Food Preservation

Canning Tips

cherry st mkt with Michigan local tomatoesWell, it’s canning season, people! There are plenty of farmers markets and farm stands all over Michigan, so get on out there and make your purchase. Now’s the time to get started – and see my tips below. Learn from my mistakes.

There are two kinds of canning procedures: water bath and pressure canning. For water bath canning you need a very large pot with a rack in the bottom. It will typically hold seven glass canning jars. With the filled jars in the pot, the water is boiled for a specific length of time to process the food.

A pressure canner is an appliance that traps steam to process the food using the pressure created. Low-acid foods, such as green beans and beets, require higher sterilization temperatures, and this is accomplished with a pressure canner.

– Start each season with a small canning project to get over what I call Canning Amnesia. It is easy to forget the process.
– Know how long the project will take – and plan extra time. Canning a bushel of tomatoes could take 9 – 10 hours.
– Wash the produce the night before, so you can get right to canning in the morning.
– Be sure to take a break to stretch and rest your hands if you are peeling a large amount of produce.
– Don’t put the large amount of peelings in the disposal; it will most likely clog.
– Wear shoes! Canning is no time to risk spilling boiling water on your feet or slipping in socks.
– Be flexible with your attitude about the results. The project might not look how you envisioned it but will probably still taste good.
– Have a set of towels of various sizes specifically for food processing. They will get stained.
– Don’t boil the canning lids. This is mentioned on the manufacturer’s literature.
– Wipe up spills on the range top immediately so they don’t crust over while the burner is on for hours.
– Have an oven mitt for each hand.
– Other than a light touch to verify that the jars have sealed, don’t touch them for 24 hours.
– Wipe up juice splashes immediately to prevent staining of surfaces.
– Think about how much of a fruit or vegetable you will use. Don’t make extra unless you wish to give it away.
– Canning is NOT for young children. Engage them in how delicious the food is or in a freezer jam project. Teach them to can later in life.

– Follow the directions from a canning cookbook (or on the pectin package if making jam). Purchase a book written by the canning jar manufacturer.
– If you end up with filled jars that are not going into the canner, don’t put the citric acid in them. Uncooked citric acid is very tart.
– If you are cold packing tomatoes – use juicy ones. The paste-type tomatoes will not fill up the jar in the end unless they are especially squished down into it.
– If the jar does not seal, put it into the refrigerator or freezer right away. Eat the food within a few days if refrigerated.

– Know which produce must be canned in a pressure canner and which can be canned in a boiling water bath.
– The first step is to read the instructions for the pressure canner – AND follow them completely.
– Do NOT try to remove the cover or anything on or attached to the cover while there is still pressure.
– Determine the appropriate cooking time; prep the canning jars, lids, and rings.
– Think about how you are going to handle peeling the produce. My book indicated that the beet skins would ‘slip off’ after 15 – 25 minutes of boiling, BUT they started to loosen after 45 minutes of boiling. Then, I read online that using a butter knife to cut the ends off of the beets and push the skins off was helpful. I found it so.
– You could can meals such as chili or soups in a pressure canner. Time it with your normal meal prep for efficiency. But, the portions to be canned must go in undercooked, so that they are not mushy after the canning process.
– I found that when I added citric acid to a meal including my summer canned tomatoes – which already had citric acid – the food was way too tart. So after that, I left out the citric acid for the chili or soup that included pre-home-canned tomatoes.
– Canning cooks the food, so you need to put raw or only slightly sautéed foods into the canner. (This pertains to vegetarian food. Check your pressure canner instructions for meat.)
– If you are doing more than one batch in the pressure canner, have a book or other activity ready. There is a lot of time spent waiting for the canner to depressurize and then re-pressurize for the second batch.
– When packing starchy vegetables such as beets into a pressure canner, be sure to pack them down in order to have enough to fill the jar when the vegetables settle.

Go forth and can! It is very rewarding. And, can food with a buddy or teach others, because it is fun to have company.

Click here for my canning equipment recommendations.

It’s Time to Make Basil Pesto

Have enough basil yet? Now’s the time to make up some basil pesto for use year-round. This recipe can be made with traditional parmesan, vegan “parmesan”, or raw “parmesan” (for a fully raw pesto). Here’s my recipe for raw “parmesan”.

1-2/3 cups walnuts
10 cloves of garlic (or 15 garlic scapes)
1-2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-1/2 cups parmesan
8 ounces basil leaves

Combine garlic, oil, parmesan, and basil leaves in food process and pulse to a fine texture. Add the walnuts and pulse until desired texture.

Freeze in ice-cube trays. When frozen, store in an airtight freezer container.


basil and garlic scapes for pesto

make pesto 1

making pesto 2

pesto cubes

Farm to Freezer

You’re ready to preserve some of Michigan’s bounty, right? Some Michigan produce is super simple to preserve by just washing and freezing. That’s it!!

A variety of Michigan fruits can be frozen for smoothies, snacks, and desserts year round: strawberries, cherries, pears, peaches, seedless grapes, and blueberries.

Freeze up shelled peas, shredded zucchini, bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes – even chopped onions, with little preparation time. The vegetables are good for use in cooking; you’d not put them on a salad, because they’ll be watery. But, the summer taste is still there!

It’s a simple process. Wash the produce listed above and remove stems, pits, and the like. If you are freezing a larger item such as pear or pepper, cut it into bit sized chunks. Tomatoes can be left whole.

Dab them dry. Then, let them sit on a towel for an hour or so to continue to dry off as much as possible. If they go into the freezer wet, I’ve found that they tend to frost up and get that dulled down ‘freezer-burned’ taste.

Put them on cookie sheets, in the freezer, making sure that the pieces are not touching each other. Freezing this way will ensure that they’re not stuck in a clump when you want to defrost them. When they’re frozen solid, put them in freezer containers for storage. Thaw them in the refrigerator or for a short time on the counter. I sometimes defrost food in my dehydrator, so they thaw quicker and with less moisture. Soft items, such as cherries, can be eaten frozen. If you have a high-speed blender, you often don’t need to thaw the fruit for smoothies.

For zucchini, shred it and freeze it in the amount you need in a recipe for zucchini bread or fritters.

For garlic scapes, cut them into several pieces and discard the flower head. Put the pieces of each scape in individual small plastic bags. Collect the small bags into a larger container and freeze. Use one or two – depending on how much garlic flavor you want in the dish – to replace a garlic clove.

Do this, and you’ll have fruits on hand for last minute desserts, tomatoes for stews, and you won’t have to eat those tasteless, imported, bell peppers found in stores during the winter.

frozen Michigan strawberries

frozen strawberries on tray

garlic scapes in individual bags for freezing

garlic scapes in individual bags for freezing

chopped onions to freeze

chopped onions to freeze

shredded zucchini to freeze

shredded zucchini to freeze

garlic scapes to freeze - remove flower head (upper right)

garlic scapes to freeze – remove flower head (upper right)