Written by: Pam Grant
In today's fast-paced, instant box-mix, supermarket-going world, the idea of home-canning is becoming a lost art. Few people today remember the colorful rows of preserves, jams, veggies, fruits and meats lining the root cellar of Grandma's house. Even fewer still home-can when the supermarket is just around the corner. Grandma was a smart, old gal. She knew how to make the bountiful days of harvest last all winter long. She also knew that the fresher something was when it was canned, the better it tasted when it was finally opened and enjoyed.
Home Canning is not for the lazy person. I won't lie to you. It requires a lot of effort. Is it worth it? We think so in my house. I home can items from our garden every year. I also "put up" deer meat in jars (we call it jar meat) instead of freezing it. I "put up" jams and jellies, relishes and pickles, homemade cranberry sauce, homemade salsa, dilly beans and a multitude of other items. We use them for ourselves as well as giving them out as gifts for Christmas.
Most people "put up" that which they have an over abundance from their garden, orchard or secret, hidden berry patch. However, if you're thinking you will save money by buying all your canning supplies (buying fresh produce at your local supermarket or farmers' market and stocking up your shelves yourself), you're sadly mistaken. Pressure canners start at around $60 and can run much higher depending on the size and quality. Water bath canners can be as much at $80 but can be found cheaper if you search around a bit. The jars range in size from pint and quart to gallon. Pints and quarts are the most common sizes although there are others. They come in regular and wide-mouth varieties and are sold by the dozen. Depending on where you purchase them, the prices can vary widely from $9 to $25. And don't forget about the cost of purchasing lids, rings, canning funnels and jar lifters.
Determining which type and size of jar and what type of canner to buy will depend on the kind of canning you plan to do. Some recipes require pressure canning to assure food quality and safety.
That brings up a good point. Safety is all important. Done improperly home canned food can be dangerous. Salmonella is a bacterium that can breed in badly canned produce and cause illness or death. Jars not properly pressure canned can burst during the process. Pressure canners must be maintained properly and monitored constantly to ensure that proper pressure is maintained or a dangerous explosion could ensue. That being said, don't let canning scare you. Keep in mind our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents grew up eating home-canned food. If they could do it correctly then so can you!
However, if you are planning on using great-grandma's recipe for canned string beans (one of those which are more susceptible to bacterium), then please check great-grandma's recipe against a current recipe for recommended canning times. The recipes of today are supported by many years of science research. We know a lot more today about what is needed to defeat germs than they did in her day. Although you might be able to make that recipe her way a hundred times with no problem there is always a risk, so please check with a good source such as, "The Ball Blue Book of Preserving." This book is considered (at least where I come from) the home-canners Bible. Find this or a similar, current book which will tell you the correct time, temperature and pressure at which your items should be prepared.
The basic equipment you will need to start canning are as follows:
A canner (either pressure or water bath or both)
Jars (Quart, Pints will get you started) Note: I prefer wide mouth jars. They are easier to pack with produce and easier to wash before and after use.
Lids (sized to fit the type of jar)
Rings (sized to fit the type of jar)
The jars, lids and rings must be sterilized before you can put nature's bounty into them. This can be done in your dishwasher if it uses really, hot water. If you're like me, however, and don't have a dishwashing machine (I'm the dishwasher at my house), then you can use your water bath canner or a large pot to submerge these items in boiling water. They should boil for 10 minutes to ensure all the bacteria are killed off and then turned onto a clean, dry towel to be packed with produce immediately.
Again, what you're making determines how items should be packed into the jars. But the general rule of thumb is that most items are packed in as tight as possible. Be sure only clean, fresh, blemish-free produce goes into your jars. If you put bad produce then it will result in the whole jar turning bad. Remember the old saying: "one bad apple spoils the whole bushel." With these simple thoughts in mind, you're ready to begin canning.
RECIPE FOR DILLY BEANS
Today I am making Dilly Beans. These are a dilled string bean my family has been making as long as I can remember. They are "wicked good" (as we say up here in Maine) with a cold beer or soda on a hot day.
Here is what you will need to start:
2 pounds of fresh, clean, green beans with the stem ends snapped off (yellow, wax beans can be substituted for green beans)
Do not use a bean that looks like this
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cloves of garlic peeled
4 heads of dill weed
¼ Cup pickling salt
2 ½ cup water
2 ½ cup white vinegar( apple cider vinegar can also be used)
4 pint jars
4 rings to fit jars
4 lids to fit jars
water bath canner
After sterilizing your jars lids and rings for approximately 10 minutes in a boiling water bath, add to each pint ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 head of dill. Pack the beans tightly in a lengthwise position into the hot jars while leaving ¼ inch of head space at the top of the jars. Combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Pour the boiling hot ingredients over the beans, leaving ¼ inch head space at the top of the jars.
Immediately place the lids on the jars and tighten the rings down "finger-tight." Process the pints and quarts by submersion in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Be sure they are completely covered with boiling water.
When time is up, carefully remove the hot jars by using the jar lifter. Be sure to wear shoes, proper clothing and oven mitts and take appropriate safety precautions in handling boiling water, steam and hot jars. Place the jars on a level, heat-resistant surface. Cover with a light towel to keep the jars from being in a draft and to allow them to cool slowly.
The lids will seal as they cool. To determine if a lid is sealed properly, push the center of the completely cooled lid with your finger. If there is no movement, then it is properly sealed. Any jar that does not properly seal can be stored in your fridge and used first. Do not re-submerge the unsealed jars in the boiling water bath a second time. This will result in the beans being over-cooked and mushy.
Be sure to use a permanent marker to write the date it was canned on the top of the jar. As you get more and more home-canned jars in your pantry you will be glad to know which year things were produced. They should sit for 3 to 4 weeks before opening and eating to allow the "pickled" flavor to be at its best. They can be stored in your pantry for up to a year, provided they remain sealed.
Dilly beans make a nice garnish on a plate or can be chopped up in salads. We just eat them right out of the jar with that cold beer I mentioned earlier! YUM! This is a great recipe to "get your feet wet" with canning. It is easy and different too. It makes a nice gift in a basket of homemade goodies. Enjoy!
For more information regarding safety precautions and canning check out: