Preparing to Preserve

— Written By Courtney Tevepaugh
en Español

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With the onset of Spring it means canning season is just around the corner. Summer gardens, fresh tomatoes and other produce may seem far away but if you plan to preserve these foods now is time to check on your supplies. An important part of preparing for canning season is ensuring all equipment is in good condition to achieve a safe home canned product.

Pressure Canner Pressure canners are used for low-acid products, for example most vegetables and meats. Make sure all canner parts are in working order. Clean the vent and safety valve, ensuring they are free of debris. This can be done by running a clean string or strip of cloth through the opening. It’s also important to check the gasket. This is the rubber-like ring that helps to seal the canner and keep steam from escaping. Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning and replace if necessary. *All American Canners do not have gaskets, rather a metal to metal seal* Dial gauge canners should be tested annually for accuracy and can be tested at the Wilkes Extension Office. If a gauge is off by more than 2 pounds of pressure it should be replaced.

Water Bath Canner Water Bath Canners are used for high-acid foods, for example fruits, jams, and pickles. Check that the canner is free of rust and can hold a rack, upright jars, and water 1-2 inches above the top of the jars. An alternative to using a specific boiling water canner is to simply use a large, deep, flat-bottom stock pot with a rack and tight fitting lid.

Jars, Lids, and Bands Think ahead, do you have enough canning jars to preserve the harvest? In addition are these jars free of defects? Discard jars from canning use that have scratches, nicks, of chips. A small chip around the rim of a jar can be enough to cause seal failure. Glass mayonnaise or pickle jars are not recommended for home canning use. If you want to recycle these types of jars they are great for dry storage, salad dressings, and more!

Another hot item on everyone’s list over the past year are 2-piece metal canning lids. We often have questions about alternative options such as one-piece and re-useable canning lids, however Cooperative Extension does not have enough research at this time to recommend using these for home canning. With the shortage of lids you may also find yourself wondering if you can reuse a standard metal canning lid. This is also not recommended as the sealing compounds in a single-use metal lid are only designed for that one use. These types of lids often become dented when opened and are more likely to result in a seal-failure if used. 

Additional Tools that are useful in home canning include: Jar lifters, canning funnels, and a headspace tool/bubble remover.

While many methods of preserving remain the same, some things do change. It’s best to use a tested recipe for home preservation, and if you’re unsure about a recipe contact your local extension office for clarity. Cooperative Extension recommends the following resources for home food preservation – The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning , So Easy to Preserve (From University of Georgia) and the Ball Blue Book. The following canning methods are not recommended by Cooperative Extension: pressure cookers, electric sauce pans, open kettle method (putting hot food into jars and letting them self-seal), microwaves, dishwashers, “Instant Pot” or electric pressure cooker, and oven canning.

For questions regarding current canning recommendations or to have a dial gauge tested contact Wilkes Cooperative Extension 336-651-7330.