I love this time of year – the crisp air, beautiful leaves and nature's plentiful harvest. One trip to the farmers market and you'll discover a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables just begging to be brought home. So what can you do with all your fresh finds? Try your hand at canning food for winter.
Sound like a lot of work? Canning is basically just taking an additional step beyond cooking the foods to preserve them in an air-tight glass container. That way, those two pecks of apples or case of cucumbers you got don't go to waste. Eating them all right now would be overwhelming no matter how much you like fresh produce, plus three months from now when it's frigid outside, it'll be so satisfying to crack open that jar of veggies you bought directly from the farmer for the family to enjoy.
A great resource for canning food basics is the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which provides critical safety and food quality information for canning a variety of foods, from fruits and jams to vegetables and meats. Review the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, which is published on the site.
Why do I like to can? First, it saves my family money because I can buy fresher foods in bulk for cheaper and don't have to waste any. It's also eco-friendly, because I don't have to buy common foods that are processed and shipped to the grocery store. Finally, I like that I know exactly what goes into it; plain, simple and healthy ingredients and sometimes just a pinch of salt or sugar – definitely no BPA or additives.
Here's a list of basic canning supplies you'll likely need to get started. You can buy new or look for items at your local second-hand store:
- Canning jars, seals and rings
- Large pot
- Rubberized tongs
- Clean kitchen towels
- Pressure canner – reaches higher temperature for safely canning veggies and meats
Insider tip: If possible, can produce soon after it is harvested. This will help preserve the highest vitamin and nutrient concentration possible.
What I like to do is take a trip to the farmers market on Saturday and then can on Sunday. The little ones can help with stirring and other basic steps when canning food while I do the heavy lifting. I love to can baby purees for my infant and apple sauce for my toddler. I buy lots of fruits and veggies to last us through the heart of winter so I always have ingredients for recipes or the ingredients I need for a quick, healthy side dish. Rule of thumb: shop smart and healthy when you're canning food for winter.
What items do you like to can? Do you have any tricks to share with canning newbies?