. Success breeds success. By following these tips and recording your own, you will feel encouraged to pursue the art of home canning in future seasons, and make home food preservation part of your family culture.