Can It, Freeze It, Dry It

Over the past few weeks we’ve shared how our gardens are growing (Christine, Katy, and Jody ). And next week Justine will give us an update about her garden. Eating delicious home-grown food is a joy of gardening, so it has been fun to review the ways we use our garden produce. While fresh produce from the garden is delicious, sometimes you have so much you need to save it for later.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has many food preservation resources, including virtual and in person classes. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers participants the opportunity to learn safe food preservation techniques, including canning, freezing and dehydrating. For more information and to find a class, check out

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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canningHave you been bitten by the canning bug? Buying fresh local produce at the farmers market or growing it yourself in your own back yard garden has been inspiring lots of people to give canning a try. If you would like to try canning before making a huge investment in equipment, we have some suggestions.

There are two different types of canners that the home food preserver can use. Pressure canners can be expensive, so if you want to try canning, start with food that could be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

canning chart blog
Before you go out and spend a lot of money buying supplies, consider trying canning with equipment you already have in your home.

  • Stock pot – Large enough for canning jars to be totally submerged by 2 inches
  • Rack— this allows water to flow all around the jars and provides even heating inside the jar. You can use a round rack from a roaster or one that you cool cookies on.  If you don’t have a rack, make one by tying canning jar rings together with wire twist ties.
  • Lid for the canner—if your pot does not have a lid, use a cookie sheet or pizza pan for the lid.

You may have a family member or co-worker that canned in the past and has jars that they would like to pass on. You will want to check for cracks and nicks in the jars before using them. Be sure to wash them well or send them through the dishwasher before using them.  You can find jar rings and flats in most grocery stores. Resist the temptation to buy more than you will use in your first canning adventure. The jar lids—or flats as they are called—do expire.

Now that you have the equipment that you need and some idea of the sort of food you could preserve, it is time to find a recipe. At AnswerLine, we advise only using safe, tested recipes for your home preserved foods. By tested recipe, we mean a recipe that has been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure there is enough acid in the food and that it is heated long enough in the jars to remain safe over the storage life of the food. Generally speaking, recipes that have been passed down in your family don’t tend to be tested recipes. You can find tested recipes from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA Canning Guide, and the Ball Blue Books.  The links for these recipe resources are at the bottom of this blog. We like to use current recipes, so we advise not using any recipes older than 2009. Follow these links, or call us at AnswerLine and we will help you find recipes for the food you would like to preserve.

Recipe Reminders

  • Follow the recipe as it is written. This means no additions of other foods that might be tasty—the recipe wasn’t tested for variations. If you want to change things a bit, do it after you open the jar to serve the food.
  • Use the amount of headspace inside the jar that is prescribed in the recipe; this will give you the best quality end product.
  • Remember to adjust your recipe for altitude. All canning recipes were written as if everyone lives at sea level.  Those of us (most of the state of Iowa) that live above 1000 feet will need to add 5 minutes to any boiling water bath canning time for safe processing. If you use a weighted gauge pressure canner, add 5 pounds to the weight. If you are unsure of the altitude at your house, give us a call. We love to help.

We hope you enjoy your first attempt at canning and find a satisfying new hobby. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine
Liz, Beth, and Jill



Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Want to Make Salsa?

salsaThis morning I got an email from my sister:

“Want to make salsa with the big tomatoes from the garden?  How about Friday night?”

I found a great publication called Preserving Food: Sensational Salsas on the University of Georgia website. It not only has several tomato salsas, but also directions on how to can Mango Salsa, Peach Apple Salsa, and Spicy Cranberry Salsa.

It is true that we have lots of gorgeous tomatoes and, with all the sun and heat, they are ripening faster than usual.  We need to do something with them in addition to eating our fill and giving them away.

Canning, freezing, and making salsa are the best alternatives I can think of.

Here is my chart of pros and cons:

Freezing tomatoes Fastest, no special equipment needed, can do in small batches. Heats up the kitchen when you blanch them, but not as much as the other methods. Freezing breaks down the cell walls so they are best used in soups and stews.  Uses up space in my refrigerator/freezer.
Canning tomatoes Good flavor and texture compared to frozen; stores on the shelf. Requires a water bath or pressure canner, and new lids (we already have canning jars or we would have to buy them also).Heats up the kitchen.
Salsa Makes a nice little gift if it turns out.Uses peppers and onions from the garden. Stores on the shelf. Requires processing in a hot water bath. Takes time to chop up the vegetables. Heats up the kitchen.

I am not sure what we will do with the tomatoes, but I am following the directions from a university.  I do not want to take the chance on wasting my time and energy with spoiled food.  If canning or freezing are your choice here is a link to Iowa State’s food preservation resources.

How to “Preserve the Taste of Summer”

The heat and drought are hard on fruits and vegetables, so production at home and at farmers markets is down.  But, you might still be able to find some great tasting fruits and/or vegetables to can, freeze, pickle, dry or make into jam.   Using current tested recipes and procedures is very important, both to make sure your food is safe and to get the best tasting results.

Sometimes I freeze tomatoes to use in chili and soup and berries (when I can get them for a bargain).  My sisters and I make jam and salsa from our garden and give them away to our friends and relatives. We have fun working together and the food gifts seem a little more special when you make them instead of buy them.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has new on-line classes, regional workshops, and a new series of free publications with the latest recommendations on food preservation called Preserve the Taste of Summer.  Plus ISU Extension Answerline, toll-free in Iowa 800-262-3804, is still available and answered by friendly, patient Home Economists.


Directions Available for Home Food Preservation

Have you noticed the interest in home food preservation? Equipment sales are up, cookbooks are selling and home cooks, from beginners to experts, are enjoying the pleasure of canning, freezing, jams, jellies and drying foods.  Some are doing it for creativity or to give as homemade gifts.  Others want to control salt, sugar and other preservatives in the foods they eat. Some want to save money by preserving the excess garden bounty.

Whatever your motivation, it is very important to use reliable recipes, instructions and equipment.  I have been horrified by some of the directions I hear people sharing.  I know that home canned food can be dangerous and sometimes the food will spoil before it can be used. Years ago I used to teach food preservation and answer questions from the public.   I cringe at the time and money that is wasted by shortcuts or lack of research-based directions.

Extension Services across the country provide information on food preservation.  Check with your local extension service or look for resources at the National Center for Home food Preservation at the University of Georgia.

Here in Iowa our food and nutrition team has created a comprehensive course for people to learn about food preservation Preserve the Taste of SummerThis new program includes on-line courses and hands-on workshops.

Some Iowa counties will be hosting a program called Food Preservation 101:  This is a one-time program lasting from 1.5 – 2 hours.  It is free and gives people some basic information about food preservation and a chance to learn about the Preserve the Taste of Summer course.  Check with your local office to see if it is scheduled.

Also, all the ISU food preservation publications have been revised with the most up- to-date information.  Download any or all of these for free from the ISU web site.

PM 1043 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Fruits
PM 1044 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Vegetables
PM 1366 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Fruit Spreads
PM 1368 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Pickles
PM 1045 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Freezing: Fruits and Vegetables
PM 0638 Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning and Freezing: Tomatoes

Last year I made 10 batches of sour cherry jam.  My sister and I picked the cherries and pitted them.  We froze some for muffins and pies, but we made most of them into jam.  This took most of a day since jam is one recipe you don’t double.  The jam looked and tasted delicious.  Although I gave most of it away, I still have a few jars to spread on toast for a special treat.  It’s a good thing we made extra last year because this summer there were very few cherries on the trees.


Tomatoes…Yum! Doesn’t matter if they are a fruit or a vegetable

Remember that old argument…is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  Here’s the answer.  BOTH.  Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit.  A “fruit” is any fleshy material covering a seed or seeds.  Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable plant.  The plant is an annual and non-woody.  (Source: Produce Marketing Association and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.)

Whatever, our garden and my patio plants are loaded with tomatoes that are almost ripe.  I have my fingers crossed that we don’t get hail, insects or disease in the next few weeks.  If not, there should be some extras to make salsa, or preserve for future meals. 

If you have access to extra tomatoes or other fruits and vegetables, Extension has an excellent source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation and processing information.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information about canning, freezing, drying, curing, pickling, making jams and jellies, as well as storing foods.

If you have questions,  you may call Families Extension Answer Line (800-262-3804).  Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.

– pointers from Peggy

Grandma might not know best…about canning

Is your garden overflowing? I don’t have many tomatoes yet, but lots of everything else! I know some of my neighbors have been busy canning and freezing beans and other garden goodies. Canning and freezing may or may not save money (depending on how many supplies you have to purchase), but the end result definitely tastes good. Although home food preservation has been done for years, we learn more all the time about how to do it more safely and with better quality results. The ‘way Grandma did it’ may not follow current recommendations. For example,

Did you know you are supposed to add acid (lemon juice or citric acid) to every jar of canned tomatoes to keep them safe?

Did you know you are supposed to follow a tested recipe (not just one you got from a from a friend’s friend) for things like salsa, relish, andin factall home canned items?

Did you know that ‘steam canners’  are not safe, even though you still see them sold in stores?

Did you know there is a new recommendation to leave jars in a pressure canner for 10 minutes after processing and leave jars in a water bath for 5 minutes after processing?

For all the latest info on home food preservation, including delicious tested recipes, check out Food Preservation Resources.

-pointers by Renee

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