Spring has arrived and it won’t be long before seeds or plants will find their way into the garden. And that means that canning season is just around the corner so it’s time to get ready! Having equipment ready and recipes selected before the fresh produce arrives helps to assure a successful canning season.
Choose recipes that have been developed specifically for canning and come from research-based sources like the USDA Complete Guide to Canning (2015), the National Center for Home Food Preservation, So Easy to Preserve, or Extension resources from your land-grant university. Recipes should be followed as written; canning is a science, not an art. Therefore, alterations to the recipes should not be made. To learn more about the risks associated with modifying canning recipes with regards to swapping ingredients, adding ingredients, or increasing or decreasing ingredients, check out Modifying Canning Recipes by South Dakota State University Extension. Penn State Extension also has an excellent article on Ingredients Used in Home Preservation, which describes ingredients and their function in canned goods.
Safe canning methods include the boiling water bath method, the atmospheric steam canner method, and the pressure canner method. Each method uses a different type of canner. Electric, multi-cooker appliances should not be used for canning. Water bath and atmospheric steam canners require little maintenance and are used for canning high acid foods, pickles, fruit spreads, and most tomato products. (Atmospheric steam canners can be used in place of water bath canners as long as the canning process time is 45 minutes or less.) Water bath canners have fitted lids and removable perforated or shaped-wire racks. The canner must be deep enough that at least 1 to 2 inches of briskly boiling water covers the tops of jars during processing. All canners should be checked for signs of wear and corrosion on the body and lid.
Pressure canners, used for low-acid foods (vegetables), some tomato products, and meats, require deeper inspection. Pressure canners have a weighted gauge, a dial gauge, or both for indicating and regulating the pressure. The lid gaskets along with the gauges, petcocks, vents, and safety valves should be inspected. Penn State Extension has a helpful inspection check list as a guide. Pressure canners with dial gauges must be tested annually for accuracy. Gauges that read high cause under-processing and may result in unsafe food. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are the main reason why low-acid foods must be pressure canned to be safe. Home-canned foods are responsible for over 90% of all cases of food-borne botulism. Low readings cause over-processing. Your local extension office personal may have the equipment to test the accuracy of most dial-gauge canner brands such as Presto, National, Maid of Honor, and Magic Seal. National Presto Industries will also test gauges for free. (See University Minnesota Extension for more information.) All-American brand gauges cannot be tested at extension offices; contact the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, 920-682-8627 for help.* Burpee pressure canners can no longer be tested; the company is out of business and parts are no longer available for the Aristocrat; it is probably best to set these vintage canners aside as an heirloom or collectable. Dial gauges that are off more than two pounds of pressure should be sent to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. To learn more about canner gauge testing, watch Maintaining Your Canning Equipment by K-State Research and Extension. Iowa and Minnesota residents may call AnswerLine to find out where to go for testing. Weighted or rocker-type pressure regulators do not require annual testing; the weights are not adjustable and usually maintain accuracy.
It is also important to inventory canning jars, lids, and ring bands. Mason-type jars specifically designed to withstand the heat necessary for home canning should be used. Check jars for rim nicks, blemishes and hairline scratches or cracks. Jars exhibiting any issues should not be used for canning; instead they can be recycled for dry food or pantry storage. Jar size plays a role in process time so the jar size called for in the recipe must be used. Two-piece lids are needed to seal the jars; the flat lid can only be used once while the ring band may be re-used unless it is rusty or dented. For best results, use recently manufactured flat lids from reputable manufacturers.
Other essential canning equipment to locate and check for safe use include funnel(s) for large- and narrow-mouth jars, jar lifter, racks, food mill, jelly bags, bubble popper tool, and headspace gauge. Make sure that everyday kitchen items like tongs, ladles, strainers, colanders, cheese cloth, long handled spoons, and a slotted spoon are conveniently located. Also be aware that some canners cannot be used on glass stovetops and that a newly acquired electric range (since 2019) with coil burners may not allow consistent heat due UL858(60A) standards.. A portable burner may be a suitable option provided NCHFP guidelines are considered.
Canning your own garden produce or farmer’s market produce can be rewarding and a great way to save your food for later use. Be ready by planning and preparing now.
*Newer models of the All American canner have both regulator weights (weighted gauge and dial gauge). [Picture 1.] If the weight begins to rock at the desired pressure and the gauge is off by more than 2 psi the company recommends replacing the gauge. The gauge is now used as a reference to know when the unit is at 0 psi and can safely be removed. The petcock on older All American Canners [Picture 2] can be replaced with a weighted gauge. Contact Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry for more information. Photos used with permission from K-State Research and Extension.