If you learn how to start canning vegetable crops, winter can no longer rob you of the fresh garden produce you enjoy all summer long. Canning is a time-honored method of preserving the harvest, so why not use it to preserve the best produce from your home garden?
Pick Your Veggies
With enough motivation, any vegetable can be canned for further use and enjoyment. However, there are some vegetables that lend themselves to this process more easily than others. Grow your garden with canning in mind, and plant vegetables that are canning-friendly. These include beans, peas, potatoes, carrots, asparagus, peppers, corn, squash, beets, onions, cucumbers, and cabbage.
When you can your vegetables properly, your produce will last for a very long time. Some veggies will last for up to five years when canned, and still taste fresh when you open the jar. Another benefit to canning vegetables is the easy storage. These veggies do not need to be frozen or refrigerated, so they will stay preserved even during power outages.
How to Can
The USDA's official guidelines for home canning changed in 1989 with many revisions since then. The methods you saw as a kid are no longer necessary. Many people shy away from canning because it seems like such a troublesome, cumbersome process. But modern canning is simple, and the equipment is lightweight, sleek, and easy to use. Forget about those heavy, double-walled pots of the past. It's a new era in canning.
Water Bath Canning
One of the easiest methods, water bath canning, is good for acidic veggies like cucumbers and fruits that act like vegetables, such as tomatoes.
Sanitize your jars, then fill them with the veggies you want to preserve, put the lids on, and place them in a pot of boiling water. Don't cover the pot of water! Allow the cans to sit in their boiling bath until the lids seal. The lids need to have about 1 inch worth of headspace, meaning the tops of the lids should not be covered with water.
Most veggies, however, will require pressure canning to render them safe to eat because they are low acid veggies. The reason that you need to preserve low acid veggies using pressure canning is to prevent the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria that can harm you. Use the right method to can your veggies, and you won't be harmed.
Get a pressure canner and make sure you have a jar lifter so you won't burn yourself. Follow the directions for the canner you're using as far as the amount of water you need to boil, and add three tablespoons of white vinegar to prevent water stains on the jars. Generally speaking, you'll put about three inches worth of water into the canner. Start on a low setting and bring the water up to a boil slowly. After your jars are filled with veggies, use tongs to carefully place the jars upright inside the canner. Like the water bath canning method above, make sure the jars have a 1-inch headspace. Use a non-metal spatula to get rid of air bubbles. After the water is boiling and the jars are placed inside, put the lid on the canner as per the instructions. Watch your gauges, and follow the directions for your canner to know how long to leave the jars inside. Make sure to cross-reference USDA canning guidelines.
Use extreme caution when removing the lid of your canner and removing your jars. First, remove the canner from its heat source and let the pressure drop on its own. Do not try to speed up the cooling process. Only when the canner has cooled should you attempt to remove the lid, and even then always be cautious and turn your face and eyes away from the canner. Use your jar lifter to remove your jars, and allow them to cool before you store them.
Start canning vegetable crops you harvest in summer and fall, and you can eat fresh produce all through the year. Who says you have to say goodbye to those amazing beans, that delicious squash, and those flavor-filled carrots? Can everything, and you can always eat fresh food.