Home Canning – Good Eatin’ from the Old Timers’ Pantry

By Guest Writer Tracy Falbe

Home preservation of food, primarily with home canning, is enjoying a resurgence. People are awakening to the importance of their local food supplies and thinking more about the quality of food on supermarket shelves that can, quite honestly, be from anywhere.

When the growing season is going gangbusters in your area, you can affordably save the bounty of gardens and farms and enjoy the food for up to a year. Instead of buying one little basket of strawberries at the roadside stand, get the whole flat and make jam. For about the same price as buying jam at a store, you will get a superior product that tastes wonderful.

Convincing people of the benefits of home canning is usually not difficult, but the process of preserving food does intimidate people. They worry they won’t do it right and food poison their families. But I can assure you that, as long as you follow the directions, your preserved food will be safe and delicious.

There are two primary methods for canning: A boiling water bath and the pressure canner. All beginners should start with the boiling water bath method. If you never work your way up to using a pressure canner, that’s fine. You can put up many kinds of fruits, jams, relishes, and preserves with just the boiling water method.

What is the difference between the boiling water bath and pressure canning methods?

The difference is the temperature achieved by each process. A boiling water bath can heat food in jars up to the boiling point, 212 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is sufficient to safely preserve many foods. With the pressure canner, the food in jars can be heated to 240 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. A pressure canner is simply an oversized pressure cooker that can hold canning jars. By containing the steam from boiling water and pressurizing it, temperatures beyond the boiling point can be reached.

How do I know which canning method to use?

The type of food you wish to preserve determines which canning method you use. Foods that are high acid can all be preserved with a boiling water bath. This is because the acidic chemical composition of the food makes it a poor environment for the bacterium Clostridium botulinum to grow. This bacterium is the source of the deadly botulism toxin. With the concern about botulism mostly absent from high acid foods, the temperatures achieved within a boiling water bath are sufficient to destroy other bacteria and mold spores that may be present.

High acid foods are fruits like apples, peaches, berries of all kinds, cherries, pears, apricots, plums, and so forth.

For foods with a low acid or nonacid chemical composition, the Clostridium botulinum bacterium and its toxins can grow and even thrive. Therefore, you must preserve such foods in the higher temperatures of a pressure canner that can destroy botulism toxins.

Low acid foods are fish, poultry, meat, and most vegetables like potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, peppers, cucumbers and so forth.

Although vegetables are low acid and must be preserved in a pressure canner, you can preserve them in a boiling water bath by pickling the food. Pickling involves using a vinegar solution that boosts the acidity of the food. This is why cucumbers and other vegetables can be pickled and canned with a boiling water bath. Pickled products are perfectly safe when processed in a boiling water bath.

What about canning tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a borderline fruit that possess some acidity but are not quite a high acid food. Tomatoes can be canned safely in a boiling water bath with a little vinegar added. I have successfully canned tomatoes in a boiling water bath, and they were fine. However, the pressure canner does a superior job with tomatoes. The vinegar step can be skipped, and the preserved tomatoes come out with better color and nutrition when processed in the pressure canner.

If you are interested in canning, I recommend starting with the boiling water bath. The big kettle and rack can be purchased for roughly $20 at almost any discount store or grocery. Making jam is a great beginner project. The little boxes of powdered fruit pectin available everywhere the canning jars are sold contain many recipes for jams and jellies along with canning directions.

I am a self taught home canner, and I warn you that it is an addictive hobby. The food you preserve will taste so much better than canned goods from the store. My online canning resource is Canning Local found at http://canning.falbepublishing.com

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13 Responses to “Home Canning – Good Eatin’ from the Old Timers’ Pantry”

  1. Cee Says:

    As a teen, I helped with the canning and jamming, freezing and preserving. Of course, at the time I hated it. Yet now I see the value in putting up ones own food. Thank you for reminding me about it.

    You are right, it’s not that hard, if you follow directions.

  2. Gwen Says:

    I made a bunch of jelly last summer, muscadine and plum, and it turned out beautifully. When I was a child, I helped my grandmother make all sorts of jellies, jams, and preserves as well as canning veggies anf fruits from the garden. I mostly freeze our produce, though.

  3. Tracy Falbe Says:

    Hi Gwen,
    I used to mostly use my freezer too, but I learned canning for a couple reasons. I wanted to free up freezer space to buy meat in bulk and I wanted preserved food that would not be in jeopardy if the power got knocked out for more than a day. Now I don’t use freezer space for fruits because they are so well suited to canning.

  4. Gwen Says:

    Makes me want to get all of my jars out of storage….but it’s a bit early for that. We helped clean out an old building for our local literacy council and there were cases and cases of canning jars that would have been thrown out, so I asked if I could have them. They were more than happy for me to take them, so i ended up with about 300 quart sized jars. I also have a bunch of jelly jars on hand so I’m good to go.

  5. Milton Hicks Says:

    In respect to canning tomatoes, the instructions are to add Bottled Lemon Juice or citric acid, not vinegar, to increase the acidic levels….for pressure canning recipes AND boiling water bath recipes…. according the Ball Blue Book of Preserving and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

  6. Cheri Ellis Says:

    This is in response of the reader looking for a no lemon juice jam recipe….I use a pectin called “pomona’s” I use it to make strawberry freezer jam. The great thing about this pectin is that you can use less, or no sugar at all, or another sweetener of your choice. I don’t believe it calls for lemon juice in the recipe, but if it does, I have never used it. I love the jam it makes because is tastes like strawberries, not sugar.

  7. Erika Says:

    I have also had good success with Pomona’s. Another benefit to this brand is you do not have to adhere to precise measurements of fruit–you can make a batch of jelly or jam with what you have available. All in all more flexible. I have purchased it at the local food co-op and online, but I haven’t seen it just generally available. I stepped up my canning efforts this past year for the same reasons Tracy mentions. My favorite thing has been the apple pie filling–you have to use this special starch called “Clearjel,” which is difficult to find, but it was worth the effort. Apparently other starches do not allow proper heat penetration and/or break down when canned. I’ve read that canning jar sales were up dramatically last year, and we all know gardening is becoming more popular again, so perhaps these sorts of things will be more readily available.

    While the pie filling was my favorite thing, I was happiest I made sweet pickles. I used my mother-in-law’s recipe that she hasn’t made in years and years. I gave her a jar and you would have thought it was a bag of gold–she was so thrilled with those pickles. Brought back memories for her. Now, if I could just can pears and peaches like my mom did…she only did those a few times but we still all talk about how good that was, about 30 years later!

  8. Klutzy Mama Says:

    I have never canned before, but I’m putting out my first garden this year and am going to try to can my vegetables. So, is it correct to assume that a person needs both a water bath canner and a pressure canner? It sounds like some vegetables require one method and some require the other…


  9. Tracy Falbe Says:

    Hi Klutzy Mama,
    Most vegetables have low acidity and therefore need the higher temperatures achieved with a pressure canner to be safely preserved. HOWEVER, pickling which uses a vinegar solution raises the acidity and vegetable pickling recipes can be safely canned in a water bath.

    This page at my website should make it clearer:

    Also, look for my new post here about pickling that was published March 27th.

    P.S. I’m a bit of a klutzy mama too.

  10. Klutzy Mama Says:

    Thanks so much for the info! I will check out your website.
    Glad to know you are a kindred spirit in the klutzy department! :-)

  11. carly Says:

    hi tracy! I am so glad to find you. I have canned some, but still have intimidation. Plus, my b.f. has not canned and is hard to teach. So, we will use your sight together to clear up the frustration! thank you!

  12. thrifty momma Says:

    Someone please tell me if a 90 min waterbath was a safe route to take canning a veggie soup I made lastnight. I made it with a tomato base with corn and yellow squash. I learned this method from old timers but I am afraid to make a mistake that will make my family ill. At the same time I can not afford a pressure canner and I have really become scared after reading all the info on pressure canning. I too can not afford to just throw away the food.
    Thank you guys for any info

  13. Nuzhat Says:

    I was recently introduced to canning and I find it really interesting. I have a few meat meals that I would like to try to can. I noticed that there are not many recipes for cooked meat. Then there are those that are called ‘canning recipes’. So I was wondering is it possible to can any sort of cooked food? or there are only a few recipes that can be canned?

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