One of the things I've wanted to do since I realized I'm into this whole domestic thing is can my own fruits and vegetables. My mom did it when we were kids and it's a really cheap and easy way to have fresh, tasty produce year round. I used to buy the canned stuff in the store, but I just really don't like that stuff that much anymore and I am making conscious efforts to pay attention to what goes in my body. I'd much rather have the crap I put in there be things like donuts rather than a crappy can of veggies (who's with me?!). Anyway. I wanted to can stuff. And when we decided to move in with my mom I thought it would be the perfect opportunity. She taught herself how to do it all, but I honestly found it a little scary. So last weekend we worked together to do my very first batch of green beans. I did half of the batch with her and half without her. I was so nervous, but all of the jars came out fine. Everything was sealed the way it's supposed to be (I know because I tested them all). We made 12 jars total and I'm already planning and plotting about what else to can. The best part is the fact that I was able to do this with my mom. I've lived away from her most of my adult life. And most of that was spent in cities so we've never really been able to do stuff like this.
So, if you find canning scary, let me assure you it's really not. I mean at least the green bean canning isn't. I will report back once I've canned the difficult stuff. I might be scared or retiring from canning after that. But until then I'm going to share my adventures in canning.
Here are a few things I learned from my first time canning green beans.
1. The instructions are your friend. Really.
I will openly admit that I found the instructions pretty intimidating (and annoying). There were all these words to explain one little step. Most of them were just cautionary tales so you didn't blow yourself or your kitchen up (and sue the makers of the canning equipment). I read those suckers like 18 times before I actually understood them. I recommend reading through everything first. Then pulling out the actual instructions for your canner and then writing them into bullet points that you can refer to when you're doing the actual process. That way it's easier to know what to do and absorb all of the important info.
2. Invest in a good canner and equipment.
Don't be thrown by the price of any of this stuff. You can use it all again year after year (unless it breaks). The only things you won't use again are the lids (the actual flat thing that seals the jar), the produce, and any other ingredients you add. So don't let the price tag scare you.
3. Make sure you buy the right kind of equipment for your needs.
Apparently there are canners for pressure cooking and canners for boiling water. If you want to do green beans, you need the pressure canner. Jams and jellies require the boiling canner. Then some canners double as a pressure cooker. I also found that not all canners work on a glass top stove. That's what my mom has. There's a lot of little details that can get really confusing so be sure to read all of the fine print. I found one that does everything and it cut down my costs considerably. Click here for the exact equipment I purchased and here for the canner. Here's the exact canner that I purchased and the equipment to go with it.
4. Check that the jars are sealed.
If they aren't sealed, you'll be in big trouble. I just took the rim off and then flipped the jars over to make sure nothing leaked out.
5. Don't be afraid if you mess it up.
I consider myself lucky that all of my jars sealed. I do not know how this worked at all you guys. My mom did tell me, however, that it's not a big deal if the jars don't seal. All you have to do is process them again. She also said she used to have jars break and stuff. She's still alive and I ate her canned goods and I'm still alive so I think she's a reliable source.
6. Keep some extra lids on hand.
You might need to process them again and all you'll need is the lids so it's a good idea to buy a few just in case. If nothing else you'll send good karma out into the world.
7. Buy produce in bulk.
This was the hardest thing for me. I had no idea how much to buy and buying so much to can could get a little expensive easily. You can pick at local farms, but be prepared for a lot of work. Check out sales at your local store. The best thing for me was talking to the guy at our favorite produce stand at the farmer's market. He told me to wait to buy tomatoes because he will have them much cheaper in a few weeks. He also gave me a half bushel of green beans for much cheaper than it would have been if I just taken them off the table. It was just because I was buying so many. Bulk is always better. Buy in bulk. Oh, and I make 12 quart jars plus a CrockPot full of green beans from that half bushel.
8. Make sure everything is sanitized.
I put all of the jars in super hot water and then took them out as I was packing the green beans in them. This is another place where your tools will come in handy.
9. The jars might look dirty once you take them out from the pressure cooker.
Don't freak out. This is normal. Apparently. I guess it's from all of the hot water and pressure and stuff. So it's not really dirt.
10. Take the rims off after you've tested your jars.
You'll want to be able to use the rims again and apparently if you leave them on it can ruin them. It can also cause rusting and I don't know about you but rusty vegetables do not sound tasty.
Honestly, I found canning green beans to be extremely easy. I know that other stuff will be much harder, but the hardest part about green beans was waiting to make sure all of the jars sealed. And that's just because I'm annoyingly impatient. So, if you're looking to get started with canning, I definitely recommend starting with green beans.
And, of course, here's a few tips for canning green beans.
1. I felt like the first couple of jars I did didn't really have enough green beans in them. I didn't think it was worth it to only have like 10 beans in a jar. So I actually ended up putting some beans in, then filling it with the boiling water and then going back and adding some more green beans to fill out the jar.
2. The tongs were especially useful in adding more green banes for the jar.
3. There were all these crazy recipes for green beans. I didn't do any of them. Literally all I did was just put green beans in the jar. No seasoning. No extra anything. I can season them when I cook them.
4. Wash the green beans really well.
Next I plan to do some fruits and jams. And of course tomatoes. I also might try chickpeas so I can make my own hummus. I am way too excited about canning and I might never buy a can off the shelf of a grocery store again. But we'll see how I feel once I've canned all of the fruits and vegetables.