So comes the end of another year of harvest and canning for us. Some of it homegrown, some hand picked, some from farmer’s markets, and just a few things from the store. With another year of experience, comes another year of learning. Boy did I learn a lot about canning this year.
Canning Lessons Learned Through Experience
First lesson learned came with a late, late frost this year. We’d already planted our Early Girl tomatoes in late May, and in the very last few days of May there was a frost. By the time we’d heard it was coming, it was too late. We lost all of our tomatoes. I was quite sad about this.
Lesson number one learned was to be prepared for a late (or early) frost and learn how to handle it and what supplies we’ll need. I know, we should have been aware of the weather better, but should haves don’t help anyone. We learned, we grew, we know better now.
Along with our tomatoes we lost several pepper plants. The salsa garden wasn’t looking to be promising this year. After having conversations with some other locals who had also been hit by the frost we learned our second lesson; sometimes roots don’t die and the plants come back after a frost. While our tomatoes didn’t come back, our peppers did and we had a fantastic harvest from them. I ended up chopping and freezing two full gallon sized bags with them. Not too shabby from a few small plants that were wiped out in the frost only to make a full recovery.
Tomatoes from the farmers market can be expensive, even when they give you an amazing discount. This was our third lesson, and a costly one. We also learned to check all the tomatoes before purchase even if the farmer has boxed them up for us in advance. Within just a few days of bringing our tomatoes back from the market they started to mold…in the bottom of the box. We didn’t catch it right away and had to toss quite a few tomatoes before canning. It didn’t take long, so make sure you either can them right away or wash them all right away and can as soon as possible. That’s a huge mistake we won’t be making again.
Lesson four is a basic canning rule: make sure the jars area sanitized and hot. While making sure the jars are sanitized is fairly obvious, the part where the jars need to be hot was forgotten. We were a bit slow on one of our tomato batches, which allowed the jar to cool too much. When the jars went into the water bath we heard a pop. I looked into the water bath and didn’t see anything, but when they were done processing we realized we did lose a jar. The bottom popped off and my best guess is that the jar wasn’t hot enough so the cool jar with the boiling water was too much of a temperature change for the glass and it burst. Yet another few tomatoes lost…this wasn’t my year!
Never stop learning your craft is lesson five. In this case, the craft is canning. During my research I found out that there were a lot of USDA recommendations that had changed, and I learned that some of the canning products had changed a bit. The big one was the seals on lids. From what I’ve learned it sound like you no longer have to put the lids in hot water to get the seals to work right. Can’t wait to see what other tips and tricks I’ll learn along the way.
Lesson six is to be aware of different products and methods in the canning world. There’s a lot of advice and opinions to weed through out there. Many pie filling canning recipes, for example, call for cornstarch. This year I learned there is another product on the market that works better than corn starch. What happens with cornstarch is the liquid gets clumpy and extra thick until it’s heated back to a thinner state. It still tastes fantastic, it just doesn’t look too appealing. Clear Jel is a product that doesn’t clump as it thickens.
That’s it for the lessons this year. I love canning season, but I’m glad the bulk of it is over. Maybe I can get my kitchen back, finally!
What lessons have you learned from canning? Please share any experiences, tips, tricks or techniques in the comments.