Sunday, August 14, 2011

To Can, or Not to Can, That is the Question

Another blogger posed the question, and I debated whether to add my few cents worth in comments, or just take the time to really address it properly on this blog.

As you can see, I chose the latter because really, there are a lot of considerations.
For background, let me say I used to live in Wisconsin, then raised a large family up in northern Illinois. We had two enormous gardens, several apple trees and nearby farmers that gave us all the shelled peas we wanted every June harvest.

I canned all our fruits and vegetables, later opting for a large freezer for most of my produce. We made dried apples, pickles, sauerkraut, katsup, currant juice, you name it. If I could get my hands on it cheap, I put it "up".

Back then you could find products in jars where the lid was the same size as the mason jar. Mayonaise and salad dressing come to mind.  Of course we were warned in all the users manuals not to use the Inferior Jars because they could break. A person learned how to be careful. I learned which jars had that nice thick rubber embedded in its lid, the kind that would reseal when boiled and screwed tightly on a hot jar of steaming hot applesauce. Peanut butter and various jellies come to mind.

You get it, I accumulated jars by the dozen, an ungodly mix of jars that filled several deep shelves in the basement.
Jars are expensive. They are the single most expensive thing you need for serious canning.
I think mason jars are going for nearly $11 a dozen now. If I'm buying them, I never waste money on pints. Get the quarts and you have double the food value for the same price per lid.
Mason jar lids, Bell brand, are not reusable. The last thing you want is to go through all that time and money, and next spring find the seal has popped. If a jar has the least little chip or imperfection, you must discard it. You can not trust its seal.

A good pressure canner is essential. Of course, you can use it to cook roasts and potatoes for supper as well. Its not just a canning pot. It's also good for stews for large crowds. The gaskets must be kept from drying out. A simple rub of cooking oil on occasion helps with that.

Not everything needs to be processed in a pressure cooker. Some things are done by water bath, primarily things with high acid content. These huge pots are filled half way with water which is then brought to a low boil. The jars of steaming hot food is placed on the accompanying rack and lowered into this pot whereby the hot water should cover the jars one inch past the lid.

Tomatoes, fruits, and pickles are examples of foods done by water bath. You can't make pickles in the freezer, and tomatoes do much better in a cooked, water bathed environment as well.
You can make refrigerator pickels, no processing needed, and solar dry tomotoes.
Fruits are better when sliced and frozen. Canning fruits require much sugar or the water saps the flavor right out.

Now, if you price out the #10 can of corn in the store you'll find its not that bad. If you plan on buying corn on the cob, using some form of energy (electric stove or gas), and dedicating one quart mason jar for when SHTF scenario, you'll find that the can is the better deal, price wise.
I have canned on a wood stove. The main thing you must do is be sure the "jiggler" maintains a constant hiss which indicated pressure has been reached and is being maintained. Some canners have pressure dials or gages instead of the jiggler. Never drop the lid of such a pot.
Corn requires 90 minutes of unbroken pressure. If you allow it to drop, you must start over. The reason is you are preventing botulism. If you freeze the corn instead, you mearly blanch it on or off the cob and freeze it. Easy.

I had some friends who short cut the timing on asparagus. After a lengthy near death experience in hospitals and long recovery, they have sworn off aparagus. Botulism is deadly.

From this long essay you can tell I'm not into canning much anymore. It is a lot of work. The cost savings for canning comes as you reuse the jars year after year. You still must buy new lids, pay for the energy cost, and either raise the food in a garden or buy it.

If you plan on buying jars and totally dedicating them to the food storage long term those savings go out the window.
Please ask questions. I probably haven't thought of everything in this discourse.


  1. Wow. That's an amazing post on canning. I read it twice. I'm also going to clip it and put it in a "storage file" I keep of things I want to refer to. I don't post that or anything, just use it for myself. Is that ok? I won't be mad or upset if it's not. I just want to have it for my data base.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Arsenius, sure, definitly if you print it out and save it for future reference, I'd be honored.
    Thanks for the link from your blog, too.

  3. I'm sure the reasons that made you stop most of your canning are the same reasons why most people stopped canning and it wasn't nearly as popular for quite a while.

    I can for several reasons.

    I know exactly what is in each jar. No pesticides, no herbicides, no chemical fertilizers, no preservatives, just very good food.

    I can because I find it invaluable that I KNOW HOW to can. If the store were to stop being stocked next year, that wouldn't be a good time to try to learn the techniques involved.

    Canning has taught me many new recipes for common things like ketchup, barbecue sauce, simple sugar syrups, jams and jellies...things I wouldn't have known how to cook until I tried it. See the item above again.

    Nope, it's not cost effective. I consider the increased price the tuition to a self-taught class that makes me much more ready for the future.

  4. Good points, Jimmy! I'm so with you on the learning curve. Now, at our leisure, when we have tools and products at our disposal, is the time to learn these skills.

    My granny had a root cellar. How many people have one, know how to use one?
    How about making your own clothes, mending, or making rugs and quilts?

    It is very good to raise your own food and put it up, thereby knowing exactly what you have on hand. I mainly quit canning because here in Georgia, there being only two of us, it just wasn't fesible. I still have to buy most of the produce. There goes the "know whats in my jar" aspect.

    Thanks so much for the comments.

  5. JCC makes corn cob jelly. He also grows killer tomatoes. You two should collaborate on "The Canning and Food Preservation Guide for Survivalists." You can change the title to for Preppers if you want, of course, but that doesn't have the "ring" to it.