I have canning fever, for real. The Broad Ripple Farmers Market opens on Saturday, and I couldn’t be more excited! It was my main source of produce for my canning projects last year. As I start to realize that the season is approaching again, I decided to put together an inventory list, and then I realized that I could offer great tips to newbie canners. So, here it is!
Luckily I have stockpots and canning equipment (a Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit that’s still in good shape), so I don’t have any huge expenses there. Those items need to be washed and cleaned thoroughly before using them again. I do not have a pressure canner, so I only water-bath can. If you don’t know the difference, read this quick article about water bath canning vs pressure canning.
Assess what canning jars you have left from the prior year by checking for cracks in the jar, especially around the mouth. Discard any cracked jars. I know that I could easily use 2 cases each of half-pint and wide mouth pint jars, so I’ll start out the season with that many on hand and purchase more from there.
Purchase additional lids and bands for last year’s jars. I find that it’s nice to have these on hand.
I have a few gallons of distilled vinegar in my basement, but I’m out of white wine vinegar and red wine vinegar. I’ll be experimenting with champagne vinegar and brown rice vinegar this year, so I need to snatch up some of that, too.
Distilled vinegar is the easiest to find, and I usually pick it up at Rural King, a tractor supply-type place in Terre Haute that offers everything from cowboy boots to home improvement to canning equipment, evidently. It costs $2 for a gallon of vinegar and I’m totally OK with that.
It helps to research pickling recipes you’d like to try to know what vinegar you need. Each vinegar has a different color and taste, and The Kitchn has a great drill-down to help you find the one you want.
If you plan to pickle veggies, you’ll need pickling spices. As always, I head to Penzey’s, where I can get them in bulk. One 4 oz bag of each was enough for what I made last summer and surely is a good start. These spices will keep for quite some time. I go with…
- Mustard seeds (yellow are mild, brown are spicy – I default to yellow)
- Bay leaves
- Corriander seeds
- Dill seed
- Fennel seed
- Kosher salt – lots of it
Last year I only used white granulated sugar. Raw sugar has started to intrigue me, so I may be trying some jams and jellies with it soon. Raw sugar is usually not as sweet as white granulated sugar, so you may need to add more raw sugar to your recipe. Taste as you go and adjust accordingly.
2. Plan it out
By the season
The best advice I can offer is to find a growing season calendar for your region and keep a copy on your refrigerator. This not only lets you prepare for each trip to the farmer’s market, you’ll know WHEN to can WHAT. In Indiana, I can expect to see rhubarb only at the very beginning of the market season, and while I didn’t pursue the elusive pink stalks last year, you can bet that I will be making rhubarb jam this year.
It may be helpful for you to organize canning projects by the season. Now, I certainly have my own list, but I ain’t sharing that just yet. Gotta keep some secrets! However, I can elude that spring will bring pickled radishes, rhubarb jam and some pickled garlic. Summer will allow me to can tomato jam, ketchup, dill pickles and other relishes. Towards the end of the market I’ll be pickling sweet corn and making apple butter.
I also bought a lot of frozen fruit and produce from the grocery store when it wasn’t available at the farmer’s market. I don’t see anything wrong with that! While it’s not the reason why people can, experiment with what’s available to you. I had planned on canning the tomatoes from my garden, but the drought and heat left me with 10 tomatoes by the end of the summer, which was not enough to can hardly anything.
Remember that canning can easily eat up a Saturday or Sunday. If you think you’re going to can every weekend, think again. Things come up, plans get made, sickness happens – don’t devote your whole summer to canning unless you’re an experienced canner with a garden to preserve.
Can for the future
Also, think about your summer canning as gifts for the holiday season. John’s dad loves the tomato jam that I make, but he got the last jar and I’ll need to make more soon.
Don’t know where to start? Pick up a copy of Food In Jars, a great book with a variety of water-bath canning options. Tart and Sweet is a bit more adventures with recipes, and I love how it is categorized by the season. And of course, you can’t go wrong with the Ball Blue Book, the canning bible for many!
3. Use what you make and have fun!
Canning is much more fun when you can with friends. I’ve enjoyed learning how to can from my friends, and in turn, teaching new friends how to can.
Canning what you like and you know you’ll eat is also important. While I experimented with dilly beans last year, they weren’t my favorite to eat so I ended up giving them away. Plan a party to open up the jars and try jams with your friend’s homemade biscuits. Swap your pickled jalapenos for someone else’s lemon curd.
I hope this list isn’t too overwhelming, and that you really do get out there and can this summer!