A Getting-Started Guide to Canning

By Bonnie Dunn, Extension Specialist

Imagine opening your freezer in the dead of winter and removing a small jar of strawberry jam. Your kitchen fills with the aroma of fresh, ripened strawberries, bringing a little bit of summertime into the cold winter months. The reason you have that wonderful aroma? You made your own strawberry jam using proper food preservation techniques.

Food preservation is the process of treating and handling food in such a way as to stop or greatly slow down spoilage while maintaining nutritional value, texture and flavor, and preventing the growth of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. Common methods of preserving food include drying, freezing, vacuum packing and canning. Let’s take a closer look at canning, a common at-home preservation method.

What You’ll Need

If you are interested in canning smaller amounts of fruits or vegetables, the food preservation companies have made it simple. There are several companies that sell food preservation equipment at budget-friendly prices. Look for a low-cost starter kit that comes with a heat resistant rack, lifter, pint jars (with lids and rings) and a recipe book. This allows you to preserve food using the water bath method in your own large stockpot. This is a great way to give canning a try before you invest in other, more expensive types of equipment. The glass jars used for canning come in small- and wide-mouth varieties. The wide-mouth jar is best for larger pieces of fruit, such as peach halves, and also for larger pickles or beets. Just shop around online and read user reviews to help make an informed choice that works for you.

A Great How-To Guide

One of the oldest and most reliable resources on food preservation is from the USDA. Everything you need to know about canning and food preservation is available in the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. This resource is for people canning for the first time or for experienced canners wanting to improve their canning practices.

Canning is certainly more involved than some other preservation methods, so arm yourself with the knowledge and equipment you’ll need to preserve your fresh foods for year-round enjoyment.

Meet “The Canning Couple,” Matt & Marsha Wood

“I have worked at West Virginia State University for over 30 years in various positions, largely related to Information Technology. I originally learned canning and food preservation from my grandmother and great aunt. I watched them and helped after school during my childhood.

“Earlier this year, after 27 years of marriage, my wife, Marsha, and I began canning. Our reasons were varied, but primarily we were concerned over the rising costs of food and were still reeling from the loss of two freezers full of food during the 2012 derecho, which knocked out power for several days. Plus, we were also interested in a little quality couple time!

“So I went back to my roots and renewed my interest in the canning process, starting with research into some good resources for information. A couple of my favorites are the National Center for Home Food Preservation (where you’ll find the guide Bonnie references above) and the Food Network website.

“We’ll be sharing our canning experiences here on the Extension Matters blog, including our personally tested recipes and photos of our process. Whether you’re an experienced or beginning canner – or just someone with an interest in getting started – we hope you’ll join us!”

– Matt Wood, WVSU Data Network Manager


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