If you are thinking about joining the trend to can food this summer, start by checking your equipment and supplies. Proper equipment in good condition is required for safe, high quality home canned food.
A pressure canner is essential for canning low-acid vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry. Two basic types are available. One has a dial gauge to indicate the pressure inside the canner; the other has a metal weighted gauge. Dial gauges must be tested for accuracy before each canning season. Contact the Extension Office for information on getting your gauge tested. Check the rubber gasket if your canner has one; it should be flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Also, make sure any small pipes or vent ports with openings are clean and open all the way through.
A boiling water canner is needed for canning other foods such as fruits, pickles, jellies, and jams. The canner should be deep enough to allow at least one to two inches of water to boil over the tops of the jars. Both types of canners should have a rack in the bottom to keep jars off the bottom of the canner.
Inventory your jars and decide if you need to buy new jars this year. Inspect those you have for nicks, cracks, or chips, especially around the top sealing edge. Nicks can prevent lids from sealing. Very old jars can weaken with age and repeated use; they break under pressure and heat.
Consider investing in new jars if you need to, and watch for specials at the stores. New jars are a better investment over time than buying used jars at yard sales or flea markets. Mason-type jars specifically designed for home canning are best. Jars that use two-piece self-sealing metal lids are the recommended container in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines. A "must" every canning season is new flat lids. Throw away used lids. The screw bands are re-usable if they are not bent, dented, or rusty.
A final must is reliable, up-to-date canning instructions. Publications and information are available at the Extension office. Or, visit the Penn State Home Food Preservation website at extension.psu.edu/food-safety/food-preservation where you will find resources and links to current canning information.
The most recently revised edition of the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is dated 2009. All recommendations in this book are current. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service also sells "So Easy to Preserve", a comprehensive book with information on all types of home food preservation. The order form for the book can be printed from www.soeasytopreserve.com. "So Easy to Preserve" is available for sale from the Forest County Extension Office for $15.
Be sure to look at the instructions for what you want to can well before you are ready to prepare the food. You may need time to purchase some ingredients and small equipment that are necessary to prepare food exactly as the directions indicate. There are a few products in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, for example, that use a starch only available through mail order for most locations.
Planning ahead can save you time, money, and frustration with home canning. Make it a happy, successful canning season by getting prepared before your harvest is ready.
Update your home canning knowledge by taking a free, self-paced online course. "Preserving Food at Home: A Self Study," is available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Topics include introduction to food preservation, general canning, canning acid foods, and canning low-acid foods. Find it at www.uga.edu/nchfp/.
Let's Preserve Blog - Don't forget to check out the Let's Preserve blog at letspreserve.blogspot.com/. New posts are coming soon. You can read posts from last season on canning without salt, acidifying tomatoes, keeping the crisp in pickles, and freezing vegetables.