Canning is one of the best ways to preserve nearly any type of food that you can buy, hunt, or grow. Meats and stews, jams and jellies, and vegetables too—all of these are great candidates for canning. People have been canning for hundreds of years, most famously to get Americans through some tough times.
It’s nice to be able to share the fruits of your labor (quite literally) with your friends and family, just like our forebears. Canning is also a useful habit to get into if you happen to have your own garden. Come harvest time, it seems that everyone has more extra tomatoes and chilies than they know what to do with! To this day, canning is still a great way to avoid waste.
Why should I can my own food at home?
Home canning puts you in control over what goes into your food and, by extension, your body. Today’s supermarket shelves are packed with a multitude of foods and these foods are, in turn, packed with a long list of ingredients. Artificial colorings, flavoring, and preservatives are nothing new, but these days every processed food seems to be loaded with salt and the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup.
Many people are becoming alarmed by this trend, as well as the monocultural farming methods that are damaging to the environment. We all like to eat a fresh, varied diet, but food spoilage is a serious problem. What’s a busy, health-conscious person to do? The simplest solution is going to a farmer’s market, buy whatever’s in season, and get yourself a canner.
How do I can my own food?
You might initially balk at the idea of canning, but it’s super easy to do at home! The canning process is essentially just putting some food in a jar, closing the lid, then cooking it until the microscopic bugs inside are dead.
To ensure that dangerous microorganisms don’t make a surprise reappearance after being kept in the cupboard for a while, it’s necessary to raise the internal temperature of the center of the food to 250° F (121° C) for three minutes. This might not sound like an issue, but water has a boiling point of only 212° F (100° C).
In order to raise the temperature to safe levels, you have to pump up the pressure. That’s where the canners and pressure cookers come in! It’s still a pretty simple process and, as long as you keep your environment clean, it’s hard to mess up. I like to think of canning as one of those cooking tricks where the final product makes it look like you did a lot, even if you didn’t. Of course, you don’t have to admit to anyone how easy it was—just nod and modestly say that you’re just getting started!
What are some good starter models?
The Mirro 92122A Polished Aluminum Pressure Cooker is a great introduction to the delights of canning. It keeps it simple, which is ideal for beginners. There are no readable pressure or temperature gauges on this unit. Instead, a simple pressure monitoring device can be found on the lid. It’s made from heavy-duty, polished, kitchen-grade aluminum, which makes for long life and easy cleaning. The two available sizes, 16 and 20 qt., will be plenty for your first efforts. And, it won’t break the bank either.
If you don’t mind spending just a little more, the Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker is still a good deal. Presto is a trusted manufacturer and offers a good warranty. This model does have pressure and temperature gauges, which are easy to read and give you more of an idea of what is going on inside the closed lid. Able to hold 23 qt., this unit is big enough for all beginners.
The Presto takes the proverbial cake when it comes to a beginner pressure canner. It’s reasonably priced, sufficiently large, and—with those nifty temperature and pressure gauges included as part of the deal—I know which one I’ll be recommending!
What about preserving spices? Here’s my step-by-step guide to preserving fresh chilis.