With summer approaching, it’s the perfect time to learn how to can plant-based foods so you can save time, money, and all that precious produce! First off, don’t be intimidated by the idea of canning. It’s really quite simple to do, even if you’re new to it. Canning plant-based foods is nothing more than a natural preservation method that can be done with either raw or cooked produce. From pickles and jam to tomato sauce and even baby food, there are hundreds of different combinations of plant-based foods you can come up with to can into delicious eats for you and your family. Just follow these ten tips below and you’ll be a pro in no time:
1. Select the Best Produce
The most important tip for learning how to can plant-based foods is to only select the best fruits and vegetables. Don’t buy the marked down produce with spots, bruises, or yellow spots. Those items will spoil quickly and can make you sick when you can them. You want to either buy especially fresh produce that is vibrant in color and firm in texture, or pick the freshest items out of your own garden to can.
2. Choose Mason Jars
Next, be sure you choose the best containers possible to can your foods with. I suggest using mason jars because they are durable, nontoxic, and they ensure you get a tight seal that will last months and even years. They can also be used for many other household tasks when you’re not canning with them so you get your money’s worth.
3. Wash Your Produce in a Vinegar Solution
Before you can anything, be sure to wash all your produce first in a 90 percent water, 10 percent apple cider vinegar solution. This will remove any surface bacteria and protect your foods from spoiling during the canning process. Let it soak for at least 10 minutes, then rinse it well and allow it to completely dry on a paper towel.
4. Sterilize Your Jars
You’ll need to sterilize your mason jars next for extra protection against spoilage. This is simple enough to do by adding boiling water to them and then rinsing and drying them well. You can also bake them in the oven (without the lids) for ten minutes at 400 degrees. The high heat will remove any surface bacteria to protect your food, but you’ll need to be sure to let them cool completely before using them.
5. Prepare Your Produce
Next, chop any produce you’re going to be using however you want. You may want to cut cucumbers into strips to make pickles, dice peppers to make a salsa, or puree tomatoes to can tomato sauce. Whatever you choose, go ahead and prepare your produce for how you want it to be canned. If you’re making sauerkraut, chop all your cabbage up into strips, along with onions, garlic, or whatever else you’re using. If you’re making baby food, be sure to go ahead and cook it before canning it to preserve it longer. The same goes for tomato sauce or salsa unless you’re making it raw.
6. Add Produce to Your Jars
Next, add your produce to the jars and pack it as tight as absolutely possible to prevent spoilage. Be especially careful to pack down loose pieces of produce like cabbage, peppers, or fruit. For pickles, be sure to fill in as much space as you can with your cucumbers to ensure a better result. If you’re making jam or a type of puree, then make sure to give it a tiny shake to ensure it’s as full as possible. Remember, the less air in your cans, the better.
7. Add Salt or Vinegar
Next, you’ll want to either add a bit of salt, apple cider vinegar, or distilled vinegar, or both salt and vinegar to your recipes so they don’t go bad as quickly. This gives them a longer shelf life, enhances their taste, and protects them from developing food-borne illnesses. You can also add any types of herbs and spices that you like, so get creative! Each recipe will differ but a good measurement is at least one teaspoon of salt or vinegar for every two cups or one eight-ounce jar.
8. Leave at Least One Inch of Head Space
Next, be sure to leave at least one inch of head space at the tops of your jars. When canning produce of any kind, some expansion can occur as canned goods sit in cupboards and cabinets. Leaving one inch of space at the tops of the jars will allow for just enough room for expansion so your canned goods don’t spew out over the top. For fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi, this is especially important since the fermentation process will cause excessive bubbling that requires that extra inch of expansion space.
9. Bathe in Water
Next, you’ll want to pour water over the top of your produce once it’s packed tightly in jars. This will also help to prevent any excess air pockets. Just remember not to fill water in the one inch of head space. By bathing your goods in water, it also ensures the salt and vinegar gets distributed evenly. It is important to add water last instead of at the beginning so that you can pack the jars with as much produce as possible first. If you’re making items like soup, tomato sauce, salsa, jam, or baby food, this step isn’t necessary since those ingredients will naturally fill up the jars efficiently.
10. Seal Tight
The last step is simply to seal up your cans nice and tight and let them sit for at least 30 days to develop maximum flavor. Most canned goods last anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the recipe you use. For fermented foods like sauerkraut, you’ll need to be especially careful to get the right flavor and to ensure they’re free of harmful bacteria.
If you’re canning foods for the first time, here are some wonderful troubleshooting tips you can take a peek at to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Just don’t be intimidated by the canning practice! People have been using this method for hundreds of years and it’s not only frugal but also a great way to reduce food wastes. For more information on canning foods, check out one of my favorite resources to expand your canned foods knowledge. Now, get canning!
Image source: How to Make Raw Sauerkraut