Learning to can and preserve food can be intimidating and there's a lot of misinformation out there. So Amy Bronee, author of The Canning Kitchen, is here to help dispel 5 common canning myths so you can get on with preserving summer's bounty!
Canning is hot again with home cooks, but many aren’t filling jars because they’re filled with questions instead. Just what do you need to get started, how much work is involved, and what is pectin anyway?
Since just deciding to get started can be the hardest part, here are 5 canning myths cleared up so you can build your canning confidence and get on with making delicious homemade preserves like a boss.
Myth 1: Canning requires a lot of equipment
Many of the tools required for preserving food in jars can already be found in any home kitchen. A large pot for boiling jams and chutneys, a cutting board and sharp knife, wooden spoons and measuring cups are standard tools for any recipe.
The extras specific to canning such as a speckled enamel canning pot with a lid and fitted rack, mason jars with two-piece lids, a jar lifter and canning funnel can be found inexpensively at most hardware stores. Most of these will last through years of preserving. Jars can be reused indefinitely if they are free of chips and cracks. Ring bands can be reused indefinitely if they are free of rust and dents, but the flat lids must be replaced every time.
Buy tools separately or get an all-in-one kit with everything you need to get started. If space is an issue, buy a canning rack that fits a stock pot you already own.
Myth 2: Canning is a lot of work
The amount of effort that goes into a canning project depends on what you’re making. Classic Garlic Dill Pickles are a simple and fun first-time canning project as are berry jams like this Blackberry Vanilla Jam. Other preserves take more time, such as marmalades which require a long simmer to soften citrus peels.
Choosing a beginner recipe that can be made in under an hour is a good place to start, and the more often you do it the quicker your canning skills will become.
That being said, if you do want to can a couple dozen jars of tomatoes or make a few different recipes at a time, you might prefer to invite some friends over to help. Canning parties are a growing trend for first-time canners who see the social benefits of learning a new skill together and sharing the delicious results. Canning classes are also a growing trend at cooking schools, community centres and food co-ops.
Myth 3: I need a lot of ingredients
Most jams require no more than about 3 lb (1.4 kg) of fruit and have as few as two or three ingredients. First time jammers looking at the ingredients in front of them might even ask, is that it?
Other recipes such as tomato sauces, relishes and chutneys often require more ingredients in larger volumes, but that doesn’t have to make preserving expensive. To limit costs, buy fresh ingredients when they’re in season, visit u-picks or buy directly from farmers. Sometimes ingredients can even be free. Start your own veggie garden or ask a neighbour if you can pick their fruit trees in exchange for some jars of the delicious homemade preserves you’ll make. Some cities offer tree fruit picking programs where a third of the fruit goes to the homeowner, a third to community kitchens and a third to the volunteer pickers.
Myth 4: Pectin is a preservative
Used in making jam and jellies, pectin is often misunderstood by new and experienced canners alike. It’s not a preservative, and it’s not made from animals (that’s gelatin).
Pectin is a natural fibre found in most plant cells. The seeds, skins and cores of apples as well as the seeds and peels of citrus contain quite a lot of these cells, and commercially-available pectin is the by-product of juice production. The leftover fruit pulp is dried and ground to produce pectin crystals.
While pectin is not a preservative, it does allow you to preserve flavour, colour and texture as the addition of pectin to jams and jellies means you can use a very short cooking time. No-pectin-added jams and jellies require a much longer cooking time resulting in darker, less fresh-tasting jams with a lower yield.
Myth 5: I have to sterilize my jars
Home canners used to sterilize all their jars before filling them with homemade goodies, but current sterilization guidelines from the research-leading National Center for Home Food Preservation (US) state this isn’t strictly required. Research shows that filled jars that are processed (boiled under water) for at least 10 minutes in a boiling water canner will become sterilized during processing.
An old-fashioned canning method called the open-kettle method, where jars would be sterilized and filled without further processing in a canner, is not recommended by modern guidelines. Since most of today’s canning recipes have a processing time of at least 15 minutes, start with clean jars washed in hot soapy water or a dishwasher and you’re good to go.
Looking for some great canning ideas to get you started? Check out our Canning and Preserving board on Pinterest. If you're an FBC member and want to share a recipe from your blog, then take a look at our Pin It Thursday - Canning & Preserving.
**Editor's note - the first photo in this article is courtesy of Keri Coles Photography.
Putting a Lid on 5 Canning Myths was written by Amy Bronee. Amy is a food blogger, cooking instructor and author of The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes. Her home-cooking blog, Family Feedbag, has won several awards and recognitions, including a Jamie Oliver award and being named one of Western Living’s Top 40 Foodies Under 40. Amy is proud to be part of the canning renaissance in home kitchens.