The growing season rewards us with delicious, fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables. One
of the best ways to extend the enjoyment of the tastiest produce into the winter months is to
Canning may seem like complex art form. But if you follow certain steps, you can safely
preserve many things like tomatoes, jams, jellies and pickles, in a manner that the flavor and
nutrition are intact. If you're concerned about doing it correctly and safely, it's comforting
to know that your jars will tell you that you've done it right. They will tell you with a ping
or a pop as they cool. That sound is a joyful noise in canning.
"The sign that you've succeeded is so clear," said Daniel Gasteiger, author of Yes, You
Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too. The Modern Step by Step guide to Preserving Food,
speaking of the pop that's created as the canning lid safely seals. Here's the basic
Say you love salsa made from your homegrown tomatoes and cilantro. If you want to have that
luxury in the midst of winter, prepare salsa with a time-tested canning recipe. Take some
simple steps to sterilize canning jars and lids. Add the salsa to the jars, leaving the proper
amount of space at the top of the jar, put lids on, put the full jars in a large pot with
enough water to cover the jars, and boil for the required time. Easy as that, you're
While it's simple, there are important guidelines and you must use approved canning recipes
to make sure your preserves will be safe. But if you can follow directions, you can can. It
really isn't difficult. Gasteiger suggests starting with high-acid canning.
The US Department of Agriculture divides canning into two types; high-acid and low-acid.
High-acid includes all fruits. Low-acid canning is the preservation of vegetables and meats.
High-acid canning also includes preservation of food that has had extra acid added to it, like
pickles, tomatoes or chutneys. Acid can be added in the form of vinegars, citric acid or lemon
Other than the type of food involved, the main difference between the two types of canning
is temperature. The acid levels in high-acid canning kill many micro-organisms that can be
harmful. Canning in a boiling water bath at 212 degrees is sufficient to preserve high-acid
foods safely. Low-acid food must be heated to 240 degrees in a pressure canner to ensure the
food will keep fresh over time. Canning recipes will provide exact times for heating. Boiling
times also change based on your elevation. For example, home canners at higher elevations will
need to boil the full jars longer.
Tomatoes are fruit and many of them would be considered high-acid. But some are not. So for
safety, the USDA says to add acid to tomatoes. There are tested tomato canning recipes that
take the guess work out for you. Make sure to carefully follow recipes because the ratio of
acid to vegetable is important. The USDA has pdf's that you can download as a starting
"The easiest mistake to make is failing to follow a USDA recipe," said Gasteiger, " Make
sure the proportions are correct when adding acid and salt. It's always safe to add more
As with deciding what to grow in your vegetable garden, Gasteiger says to carefully look at
what you eat when deciding what to can.
"Really focus on what you love to eat. If you don't eat the stuff, why bother?" he asks,
"Pickle lovers may want to start there. People who love jams and jellies should begin
Gasteiger warns against being intimidated by canning based on equipment needed. Except for a
jar lifter, he canned for 12 years before he purchased any special canning tools. If you have a
pot that is an inch and a half taller than the tallest jar you want to can, some tongs, a
chopstick, and a canning jar lifter, you can give it a whirl. You need tongs sterilized by
boiling to lift the lids onto the jars after they are filled. A chopstick is used release
bubbles after you've placed the food in the jars before placing the lids.
"I'd hate to can without a jar lifter," said Gasteiger, "Lifters are like giant pliers that
you can use to place the jars into the boiling water bath and remove them from the water bath
once they are done."
After the jars are removed from the boiling water bath, allow them to cool to room
"In about ten minutes, each jar seals," said Gasteiger, "when the metal lid bends down, you
hear a pop or ping. That means you've done it right."