Monday, August 27, 2012

A Few Tips From a Canning Novice to the Canning Newbies...

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a canning master just because I now have two canning ventures under my culinary belt.  I first dipped my toe into the canning world when I made my Small Batch Chipotle Salsa.  I have always been intimidated by the concept of canning, but I decided that I needed to eventually take the plunge if I was ever going to learn.  I made it a point to include learning to can on my Summer Sand Pail List.  My second venture in canning was making a Small Batch Vanilla Spiced Peach Jam (be looking for that post and recipe later this week ;) ).  

I have tweeted here and there about my small canning victories.  I almost always get responses like, "Oh, I wish I could learn to can!" or "I want to do that, but I am not sure I have time to learn now. And besides, summer is almost over."  And you know what?  I can relate.  I was in the exact same frame of mind just a little over a month ago.  
I am here to tell you that it is actually easier than you think to can!  And no, it is not too late to learn!  The summer and fall still have a lot of fresh bounty to offer, and how wonderful will it be in the winter to still have a taste of summer hanging around in your kitchen in pretty glass jars? ;)

So, here are my few words of wisdom from this canning novice to all you brand spanking new beginners out there...
  • Start small.  Look for small batch recipes.  Small batches can be anywhere between a couple of medium sized jars to 7-8 smaller jars of whatever you are making.  Starting small will make it less overwhelming.  I can't imagine if I had decided to make a dozen jars of salsa in my first attempt.  I may have thrown in the towel mid-salsa making. ;)  
  • You know that canning stuff at the store made for beginners?  Yeah, buy that stuff.  Why make it any more difficult on yourself than you need to?  I bought the Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit before my first attempt at canning.  It includes 3 jars, a plastic basket with a handle for holding the jars during processing, and a recipe booklet.  (P.S.  Processing just sounds difficult.  It is really just boiling the filled and lidded jars for a specific amount of time.) I learned from my first attempt that a decent utensil kit would be helpful too.  So before I made my peach jam, I went out and bought the Ball Utensil Kit.  I can't tell you how cool the tool with the little magnet on the end for picking up the lids is.  As long as you already have a decent stock pot, you will have less than $20 in your initial canning supplies and tools.  Of course you will want some more pretty jars for canning, but most of those run less than $10 per pack.
  • Utilize the internet!  Ball has a very useful Intro to Canning Guide online.  I leaned on this site quite a bit as my Canning Discovery Kit came to me missing it's recipe booklet. (Yeah, I still need to call Ball about having them send me a replacement one. Oh, procrastination... ;) )  You can also find all kinds of small batch canning recipes by doing a quick Google search.
  • I haven't tried this yet, but I have heard that running your jars through the dishwasher as you are making your jam, sauce, salsa, etc will get them and keep them hot enough for when you need to fill them.  I am trying this the next time I can for sure.  Boiling the jars and lids in the stock pot and then fishing them out with the jar tongs and magnet stick are kind of a pain in the butt.
  • Set aside a good 2 hours for your first canning adventure.  This will give you plenty of time to chop, cook, stir, jar, and process.  Plus, you need a little extra time to accommodate your learning curve.  Make your first time canning an enjoyable, relaxing experience.  (Even if that means you have to drop the kids off with grandma for a few hours. ;) )  You don't want your first time to leave you flustered and rushed, and willing to give up on the notion of canning for eternity.
*I know it sounds like I am a total advertisement for Ball in this post, but they in no way compensated, gave me product, or paid me for my above praises.  Ball products just happen to be what I picked up when I went to the store, and they worked well for me as a beginner.
So, all you canning experts out there- what is your one piece of advice for all us newbies out here? :)